|Posted on November 9, 2020 at 11:55 AM|
My first 3 years running for the Lexington Wildcats were nothing special. For my first cross country race I clocked around a 25:30 for the 5K. However, this was the only race that year where I did not finish last on the team. I outsprinted another 7th grader in the final 100 yards, and for the rest of the season I would not have such luck. But hey, I was a 7th grader on a high school team so that made it all worth it to me. That season I improved from 25:30 down to 22:30 for 5K. Nothing crazy, but a 3-minute improvement over my first season was something I was proud of.
Next year, in 8th grade, I improved my 5K time down to around 20:30. In fact, I guess there was something about running 20:30 5K’s that spoke to me on a deeper level. I ran that time on five or six different occasions between my 8th and 9th grade seasons. This was the first plateau I had experienced as a runner; I was frustrated and wondered where I was going wrong. I never missed a practice and completed every workout. At the time, I didn’t have this hindsight, but that was just it, I was only doing what was asked of me. You see, as a freshman in high school, I was far more interested in my social life and friends than I was about putting in the extra work required to excel in running. I was enjoying life as a vibrant freshman far more than as a cross country runner, and for the first time in my life I began to question if I wanted to continue down this path.
Oh, and the team I was on? State Champions in XC and multiple distance track events for 4 years in a row - 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012. To this day, watching that team in practice and in races are some of my most fond sporting memories. It was the first time in my life where I was in an environment where excellence was demanded and eventually, expected. I admired those guys more than they will ever know. They inspired me to aspire to achieve so much more than I could have ever expected. But like I said, that’s all hindsight. 9th grade Miles was not merely as aware of the environment he was in.
So, having reached a plateau I just couldn’t’ seem to break through, I was seriously contemplating walking away from the sport all together. But then what would I do? Running had been a part of who I was for so long and I wasn’t sure of any other sports I could easily get into. At the high school level, 9th grade is usually a little too late to pick up a new sport. And, going back to my social endeavors, I had the first real crush of my teenage years. Although we were never official, this crush and I “talked” for several months (if you’re not sure what “talking” means, ask your kids). We had class together every day and even hung out some on the weekends and after school. It’s safe to say that running was far from being the number one thing on my mind.
Although similar to my running career at the time, this little fling hit its own plateau and eventually came to an end. Not only did this little fling end, but after freshman year, all of my best friends were moving to the new high school that opened on the other side of town. It would now seem like my decision was being made for me. With my vibrant 9th grade social life exploding in my face, I was lost, and my heart was broken.
Filled with adolescent angst and heartbreak, I decided it was time to break through the one plateau I could control. My mind was made up. It was time to double down on running. Luckily, this change happened as my freshman year of high school was coming to an end. This meant that I had the whole summer to now focus on breaking through the plateau. For those that may not know, the summer is when cross country seasons are won and lost. It is the time for making big gains and carrying that fitness into the fall season.
So, it seemed like my plans for the summer of 2013 were pretty simple: run. For the prior three summers, I didn’t run more than 25 miles per week. This was because I wasn’t highly motivated and would have rather played Call of Duty or hangout with my friends. This summer was different though. I was motivated like never before. I needed to let out a lot of angst and heartbreak and 25 miles per week was not enough to ease my restless soul. I started out with 25 and quickly increased to 40+ miles a week and up to a peak of 50 for a few weeks. There was no structure to these runs however, I would just head out the door and run. My knowledge of training science was still very minimal, but I figured the more I ran, the better I would become.
However, running would not be my only endeavor that summer. It just so happened that a few of the best varsity runners on my XC team also competed in a sport called Triathlon. So, along with running, they were constantly cycling and swimming. I made the connection that if Triathlon had helped them become some of the best runners in the state then it would for sure help me as well. I was able to convince my parents to purchase a road bike and soon I was adding cycling to my training along with the increased running volume.
Unlike running, cycling came to me naturally. Where running was harsh on my body, I felt with cycling I could finally push myself as hard as I wanted to on a regular basis. Cycling is the one sport where I feel I have some innate talent and pretty quickly I was riding all over the South Carolina countryside. I was even joining group rides with much older cyclists and holding my own. This left one piece to the triathlon puzzle: swimming.
As it turned out, the gym I was a member of at the time had a pool with a handful of lanes for lap swimming. It’s safe for me to say that as much as I had a talent for and loved cycling, the exact opposite was true for swimming. Through Google searches, YouTube videos, a few books, and advice from other swimmers at the pool, I slowly taught myself to perform some sort of activity that resembled freestyle swimming. It would be over 5 years from that point until I learned to love swimming as I do running and cycling. However, at that point in time, it helped me improve at running, and that was good enough for me.
I can tell you from experience that when you’re a 15-year-old boy and explain to your parents that you would like to try this thing called Triathlon, you receive the same reaction as if you had spoken fluent Mandarin Chinese. Nonetheless, in late July of 2013 I completed my first triathlon and won my age group. It was a 350-yard swim, 13-mile bike, and a 5K run. Plenty more on Triathlon later…
So, this was all in the pursuit of becoming a better cross-country runner? You bet. How did that play out? Well I’m glad you asked. At cross-country “try outs” consisting of a 2-mile time trial, I won the time trial and ran around 12:00 for the 2-miles. A six-minute per mile pace. I still remember cruising to that finish alone and seeing the smile on my dad’s face and the jaw of my coach, which had hit the floor. My guess is that if you had asked him who was going to improve the most that summer, I would not have been in his top 5.
This performance not only surprised my coach, but in the span of 12 minutes, I gained the respect of my teammates for the first time. My sudden jump from JV to Varsity gained me respect and a new brotherhood that I didn’t have for the previous 3 years. Over those 12 minutes I also earned an exclusive invite to the River Trip. This was an annual retreat that the Varsity and top JV runners took the first weekend of August each year to kick off the new XC season. This trip is filled with adventure, games, team bonding, good food, and most importantly benchmark one mile and 5K time trials. I don’t remember my time for that mile, but for the 5K I clocked an 18:38. An almost 2-minute improvement from my streak of 20:30’s. Mission accomplished. Plateau shattered.