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Five Minutes With Chris Johnson

Five Minutes With Chris Johnson

28 July, 2022

Chris Johnson may not be a name you're familiar with in the ultracycling world, however, you'll see him on the start line for this year's edition of Basajaun. Chris has jumped into the ultra-world from short distance events after facing a life-changing stroke. Harnessing cycling as a tool for recovery, this XC racer has signed up for Basajaun with his brother to raise money for Headway, a brain injury charity, and to inspire others who have faced similar challenges.

1. You're relatively new to the ultra-distance world, what made you decide to sign up to Basajaun after being primarily a (relatively!) short distance racer?

After being unwell in the summer of 2021, I wanted a new, and significant, challenge. I had followed events like the Transcontinental, and Badlands, and had always wondered how I would hold up (physically and mentally) in an event like that. When I was looking for a race to enter, I found Basajaun, and it seemed like a perfect fit. Beautiful course. Not too long, but still a significant challenge.

2. You have experience racing off-road, racing XC races, how do you think this will differ to a more endurance focussed race and what are your tactics for this change?

I am going to have to ride MUCH slower.

I race mostly on the velodrome and in 1hr XC races, where you can afford to go hard for the whole race. I raced the Alps Epic MTB marathon in June, which had long stages (stage 1 was almost 89 km with 3,000 m of climbing) and I learned the hard way that in a longer event you can’t afford to start flat out. By halfway around the course, I was dead on my feet. The plan for the Basajaun is to ride in Z2, maybe the bottom of Z3 on the climbs, but never more than that.

3. You've mentioned that you use cycling as a tool for recovery from your stroke. Could you expand a little more about how this works for you?

When I had the stroke, I was in hospital for a week, but within days of discharge I was back on the bike. It was a fantastic way to feel like normal again, to forget any issues I was having, and to push my body physically.

The stroke had also really affected my confidence. By entering an event like Basajaun, something bigger than I had ever done before, I can prove to myself that I am 100% again.

4. Signing up for races with siblings is more common than you'd think, but I don't think we've seen many triplets racing together! Tell us what you think it'll be like racing with your brother, Jack?

I weigh around 72 kg and Jack weighs around 56 kg, so he goes uphill like a cheetah (and I’m more like a sloth). The biggest challenge for me will be to make him hold back on the climbs, because if he doesn’t then we’re in trouble…

Seriously though, I’m really looking forward to riding this with Jack. We are both super supportive of one another, and I know that we will help each other to push on when things get tough. I think that will be a real competitive advantage over the solo riders.

5. Tell us about what got you into cycling, it looks like a seemingly family affair!

Yes! I got into cycling really through Jack. He bought a road bike, so I bought a road bike. He bought a track bike, so I bought a track bike, and so on! It has been brilliant to have this shared passion, and to develop as riders together.

6. What are your biggest expected hurdles for your first ever ultra and how have you planned to overcome them?

There will be lots of hurdles to overcome, but, for me, perhaps the biggest will be sleep deprivation. I LOVE sleep. I am notoriously difficult to persuade out of my bed in the morning. I have no idea how I will feel, when I’ve ridden for 20 hours, slept for 4 hours, and I have to get out of my sleeping bag and do it all again. Some real self-discipline will be needed…

7. What is your best MTB trick?

I raced the Alps Epic in June, and I fell five or six metres down a cliff at the side of the trail without getting injured. Is that a trick??