Q&A with Train to Tri

Earlier this year, a former co-worker of mine created a blog -- Train to Tri. Jeremy -- who now lives in Richmond, Va. -- and I worked together for about a year in 2002 in Lynchburg, and even collaborated on a top design award for our newspaper in the Virginia Press Association Awards that year. That was well before our running days. And even though I lived in Richmond for a couple of years, we ran together only once (I actually wrote about that run here). That is unfortunate because Jeremy has turned into a training beast, and I highly admire what he has done in recent years and this year as he tackled triathlons.

Today I devote my blog to Jeremy with a Q&A. After you're done here, go add his blog to your Google Reader or RSS feed or however you read blogs.

Q: You collapsed in your first marathon and were told to not try another one. What made you defy the doctors and come back? First of all, thanks so much for the opportunity to chat on your blog! I've been following for many years and it was in the front of my mind when I started my own training blog in January.

In the days after I collapsed at Mile 24 of the marathon in 2006, there was a fear that it was caused by an underlying heart condition. My family has a history of heart issues, including a cousin who takes medication every day for the same condition that makes high school kids drop dead in the middle of football practice. I spent three days undergoing tests in the hospital's cardiac unit, and then follow-up tests in the months afterward. None of the tests showed any reason for concern, thankfully, and it was determined that my collapse was a result of environmental conditions on race day. (The race was in mid-November but there was a sudden heat wave that pushed the temperatures into the 80s. I suffered from heatstroke and severe dehydration.)

In my last visit with the cardiologist, after he informed me that he couldn't detect any issues, he casually said, "You can still run, but I wouldn't recommend any more marathons." I felt like he was just doing his duty, covering his bases, and that there was no real basis for his statement. Every test had shown I was healthy. If any of the tests had indicated a reason for concern, I would have heeded his advice more closely.

As it turns out, I've been running ever since that experience, including a marathon the following year (how could I not make it my goal to complete the race that had humbled me?), and I've never been worried that it might happen again. Of course, I'm much smarter now about listening to my body and respecting the conditions of the run.

Q: This year you’ve been intensely focused on triathlons and more recently PRing in the Richmond Half Marathon. Where do you think your determination has come from? I'm a very goal-oriented person, like many runners. However, after six years of running recreationally, my infatuation with the sport was fading. I registered for the same half-marathon each year just to give myself incentive to keep running, but I just wasn't excited about it. I realized I needed a new challenge to spice up my training, and that's where triathlons came into the picture.

It was very exciting for me to have two new sports to learn -- I was never a swimmer and not much of a cyclist, either. Running became my comfort zone when the other two disciplines would frustrate me, which was often. It was hard for me to have to learn something from scratch, to not be good at it immediately. But I loved the challenge that triathlon presented. I had something to work on every day, and training became a large part of my life.

It's funny how a taste of success drives you to work that much harder. I had no choice but to get better at swimming and biking -- there was nowhere to go but up. But along the way I realized that my running was improving, too. It got to be that I was excited to see what I could do on every training run, and I pushed harder and harder. Eventually I realized I was going to be in a position to destroy my half-marathon PR. I felt like I had a responsibility to work as hard as I could to fulfill my newfound potential.

Last year I was amazed when I PR'd my half-marathon with a time of 1:41. I had no idea I could hold a sub-8 pace for that distance. This year, after almost 11 months of dedicated and intense training, I ran the same distance at a sub-7 pace, finishing in 1:30.

I find that I thrive when I have a tough goal to meet -- I enjoy the training when it challenges me. I like seeking my limits, and I've learned to rethink what's possible for myself. Many runners find solace or freedom or clear thinking during a run, which can be great reasons to get out there.

But they're not my reasons. I'm honestly not sure that I would ever enjoy extended periods of downtime or "easy" running, which is what I had been doing for the past few years. This year has shown me that I'm happiest when I'm trying to push the envelope.

Q: How have you juggled your evening work schedule and family life? How challenging has that been? It might seem odd to most people, but working evenings is all I've ever known. I worked evenings in college, and I've worked evening jobs for newspapers ever since I graduated in 2000. I love it because I have my days free to exercise or take care of the normal family/household duties. It's also been wonderful because I've been able to be at home with my daughter every day since she was born almost four years ago. I would never trade that time I've had with her.

My wife and I started dating in college, so this schedule is also all that we've ever known as a couple. It's true that we don't get to see each other very much during the week, but she has Fridays off and I have Mondays off, so we get long weekends together every week. Whenever my job gets me down and I think about finding a new career, I find myself hesitating because I like my schedule too much to give it up!

Q: What are you thinking about for 2012 or beyond? Well, I haven't even announced this on my own blog, but here goes -- I plan to make my return to the marathon at Shamrock in March. After the success I've had with running this year, I realized I would be cheating myself if I didn't take advantage of my fitness to make another go at a distance that has dogged me in the past. I've only finished one marathon, in 4:07, and both of my marathon training cycles left me with months-long injuries afterward.

But I'm a smarter runner now, and I have a lot more miles on my body. I really think I'm ready to tackle it again. That's my total focus right now -- my training cycle starts Nov. 29 -- so I have no idea what else I might attempt in 2012 after that race. Someday I would consider a half-Ironman triathlon and perhaps an ultra-distance running race, but those aren't specific things on my radar right now.

Q: What’s a non-running thing people may be surprised to know about you? I drove a tow truck full-time to support myself in college. It was kind of a fun social experiment to see people's reaction when they found out that the grease-covered kid pulling their car out of a ditch was also an English major at the town's college (which happens to be somewhat well-regarded).

It was a fun job that even paid pretty well. You never knew what was going to happen at a scene -- it could be a simple jump start or it could be a multi-car pileup on the interstate. But now when people find out, they start coming to me when there's something wrong with their car. I don't know what's wrong with your car, but I know how to tow it somewhere.

Q: If you could run like any animal, what would it be? Hmm, this is a tough one. Cheetahs are fast, but only for short distances. They're also kind of cliche when comparing running skills. And, besides, I wouldn't want to run on four legs. So, maybe an ostrich. They can maintain 30mph for 10 miles or more -- and they do it on two legs! Even if I hit the wall after the first 10 miles, I'd have quite a lead on the competition.

In addition to his blog, you can find Jeremy on Twitter and on Daily Mile. You can find additional Q&As here