|Posted on December 3, 2020 at 11:20 AM|
I finally made the jump. By learning hard work made me a better athlete, I worked my way onto the varsity squad. While I made the connection between hard work and progress, I was still completely ignorant about how to properly rest and recover from all the hard work. I flipped a switch but had no idea how to, or when to, turn it off. By the middle of my sophomore season, I had lowered by 5K time down to the 17:50’s but a few weeks later I couldn’t walk without constant pain. I had no idea what was wrong with me. I remember my legs were in so much pain that I decided I better have someone take a look at me. I remember explaining to my coach, parents, and a few teammates about how much pain I was in. I even mentioned that my hips seemed to click every time I walked. They all pretty much had the same reaction and scolded me a bit for not having said anything sooner. But like I said, I was all hard work and no recovery.
It turned out that I had a pair of extremely tight IT bands. Your IT bands (short for iliotibial bands) are ligaments that run along the side of your leg from your hips down to your shin bone below the knee. This is a pretty common overuse injury for distance runners commonly referred to as “IT Band Syndrome.” However, I did not have just any old tight IT bands. It turns out I had the tightest IT bands that all of the school’s athletic trainers, various massage therapists, and even my pediatrician claimed to have ever seen. While I am not proud of injuring myself, you better believe part of me still holds a little bit of pride to the fact that I had worked myself into the ground. I spent the second half of that year in the training room, learning how to stretch and massage myself for better recovery, and slowly working my way back to running.
While I was disappointed to not be competing alongside my teammates for the rest of the season and to not find out just how much more I could improve, I was still elated I had improved my 5K time by almost 3 minutes in just under a year. Even in October/November, I was already dreaming about the next summer. If I could jump from 20:38 down to the 17:50’s from one summer and half a season, then what could I do with my new fitness, more cycling, better ability to recover, another summer, and a full season? In my head, the possibilities were endless.
Side Note: Some of you might be wondering if I ever ran Track in the winter/spring following cross country. I only ran one season of track in the spring of my sophomore year and I really did not enjoy it. For the remainder of high school, I would choose to not run track and solely focus on triathlon in the spring. This irritated my coaches at the time, but I knew I didn’t have a future in track and preferred to explore my abilities in triathlon.
At the start of the summer of 2014, I was giddy with the idea of just how much I could improve over the summer. I consistently ran 50+ miles a week, peaking at one three-week stretch where I ran 60, 65, and 70 miles per week. All of this while riding over 100 miles a week on the bike and still teaching myself how to swim. That summer I competed in three triathlons opposed to only the one the year before. The first two showed significant improvement over the previous year, while the second did not go so well and left a bitter taste in my mouth. At the beginning of the summer, I had also acquired a triathlon specific bike which allowed me to ride in a more aerodynamic position. This meant I was beginning to ride further and faster and taking triathlon much more seriously. My parents deserve endless praise and thanks for this part of my story (and for all of it to be quite honest) because even though they were learning about the sport alongside me, their support was always un-matched.
Once again, I made some big gains in the running department. On the river trip that summer, I ran a 16:45 5K and ran under 5-minutes for the mile for the first time ever. Unfortunately, this would be the quickest I would run all season. I don’t remember much about my times that season, but I do remember never running under 17-minutes again. It wasn’t for a lack of trying, though. I gave my best efforts in practice every day and did everything I was told to and then some.
For whatever reason though, I just could not seem to align my stars and show the same fitness I had at the end of the summer. I was extremely frustrated all season long. This led to some pretty in-depth conversations with my coach and teammates about what the problem might have been. In hindsight, now I can confidently say I believe I had unknowingly peaked myself way too early. Combine this with the different training style of my coach while in season versus my high-volume approach in the summer, and it was most likely a perfect recipe to keep me from improving. Now as a Junior, I was voted as one of our team’s 3 captains. I was frustrated with how my training and racing was going, but I loved being a captain and I loved my team. All of the laughs, inside jokes, and adventures we had made up for my frustrations in some ways.
As for triathlon at this point, I never rode my bike during official cross-country season. This was due to my coach asking me to stop cycling during the season. He claimed it would interfere with the training we were going to be doing in season. I didn’t want to rock the boat too much as I knew triathlon already left a bad taste in my coach’s mouth, so I didn’t argue with him. However, I did continue to swim a few times a week after practice. This is because swimming boosts recovery and adds to aerobic fitness without adding a significant amount of fatigue in the legs. I also knew if I wanted to be anything significant in triathlon, I had to be like Dory and just keep swimming. Thank God I did keep on swimming because it so happened that one day at a post cross country practice swim, I would have a conversation that would shift the direction of my life once again.
That evening I ran into Tripp Davis. Tripp had been an assistant coach with the cross-country team when I was in middle school and was one of the first people to push me hard. As in, run directly behind me during a workout and tell me to suck it up kind of hard. Tripp is also a beast triathlete when he wants to be, and he had taken an interest into my recent triathlon endeavors. Tripp and I remain good friends to this day. He comes to me for coaching from time to time which has been one of the coolest full-circle moments of my life so far. He has even helped me on an occasional bike KOM hunt on Strava. We happened to be swimming side by side that evening when he struck up a conversation that went something like this:
Tripp: “So, have you started looking into where you might want to go to college?”
Miles (me): “Not too in-depth yet. I know I need to start being more serious about that process but I’m just not sure.”
Tripp: “Do you have any interest in attempting to run somewhere?”
Me: “Well I thought I would run better this season and maybe I’d have a shot at running D1 somewhere, but I don’t think I want to go and run at a smaller school. I’d rather go to a big school and continue with triathlon on my own.”
Tripp: “Hmm OK. Well, an old coach of mine named Sonni Dyer is starting a collegiate triathlon program at Queens University of Charlotte. I’m going to send him an email about you if that is alright with you.”
Me: “Yeah sure that sounds great! I’ve never heard of Queens before, but I guess it won’t hurt to see what Sonni has to say.”
At the time, circa 2014, the only collegiate program in the U.S. that offered scholarship for triathlon was Marymount University in Washington D.C. I knew of this program because one of the runners, that I wrote about in the previous blog who inspired me to try triathlon, Tony Morales, went there. Also, it so happened that Tony’s roommate at Marymount was a guy named Eric Kirouac. Small world. Anyways, I knew I was nowhere near Tony’s level at the time, but I figured checking out Marymount wouldn’t hurt. I figured the worst they could tell me was “no.” However, after that conversation with Tripp, I soon began to forget about Marymount and started investigating Queens University of Charlotte.
I’m guessing Tripp’s word still carried some weight with Sonni. In February of 2015 I found myself on an official recruitment visit to Queens. I fell in love with the university from the moment I arrived. I met with Sonni and for the first time I sat across from someone that could completely “nerd out” with me over triathlon. Sonni and I got along from the moment we started talking. While on my visit, I also had the privilege of watching an official practice for the Queens swim team. I watched the swim team practice because the triathlon team didn’t exist yet. It would begin the following school year. I had never seen anything like it before. This practice was special because it was their race day simulation practice. The swim team was only a week or two out from their national championships, which they would go onto win. They also won the next 4 national titles making it 5 in a row for them at the time I’m writing this. Safe to say, I witnessed some fast swimming on my visit.
It’s fair to say their sales pitch worked. I was now hooked on this small university that I didn’t even know existed a few months prior. I was also completely enticed by the idea of being on a triathlon team with other kids my age that were passionate about the sport. The triathlon journey had been pretty lonely for me up to that point. I was ready to finally be surrounded my like-minded people my age. Also, Sonni explained to me that the goal was to grow the program into a powerhouse and win a national title within 5 years. My visit kept getting better and better. While I was frustrated with how my running career was going, the sky seemed to be the limit when it came to triathlon.
It’s also important to note that while the men’s team at Queens is not NCAA affiliated, it is still treated as a varsity level sport with athletic scholarship. This little detail had my gears turning. I realized that without any NCAA association, we did not have to comply with the same set of rules, either. This meant Sonni could start coaching me through his private coaching business almost immediately. So, I left Queens that day in February having been completely sold. I wanted to make sure I took complete advantage of this opportunity.
My new path was now clearer than ever: With my first real triathlon coach, I would work my hardest and smartest all 2015. I would race as many triathlons as I could find that spring and summer. Then I’d have the best cross-country season of my life where I would achieve all I had imagined. After this, Sonni and Queens would be sold on my abilities and offer me a spot on the roster for Fall of 2016.
However, if my road to Queens was as simple and laid with golden bricks like that, it wouldn’t be much of a story worth telling now would it?