Growing up in northwestern Pennsylvania, Jeremy Johnson followed the rules.
“I was a letterman all four years in track and for two years in cross-country at Franklin High School,” said Johnson. “I was a really good kid. But then I sowed my wild oats pretty hard and it led me down a dark path for a few years.”
After high school, Johnson began to smoke, drink, and experiment with drugs. He moved to Denver and became a bartender, which he admits was a lifestyle conducive to addiction.
“For a while, my lifestyle took me away from all the things that running encompasses.”
Johnson moved back to Pennsylvania in 2010 to re-evaluate his life, and find his way. What happened next was that love found him.
“When I got into a serious relationship with my then-girlfriend, Annie, and we decided to have a baby, obviously I saw a bigger picture that included more than just myself,” said Johnson. “To do right by my child and to be a good dad and husband, I knew I had to be healthy.”
As a reporter for a small daily paper in Oil City, Pennsylvania, Johnson had been introduced to a new local trail race series, the Oil Creek 100 Trail Runs. He decided to fully immerse himself in the story by training to run the 50K leg of the series in October 2011, a month after he and Annie found out they were pregnant. He finished in the top ten overall.
“I took on the role of father with a vengeance. I wanted to be a strong, reliable father and part of that is being able to commit. Running taught me how to commit.”
So, cigarettes were out and miles were in. He found a new addiction on the trails of Oil Creek State Park, and by spring 2013, he was often running with a used BOB stroller and his 10-month-old daughter riding shotgun.
Johnson, now an editor, moved back to Colorado with his new family in 2014, where he continued forging his way along the Front Range and foothill trails. Cecilia, now six, has remained a part of his regular trail running training.
“Running with my daughter, outdoors? It combines all my favorite things, and I get to give that to Cecilia – the peace and the tranquility of the outdoors and the beauty of nature.”
Last year, Johnson started a blog called “A Daddy on the Run,” which describes running with his daughter, as well as his philosophy of the sport.
“Part of the hardship of running is that you have to meet yourself out there on the trails,” said Johnson. “Runners spend a lot of time in our own heads, and running alone allows you to face that. At the same time, trail running requires undivided attention or you are going to take a digger. You can’t lose yourself too much, and there’s something really healthy about that focus.”
Johnson credits the meditative aspect of running as well as the privilege of getting to show his daughter the trails with keeping him on the pollen path of moderation.
“What I’ve learned about this sport, is that just about everybody is dealing with something.”
Johnson will surely find his Tribe July 22 at the XTERRA Beaver Creek Trail Run. Last year he ran the 20K race after car-camping the night before and was worn out before he even got to the starting line. Nevertheless, Johnson finished third in his age group.
This year, he and his wife are going to Avon a day early to celebrate their wedding anniversary with a good night's rest, and he hopes to improve not just his place at the XTERRA Beaver Creek Trail Run, but his time.
But really, Johnson is out there just because he loves it.
“Why do I run?” he asks. “You might as well ask why I breathe.”
Learn more about the XTERRA Beaver Creek Trail Run
Photos courtesy of Gabriel Christus