Once, long ago, I was a newbie. A noob. A beginner. I know that given my current level of awesome (it's high; you don't have to say it I just know this) it's tough to tell the me that used to be but rest assured, huge n00b alert.
Is it a bit presumptuous of me to think people will be interested in a post like this? Perhaps. But, one thing I've been reminded of a lot lately is to never forget the people that help you along your chosen path. The group that I've become a part of has changed over the years but almost always for the better. You learn over time to associate with people that are good people, and remove yourself from people that are not. This is true in real life and in triathlon life. I can say, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I wouldn't be anywhere close to where I am today without the support of my friends and family.
In looking back at my athleticore, this time of year in 2008 preparing to embark on a trip with other AmeriCorps and HfH Charlotte peeps to El Salvador for 10 days. Fearing losing fitness (running fitness, as I had been running 30mi/week for a month or two) I purchased a jump rope and used that on the roof of our hotel some nights. I did this because I had no desire to run around in San Salvador at night. Not only did I not want to die, we were told it was basically a horrible idea to be out after dark. So I jump-roped (word?) 20 minutes or so every day while I was there.
Anyway, when I first started running in Charlotte I ran a lot with a fellow William and Mary alum and ex-collegiate XCer. Little did I know that even though 6:50 was an aerobic training pace for Anna, it was definitely NOT an everyday running pace for me, a new runner. Pretty much everything I did was a tempo run or faster. It was, however, inspiring to run with someone like her in the sense that it was so effortless! It was my first real taste of performance anxiety. I didn't want to suck while running with her! So I proverbially sucked it up and suffered. I think my first ever running race was the Greek Fest 5k in the fall of 2007 or 2008. Alana Hadley, I will always remember because of how fast she's gotten, at the age of 10 or 11 or something, beat me. I will never, ever forget that.
I pretty much only ran through the spring of 2008. I mainly did the Plaza Midwood 4 miler (called the "Plaza Prowl" back then I think) that was formed by a meetup group. I think that run has evolved rather significantly in the past years to become a pretty huge group run. Back then it was much smaller and I didn't really know anyone so everyone probably thought I was kind of weird and standoffish. So...pretty much like they do now. At that group I met the first guy that I'd really call a "running buddy." Tim was an ultra runner who was somewhat polarizing in the Charlotte community. He was always nice to me though and was a fun guy to run with; he always had good stories. I shifted to the "Sharksbite 4 miler" (or something pretty close) that Tim got together out behind the CRC Dilworth location. This was a fun way to spend a Thursday evening and through this I met a bunch of people I still know today. Jocelyn (no blog to link to, sadly...jeez Jocelyn!!) and Cummins showed up to one of those and for no particular reason other than to be nice said I should run with them more. I knew them both as "triathletes" and not just "runners" so was interested to get other perspectives on working out; plus, variety is the spice of life!
Rolling into the late spring of that year, I can pretty much given Jocelyn full credit for planting the seed in my head of doing a triathlon. I had raced bikes in school, so surely I would still be good at that, right? She and Cummins got me to go to the Inside Out Tuesday night ride. If I'm not mistaken, this is around the time frame when Donny first moved to Charlotte, and when all the big dawgs were in really good shape. Cummins, Lat, Wattie, Donny, Nick, Lisska, Hawk, Woodbury, etc. I got hammered. I've never been dropped quite that hard in my life. Needless to say, the former bike racer was chagrined.
BUT, it did inspire me to sign up for my first triathlon: Patriots Olympic in Williamsburg, VA. Jocelyn, Kelly, Woodbury and Hawk were all signed up for the half and I figured I'd make the shorter distance my "debut." This meant one, very important thing, however: I'd have to learn how to swim. It probably took Jocelyn a month or two just to convince me to show up for a swim with her. She crushed me. She crushed me real bad. My first masters practices were in the far right lane at the Dowd YMCA, in the back of the lane. I was slow. Everyone starts somewhere, right?
Looking back on some of the logs I have of those workouts is a fun comparison tool. To see times that "amazed" and "surprised" me back then and to see where I am now is a great confidence boost. Jocelyn and, later on, Jackie were great motivators for me in this early months of swimming. Unfortunately, that first "triathlon" ended up being a "duathlon" because of a hurricane so my anxiety over the swim portion would have to wait until next April. Over the fall and winter I ended up getting some swim lessons from Lance Leo. While I initially liked what he did with my stroke, in the end I was not a big fan of how hard it was to implement (reallyyyy long glide; almost like swimming catch-up; I was simply not strong enough to hold this stroke at the time) but I learned some great pointers from him, the main one being the concept behind an early vertical forearm.
Before New Orleans 70.3, which would be my first triathlon in 2009, I went to Inside Out Sports to get a wetsuit. Scott had suggested I go there and it was during this fateful time period when I first got to know Melissa and Bob. Melissa lent me a rental long john wetsuit to test for sizing before NOLA and I took that and some trepidation to the Harris YMCA pool. I knew nothing of wetsuits and nothing of their benefits so when I swam 2500m in 36:13 (1:26/100yd pace) I was massively surprised. That was significantly faster than anything I'd ever done before and gave me a HUGE confidence boost before my first 1.2 mile open water swim.
Driving down to New Orleans and back with Scott (and others obviously, but the point of this tangent is Scott) was definitely a great way to get to know the guy. 22 hours in the car within the span of 5 days is quite a bit and it was the start of a great...relationship? Back then he was just doing his second 70.3, had an afro, and lived in Charlotte working for Kimley Horn. Now he's done several Ironmans, run sub 3:10 off the bike, has a buzzcut, and works somewhere else in the middle of nowhere working for a company that I don't always remember the name of...
Mid-way through that year I also met the Behmes. John, Carrie, and Scott would without a doubt become my closest friends for the foreseeable future. Learning how to ride a bike properly with John at White Lake (no, there was zero drafting), getting beat-down by Scott in running and learning how to always have fun from Carrie. I had so much fun that year that it's tough to remember a negative. I still didn't really know what I was doing when it came to training; I just did what everyone else was doing. That's how I ended up doing Beach to Battleship full that year; I had been doing long runs and rides with all the guys doing Ironman Louisville that summer so figured I might as well just sign up for B2B. Might as well, right?
Luckily before the race I met two of the most awesomest people in Charlotte: Lori and Ashley Ackerman. Not only did I get to stay with them race weekend, but training with Ashley was like icing on a cake to end a perfect year. You'll never meet a more laid-back, humble, and very fast dood. It's just not happening. Despite getting a bee sting on his face during the bike ride he still screamed past me before 10k of the run and soundly beat me. It's funny because despite having some pretty miserable memories of the run I remember that weekend very fondly and I think it's due primarily to the great friends I had around me. Fishy, Behme, Wattie and the Ackermans were all there. It was a pretty sweet end to a first year of doing triathlons.
Before I had even finished B2B I had signed up for IM Louisville '10. That is one way to go about dealing with post-IM "depression:" make sure that you have a "next step!" Up until the new year I had been working full time with Habitat for Humanity, primarily as an AmeriCorps then as a full-time staff member for a couple of months with rehab project. In 2010 this was no longer on the docket so I had a lot more time to train and - much more importantly - not do physical labor. Looking back, I have no idea how I worked out 15-20 hours a week (some weeks, not consistently mind you, which was probably part of my problem...!) and did physical, hard labor through all kinds of weather. I am much, MUCH weaker than I was back then... Pathetic.
Anyway, 2010 had one, singular goal: Louisville. I started working at Inside Out Sports and back then I think Melissa may have actually liked me! Probably because I wasn't around as much. I'm much less entertaining the more you are around me. It's a curse.
Little did I know that the real, underlying goal of 2010 would be about deciding what I'd do with the upcoming years of my life. You may expect this to be some sort of revelatory discovery, but it was much more subtle than that. It was during this year that I had both the biggest letdown of my athletic "career" in Louisville, but also experienced the ultimate "let's see where we can go" moment later in the year. Having so many friends at Louisville was both amazing but doubly sad as I felt as though I had let them down as well as myself. Luckily I was able to recover from this and move on but the rest of the year felt a bit as though I was trying to make up for lost ground. Thus, the amazing accomplishment and fun weekend that was Triple-T NC in White Lake with Fletch seems lost. It's silly because that weekend was awesome. Hanging out with Fletch, Woody and Lisska and running my best ever half-ironman half-marathon with Fletch pulling me along after two days of hard racing should be viewed as a major accomplishment! But it's almost as though it never happened because of the massive disappointment that preceded it. We learn and move on, always.
The end of 2010 brought with it the end of Version 1 of James the Trihacklete. I would soon go from taking it somewhat seriously to taking it very seriously. 2011 would bring a world-renowned (well, he should be) coach, a new focus, and a new housemate. All these things would combine to propel me into a new division of taking-myself-too-seriously, for better or for worse.