One year ago at this time, James Ryan was a recent high school graduate and novice road runner who rarely ventured outside of his hometown of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.
Today, Ryan (pictured courtesy Richard Burgunder /www.powerbar.com) is an XTERRA Trail Run regional champion who is considered a legitimate contender in his age group at next month's XTERRA Trail Run National Championship at the Snowbasin Resort near Ogden, Utah. It has been quite a year for the Kings College student.
"This is my first national event; I'm feeling excited definitely, and I can't wait to go to Utah," he said. "It is going to be an awesome experience. I'm pretty pumped that I'm going a national event when I'm 19."
Ryan will enter the XTERRA Trail Run Nationals for the first time after qualifying as the winner of the 15-19 age division for the XTERRA Pocono Trail Run Series. It is not just his first trip to Utah, but his first trip anywhere outside of the Eastern Time Zone.
"This is going to be my first adventure into the west of the United States," he said. "The farthest I have ever traveled was as about 500 miles north to Maine … and if my girlfriend did not go to school there, I would not drive that far."
Fortunately for Ryan, the XTERRA Pocono Trail Run Series featured five races in 2012 near his home city. He won his age division at all five races, and was the overall winner at three of the races. He was one of only two runners in the Pocono Series to go undefeated in an age group at all five races.
Making it more impressive, Ryan had never entered any previous trail runs, although he did compete in cross country as a high school senior.
"I like that every race in the series was at a new and unique location throughout Pennsylvania, with all different types of landscape and terrain," he said. "I kept coming back because of the participants as well as the organizers of the series. They did a great job with every race -- cookouts, raffles, prizes, etc. I had a fun time at every race."
Ryan added that the steep hills and unpredictable courses in the Pocono Series helped prepare him for future trail runs.
"The series taught me how to run various types of trails and conditions," he said. "Every race was challenging its own way. I had no idea what to expect walking into each event. That will help prepare me for the upcoming race in Utah. Climbing all those hills in the series has made me a stronger runner, mentally and physically."
Ryan said his main concern is the altitude of Utah. While the courses in the Pocono Series offered steep hill climbs, the highest elevation points were around 2,600 feet above sea level. At the XTERRA Trail Run National Championship, the course elevation will reach heights of more than 7,000 feet above sea level.
"I'm fine with weather and unknown terrain. The only thing that concerns me is altitude," Ryan said. "Breathing will probably be harder ... I actually live in Wyoming Valley in northeastern Pennsylvania, so it's going to be a big change of scenery for me."
Ryan said he has been training four to five days a week for the XTERRA Trail Run Nationals, although he is juggling his training with several other priorities. He is currently a sophomore business student at King's College, and is also on its cross country team.