Apr 27, 2010

Welcome to my Life

I find myself tossing around, yet immersed in deep sleep. The earsplitting alarm rings only slightly in my dream. It has yet to wake me. Like most weeks, my body has endured hours of stress in the form of training. It is starving for rest as a result. Half awake, I roll over while placing two fingers on my neck… 52 beats. Every action in the life of an endurance athlete is calculated. A normal heart rate is an invitation to force my tired body out of bed. Any irregularity warrants a decision. Rest or continue to push the limits of the human body. Today, my body grants me the opportunity to rise. The first few steps every morning are the most difficult. Many miles of pounding cause my feet, ankles, and knees to ache. I slowly limp across my bedroom floor. My aches subside before my morning dose of caffeine reaches my brain. Another day with its own set of challenges awaits. I am the only person responsible for meeting those challenges. I must proceed with an open heart. This is the life that I chose for myself.

Irrational thoughts are common place to a struggling endurance athlete. Keeping myself sane is always a priority. My daily life is spent inside of my own head. I listen to the water moving across my body. I listen to the road slipping away from my tires. I listen to the breathe escaping my lungs. I continually listen to my body, but I reject any thought of weakness. Hours upon hours of my day are spent in solitude. Luckily, I only answer to myself.

Self improvement is my motivation. My only concern is proving to myself, and only myself, that I have something special deep inside me. I will spend my life pursuing a moment in time. My biggest fear being that I miss that moment. I work for the future while I live in the present. I embrace, yet forget, the past. I am my own driving force. I swim. I ride. I run. 

Apr 10, 2010

The Day I Became a Runner

I hadn’t been in the sport long. A year prior, I borrowed and laced up an old pair of my roommates Asics for the first time. Life was more complicated then, but it was still love at first stride. I had been working late nights at the pizza shop for some time. The late shift was a tough one. I’d knock out my evening run with enough time to shower and walk up Coventry to Guys Pizza. Most nights we worked until 3am… Our product was a commodity. Crappy pizza laced with sugar for the drunken college students stumbling home. I was also a college student at the time; however, I happened to be less drunk and much busier than most people my age.

My urge to run was growing by the day, but I wasn’t a runner… My place in the world was not yet established. There are many opinions on what makes a person a “real” runner. I’ve heard people say that you aren’t a real runner until you qualify for Boston. Everyone has an opinion. Most “real” runners will share there opinion in a heart beat. It’s all bullshit. Every person that runs remembers the day that they became a runner. Chances are it wasn’t the first time you laced up those shoes, but I bet you remember it as the day that changed your life for good… I remember that day.

It had been months since I sold an $8 pizza. I had been working at Second Sole on the east side of Cleveland. In October, I had run the Columbus Marathon in well under 3 hours. That was a special day, but it wasn’t the day I became a runner.

It was a cool, dark Friday evening in early November. The last customer was slowly wandering out of the shop. Scott Gill, an older, well respected local runner, was putting away a few pairs of shoes that had been disregarded during the evening rush. I had just finished vacuuming under the shoe wall. He turned to me and asked me the question I had been waiting months to here. “You got your running gear with you tonight.” It took a sub 3 hour effort in Columbus to finally be invited to the Friday evening run.

Prior to that night, I had heard many stories about the Friday night loop. It was a Second Sole tradition for many years. That night I ran out the front door alongside Eddy Hoffmeier and Scott Gill. I looked up to those guys a lot back then. They were strong runners, accomplished runners. Their daily stories about running and life had shaped me as a young athlete.

We took a quick left out of the parking lot. My stride was strong and my step was bouncy. It was easy to find a rhythm. As we ran through the dark, we chatted as if the 6:30 pace wasn’t the least bit tiring. I had heard about this run enough to know when I should be concerned about pushing myself. I sat back behind them, took a deep breath, and tried to enjoy the evening.

The road tilts upward a quarter mile before Cedar Road. We leaned into the hill and ran as if the steeper grade was imaginary. Our pace never changed. A hard left on Cedar and a slight downhill was the cure for my labored breathing. I knew Scott was testing me. We had talked enough about running in the last few months. He wanted to see what I had in me. I didn’t realize it until 3 miles into the 5 mile loop. This was my rite of passage.

We made another left. We ran towards a dark neighborhood, the pace dropped. Scott pulled to the front and started to push. A quick turn of the head noticed Eddy fade back into the night. This was between the two of us. For the first time in my entire life, I experienced what it was like to stick to someone. My eyes fixed between his shoulder blades. I imagined that we were connected. He dragged me through the dark neighborhood as if we were one.

I could see the glow of Mayfield Road in the distance. The road was tilting upwards once again; however, it was the last hill. I knew once we made that left on Mayfield, it was one hard downhill mile until the finish. For the first time all night, I ran alongside Scott as if to say “Tonight, you’re my equal.” I leaned forward and pushed into the hill. I wanted to break him. I noticed Scott pull in behind me. I felt the adrenaline fly into my body. It was finally my turn.

As Scott hung on my feet, I exploded down the street. Each step pushed him farther back. He popped and I exploded down the sidewalk pushing myself to my anaerobic limit. The memory of this run is a special one. In my memory, my feet are barely bouncing off the ground. I feel as if I could run hard for an eternity. Flying through the night as free as I’ll ever be… Not a care in the world… My perfect run. The memory of this run will never fade. It was the day I became a runner.

Apr 3, 2010

How Life Happens

Some days I feel like I have managed to pack a lifetime in less than 24 years. Maybe it’s my tendency to live life to one extreme or another. I don’t know. It may just be growing up, but I always find myself wondering how I ended up where I am. It’s 8:15pm on a Saturday night. My roommates are gone for the holiday weekend, so the house is quiet. It almost feels too quiet for a Saturday evening. I spent so many years of my life living a certain way. This lifestyle still feels fairly strange. I know my body needs rest from the last 13 days of training. My calves are still sore from Thursday’s track session, and my body is tired from today’s 70 miles of tempo riding. Deep down, I know that it is important to spend the evening recovering. But, it is hard to keep my mind from wandering. Even though tomorrow is Easter Sunday, I’ll have to bring my A game for one more workout. The plan is to meet Tollakson and McGlone for a 16 miler with 4 x 2mile at tempo pace. Strangely, triathlon is the farthest thing from my mind tonight.

Tonight, I think about how I ended up here… how I ended up pursuing triathlon… Sometimes I think about how I could have picked any life… why this one?

It didn’t take long until I was hooked. From the day I picked up a pair of running shoes, my life was different. I remember the first day I ran… really ran. I was 20 years old and had just returned from a summer on the road. I had just finished 8 weeks touring the US with Chaotic Alliance. Thinking back, it is no wonder I wanted to run. I had been sitting in a hot van for 2 months. I borrowed my roommates running shoes. They were 2 sizes too big. It was the freest I had felt the entire summer. But why did I lace those shoes up for the first time? If I hadn’t had that roommate, would I ever have run out that door?

I wasn’t even supposed to live with Brendan Barton. After a year at Case Western and way too many troublesome instances in student housing, a few of us were “kindly” asked to find a new place to live. Jim Dahlberg, Steve Chang and I were glad to find ourselves an apartment in the neighboring community of Little Italy. However, as it were to work out, I only lived there for five short weeks. One night, I was socializing at a local watering hole full of college students. Without going into too many details, words were exchanged and a much younger, less responsible AJ may have lost his temper. Unfortunately, I was with two girls and they were with many, many other guys. To avoid an unfavorable altercation, I skipped out the back door and ran home… I was followed. As I sat at my kitchen table, there was a knock at the door. The next 5 minutes were in slow motion. Three guys broke into my house and confronted me in my kitchen. I reacted as if my life was on the line… it may have been. I spent that night in the hospital. 

Three days later, I left town for tour. A day after that, I was officially evicted. On a side note, it was hard to come to peace with that evening. I spent a year thinking about my revenge. It took a changed person to forgive and forget. Steve and Jim ended up living together without me. I found a new roommate when I returned to Cleveland 2 months later. It just so happened to be triathlete and aspiring Ironman, Brendan Barton. His influence would change my life.

Everyone has a story on how they got into the sport. Mine just so happens to entail an unfair fight, a summer on the road, and a new roommate.

Cheers everyone.