I first met Fleet Feet Knoxville in 2009 when a few coworkers talked me in to trying a sprint triathlon. At the time I was 47 years old and ready to try something new and different. For most of my life I had been a complete tennis fanatic, playing several days every week, participating in local and regional leagues and tournaments. However, following an injury while playing that required surgery and rehabilitation, I never returned to tennis and found myself wondering what to do next. Like most of us, there was always a long list of "I'm going to try this one day" or "I'm going to start doing that" things in the back of my mind that I had never gotten around to. Two of those things were cycling and swimming so when my coworkers suggested a triathlon training class, it sounded like the perfect opportunity to actually mark a couple of items off my bucket list. We signed up for the Tri 101 training program for the Springbrook sprint triathlon and I showed up at the first class with my old mountain bike and a " I wonder if you can teach this old dog a couple of new tricks" attitude!
Wow! What a fun time! The class was awesome, the instruction was great and the coaches and fellow athletes were amazing. I'm sure every training class probably feels the same, but it seemed like we had a special group and it was really one of the best experiences of my life. I made a few new lifelong friends that summer. That secret desire to take up cycling turned out to be something significant. Within a few weeks, I bought a road bike and have loved cycling ever since. I also kind of learned how to swim...well, I learned how to get through the distance for my first race! Swimming is still a work in progress for me although I have come a long, long way. I love it and I know it will continue to get better.
Thanks to Shahin, when I showed up on race day, I knew exactly what to expect. We had trained hard, explored the course, practiced under race conditions in the pool and even practiced transitions. I can't imagine being better prepared and it really made the whole experience better to feel confident at the start even though I had never competed in a triathlon before. It was an incredible feeling of accomplishment to cross the finish line!
Although my first Fleet Feet training course was a huge success, I had basically just followed my friends as they checked "Do a sprint triathlon" off their to-do list and we moved on to other things. We left our tri friends behind and went back to our own world. The next thing on our list was the 2010 Disney Marathon which coincidentally was the Fleet Feet goal race for that year. I had actually completed the 2005 inaugural Knoxville Marathon but was very disappointed in my performance and wanted to try again so we signed up for the race and trained on our own. Disney was another big disappointment for me as I struggled through race. I just didn't know how to train properly or how to race properly and it resulted in a lot of pain and suffering and disappointment! Afterwards, there's a very good probability that the words "I'm never going to do this again" fell from my lips. More than once.
A couple of years passed and I realized I couldn't let the marathon defeat me. I needed to try again, but this time I needed to do it right and I knew exactly where to turn. Tri 101 back in 2009 had been such a great experience, I knew that if I tried the long distance training, it was my best shot at successfully completing a marathon. So in the fall of 2012, I signed up for the marathon training class. It was a challenging experience! I'm a little shy, especially when I don't know anyone and I'm VERY navigationally challenged! Meeting new friends and learning my way around Farragut was hard at first, but it was worth it. I learned so much about running that I didn't know. I ran so much more, and harder, and smarter and more purposefully than ever before and I loved it. My main goal was to run the whole marathon. Time wasn't a priority but running the entire race was. In my previous two attempts, although I finished, I had walked significant portions of the races and just wasn't satisfied with the result. During training, I learned how to pace myself, how to properly hydrate and balance electrolytes and plan nutrition for the race. Of course we practiced everything we would need to know or do on race day. The goal race for the training class was 2013 Disney, but when I joined the class, I had already signed up for the 2013 Charleston Marathon which was one week after the Disney race. So the group went off to Disney and I went to Charleston to race by myself. I was well trained, well rested and had a good race plan. Race morning was beautiful, and cool, perfect running conditions. My primary goal was to run the whole race, and a secondary goal was to break 4 hours, which based on my training was reasonable. Thanks to the knowledge and training provided by Shahin, I ran the whole race for the first time in three attempts! I was on pace to finish right at 4 hours and although I did slow down in the last few miles, I never stopped or walked and finished at 4:02. It was an amazing feeling! Even though I didn't quite make my secondary time goal, I did meet my first and most important goal and I was ecstatic! I was 50 years old and had just accomplished something that seemed so impossible a few years before. That had a powerful impact on my life.
I trained with Fleet Feet through the spring and summer, returning to triathlon and enjoying every minute of it! It's really a great feeling to know that at any age you can learn something new, improve your health and well-being and even overcome fears. That summer I completed several sprint triathlons and an Olympic distance tri. Starting that 1500 meter open water swim was one of the hardest things I have ever done in my life but I started it and finished it and completed the triathlon. It was ugly, haha! But I did it and I'm glad I faced it down.
When the fall came, I was ready to run another marathon! Being able to run the whole marathon earlier in January was just supposed to provide closure for what had seemed like failure to me in my previous attempts. At that time I thought that if I was successful I could leave it behind with no regrets. Now, however, I was eager to do it again. The goal race for the group that session was 2014 Charleston. I was excited because I love the city and enjoyed my experience there and looked forward to going back. We began training with a large group and this time around I knew many more of the athletes and even kind of knew my way around the training routes as well! The great thing about continuing to train with Fleet Feet is there is always more to learn and Shahin is an expert at training you in all kinds of challenging ways. If you do what he says, you will be prepared. He reviewed my race splits from the previous year and helped develop a better plan to improve my performance at the end of the race. This had been my downfall in the first two attempts and was still noticeable at the end of my last race. Race day again was a nice cool, beautiful day and I had a break through run! I broke my PR from the previous year by over 9 minutes! That was a huge gain for me; I've never had such a dramatic improvement. Shahin worked on my nutrition and hydration plan from before, improved it, I executed it and the result was amazing! Like the year before, it was just astounding to see that even at my age, I was able to improve.
I will spare you the details of the next two years and just say that I continued to improve, get stronger and do things I had thought were beyond me. Participating in long bike tours, riding up mountains, sprint and Olympic triathlons and even my first half iron-distance triathlon this past May. I'm still learning and growing and feel encouraged to do whatever I decide I want to do. My goal for this year is to complete two half Ironmans!
By now you've probably realized I'm not much of a writer. For me it's painful to look back over this and see "I" so much, I'm sure that's a terrible writing faux pas. It's not my intention to make my accomplishments seem grand or special. Honestly, I really can't believe what has been possible over the past few years but I'm very proud and thankful and also hopeful for what is to come. None of this would have happened for me without the Fleet Feet family. Shahin and Cheryl are very special people who work and train with their hearts. Even when you think Shahin isn't paying attention or watching you, he is and knows what you have been doing and where you are in your journey. How in the world Cheryl does everything and remembers everything she does I'll never know. (Seriously, three weeks later, she'll hand you that one arm warmer you thought was lost forever.)
While it's special to me, my Fleet Feet story may not have much value to someone else. The only reason I am sharing is because I hope someone reading this will, like me, be encouraged and inspired to step out of their comfort zone and do something they've always wanted to but were afraid to try. I hope everyone will realize there is more in them than they know and that it's worth it to find out. I hope everyone will know that it's not how fast or how far or how long you go, but that you go as fast, as hard and as long as you choose to. I hope everyone will learn that most often we are our own limiters and that we have the power to overcome whatever it is in our way. Lastly I hope that everyone who reads this will learn to find the joy in whatever it is they choose to do, even in the last hill repeat, or track interval or last mile of a 5K or the last 5K of a marathon. You have the power to choose that joy and I hope you do!