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Executive Diversions
Business Observer Friday, Feb. 1, 2019 2 weeks ago

Marathons, triathlons keep PR firm partner running

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Holly Johnson started running decades ago. Now, many marathons and triathlons later, she still appreciates the confidence and stress relief it provides.
by: Grier Ferguson Staff Writer

EXECUTIVE: Holly Johnson, a partner at public relations, marketing, design and photography agency Imagica Communications. The firm is based in Sarasota and Vail, Colo.

DIVERSION: Running. Johnson, 58, participates in marathons and triathlons and is on the Team New Balance running team in Sarasota. She also has a side business, coaching runners of various abilities, from a 9-year-old to runners in their late 60s.

BOLD BEGINNINGS: No one in Johnson’s family was particularly athletic, she says. She ran in high school to lose weight, Johnson says, and in college so she could drink more beer. Her first race was the Bolder Boulder in the early 1980s in Colorado . She got involved because her roommates were training for the race.

LIFE CYCLE: Then a boyfriend who was a former competitive cyclist got Johnson interested in cycling. “Initially, getting into cycling, you climb mountains on your bike and you think, “There isn’t anything I can’t do,’” she says. It gave her confidence and something to put her mind toward. “It’s not what you can do today,” she says, “it’s the journey.”

TRIATHLON TIME: Another boyfriend lettered in seven sports in high school. He wanted to get back into triathlons and she wanted to spend time with him, so she started training and did her first triathlon in the late 1980s. They later tried long-distance running. 

RUN THE RACE: Johnson’s first marathon was the Denver Marathon. “I didn’t have a time goal in mind, I just ran it,” she says. Afterward, her mom asked if she was going to run another. Johnson told her she felt she had “been there, done that.” But when Johnson read an issue of Runner’s World magazine with an article about the Boston Marathon, she changed her mind. She looked at the qualifying times for her age group and realized her time from the Denver Marathon qualified her. Pretty soon Johnson was running in the 98th Boston Marathon. That was in 1994.

“It definitely helped me deal with stress, has given me a lot of self-confidence and makes me believe I can do anything I set my mind to.” — Holly Johnson, partner, Imagica Communications   

UPHILL BATTLE: She was hooked. Johnson decided she wanted to participate in the 100th running of the Boston Marathon, too. She had to run another race to qualify for it, so she picked a marathon in Wyoming. The first 10 miles of the race were uphill, and Johnson missed her qualifying time. After the race, her husband asked if she was done. She told him she wasn’t — she’d just picked the wrong course. Johnson ran another and qualified for Boston.

FIX IT: Johnson kept doing half-marathons and marathons until she became pregnant. When her son was a year-and-a-half, she ran another marathon. But running, running a business and being a mom were taking a toll. In her 40s, Johnson says, things started to break down. “You either fall into this ‘I’m getting too old,’ or you say, ‘I need to fix my body and probably my brain,’” she says. For one, she found a nutritionist who overhauled her diet. 

NEW GOAL: In 2003, Johnson moved to Sarasota. She signed up for a half-marathon, but the night before was apprehensive. She went through with it, though, and had a good race. “Then I thought, ‘I think I’m ready to run another marathon.’” When her son was 8 or 9, she set a new goal for herself: run a marathon for every year of his life. A handful of years later, she was already getting ahead of her son’s age.

FINISH LINE ATTACK: Johnson ran the Boston Marathon again in 2013. It was the year of the bombing near the finish line that killed three people. “I was already ahead of the finish line when the bombs went off,” she says. She did well, but couldn’t feel happy about the results. A year later, she returned. “I needed to run that marathon again,” Johnson says. “I needed to celebrate what I couldn’t celebrate the year before.”

CONFIDENCE BUILDER: Johnson has big plans for 2019, including running the Boston Marathon again and doing the New York City Triathlon. She’ll also do smaller races locally. “Sports and racing have really been kind of a metaphor for life for me because of what you have to go through,” she says, from the highs and lows to the challenges and setbacks. “It definitely helped me deal with stress, has given me a lot of self-confidence and makes me believe I can do anything I set my mind to.”

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