,James Grauel Jr. isn’t wasting any time. In the span of two years, this relative newcomer to endurance events has notched six triathlons—one Full, two Half, one Olympic, and two sprints (,Triathlon distances). Grauel joined the Earn Your Break (EYB) crew in 2020 and completed his first endurance event—Legacy of Hope’s 24 hour stair climb, PHL24. His consistency and discipline since then have paved the way for the 24-year-old Wildwood, New Jersey native’s incredible trajectory. Next up for Grauel is the , 2023 New Jersey State Triathlon, in which he’ll compete as a sponsored athlete for Legacy of Hope.
Despite appearances, Grauel didn’t just wake up triathlon-ready one morning. His endurance fitness stems from a solid foundation that was laid, in part, by his father, James Grauel Sr.—a Captain with the City of Wildwood Fire Department (WFD), who also serves as WFD’s Health, Wellness, and Fitness Officer, has peer fitness certifications from ACE (American Council on Exercise) and IAFF (International Association of Firefighters), and is a level II crossfit trainer; he has also hosted a ,Memorial Day Murph Challenge for the past nine years.. It’s no wonder that crossfit and doing Murph figure prominently in Grauel’s exercise arsenal, making him well equipped to keep up with team EYB’s tendency toward the extreme. (See ,Does Not Compute for background on EYB and its founder, John Sullivan.)
With such a health and fitness oriented father, there was no chance of Grauel becoming a couch potato. He’d already been doing Murph every week before connecting with EYB—and is now into his fourth consecutive year of doing this challenging hero workout weekly.
“Murph is basically all around strength. It works your legs. It works your shoulders; and it 100% works your core stability, because you’re wearing the 20 pound vest the entire time. When people are like, ‘you look so strong during your runs, why?’ I honestly think it’s because of Murph. I do Murph because he can’t.” Unlike most 24-year-olds, Grauel takes little for granted. “It’s a blessing to wake up everyday. I thank God that I get to do stuff like this. In today’s world, too many people take exercise and fitness for granted. Once they have to or are incapable physically, exercise becomes a chore.” In that sense, Grauel is staying ahead of the health game; and knows he’s onto something good.
Not surprisingly, Grauel connected with EYB through his father, who had seen an article about John Sullivan (Sully). He reached out; and Sully came down and did a Murph with them on the boardwalk. Not long after, Sully told Grauel about the PHL24 and Legacy of Hope, making his pitch “I think you’d benefit a lot by participating; Earn Your Break would benefit, as well as Legacy of Hope.” They’ve been teammates ever since.
Grauel’s journey toward becoming a triathlete started when he was in college, where he did CrossFit as an alternative to team sports. CrossFit’s varied workout lengths and intensities helped Grauel realize that endurance was where he excelled. “My muscles always responded better to endurance training.” Grauel had been using running “as cardio to burn some extra calories. Eventually I was going out for longer [and faster] distances than people would expect for a stockier guy. In May of 2021 my friend, Nick Holland, saw that that I’d gotten a new bike and convinced me to go for a ride with his crew. Our rides got longer, and longer, to the point where he convinced me that I should just register for the Iron Man half (September 2021).We kept each other accountable during training for that event.”
Grauel only started [distance] swimming in March of 2021. “I never swam more than 50 yards; and started in March of 2021 because a girl at the CrossFit gym was like, ‘Getting in the pool is a great extra way of doing some cross-training after a CrossFit workout.’”
Grauel’s off-season training regimen includes two swimming sessions, two biking sessions, two runs, and two strength sessions, one of which is Murph. In peak season, Grauel swims three times a week, and does three to five bike rides, weekly. His focus is time-based training, rather than distance. “Last year I was averaging about 14 to 15 hours a week at peak training; this year I’m aiming for 16 to 20. I’m trying to improve a lot this year.”
Grauel has some solid advice for folks looking to compete in their first triathlon. His first suggestion: “find a local triathlon training club!” Early in his training Grauel joined ,Wild Harbor Tri Club, whom he credits with “helping to keep me accountable with my training in the beginning, because I was out of my comfort zone. Clubs are also great because you see familiar faces, get to know those people and see how they balance life, working hard and playing hard. Connecting and training with people will help you along the way.”
“It’s always great if you’re already a swimmer because then you can get out there and knock out the easiest leg first. Make sure you’re fueled and ready to go after your swim—pumping yourself with water and carbohydrates during the bike, and that’ll help you crush the run. In any triathlon, I feel that you win the race with your run performance. Many people think the cycling leg is most important because it’s a huge portion of the event, but for me the most important leg is the run because how strong you finish is what matters.”
Regarding his mindset during training, Grauel shares “No matter if it’s a recovery run or a tempo run, running puts me in a state where I really listen to everything in my mind. It’s a huge mental stress reliever for me. When I’m on the bike outside I try to take it all in. Indoor bike training can become more number-based and mind-numbing. I kinda turn off my mind and just listen to my body and make sure everything is working correctly.”
Grauel has found that his fitness improves best with two-a-day workouts. “They help to callous the mind and create the consistency and discipline to get out of bed at 4:30am to jump on the bike or in the pool by 5am, 3-5 days a week.” He typically does some type of workout at night on those days. “It varies. It can be strength, bike or running. It takes a lot of time, but when you balance things correctly there is plenty of time for friends, family and fun.”
Folks without a fitness routine might see daily workouts as the punishment one must endure in order to get fit. This is true, in a sense. Look up discipline and you’ll see that it has many definitions, the first being “gaining control and obedience by imposing punishment.” Then comes “training that corrects, molds, or perfects the mental faculties or moral character.” Those who exercise regularly know…getting it done doesn’t always come easy. We all have days when we want nothing more than to hit that SNOOZE button, and roll over to catch a few more ZZZZs. If you’re lucky, you steamroll those urges, get up before dawn, put on your workout gear, and do what needs to be done.This mindset has less to do with luck and more to do with a definition discipline that reads as “doing what needs to be done, even when you don’t feel like doing it,” which sure seems to be the model Grauel is following. When asked if he has a mantra or quote that guides him along the way, Grauel doesn’t miss a beat, “Hard work beats talent when talent fails to work hard. Growing up in a small town in southern New Jersey, we’ve always been the underdogs. At the end of the day, if you put in the work, you can beat the guy who has it all (natural talent).” Grauel is also quick to emphasize his immense gratitude for the support he receives from family, friends, job and tri-club. “I have a great team around me that helps keep the log on my shoulder to help me continue growing. Even my job goes the extra mile to support me, sponsoring the events I send their way, donating generously, and allowing me flexibility with my time for training throughout the week.”
Grauel, Legacy of Hope, and the Wild Harbor Tri club will hold some training events this spring for the New Jersey State Triathlon (NJST). Stay tuned to ,Legacy of Hope for details on the training. In the meantime, if you’d like to register to participate in the ,NJST for free, please contact Gina@legacyofhope.life. If you’re not up to competing in the triathlon, you can ,support Grauel and Legacy of Hope by making a donation.