Majestic mountains, enduring friendships
It did not take Sean Andrish long to realize the trails were calling for him.
His running journey started out like many others — he ran in middle school, focused on shorter distances, eventually caught the marathon bug and then learned about the lure of the trails.
“One of the reasons I got into trail running is that I’ve always enjoyed hiking and trail running was just a way to explore more trails in a shorter period of time,” says Andrish, who started running long distances after getting his bachelor’s degree.
“After my parents ran the New York City Marathon, they informed my sister and me that we had a year to train for the marathon,” he recalls. “Three years in a row, my family would get together in New York City to see a Broadway show and run the marathon together. After that, I was hooked on marathons and spent the next several years focusing on running them.”
Andrish went to grad school and continued training for marathons in Tucson, Ariz. “But with four mountain ranges surrounding the city I began doing my long runs on mountain trails,” he says. “Some of my running buddies told me about the Crown King Scramble 50K and I decided to join them for the race. After running Crown King that first time, I knew that trail running and racing was how I wanted to spend my free time. That was about 20 years ago, and I still love running trails.”
'Visiting with old friends and making new ones'
In his time as a trail and ultra runner, Andrish has blossomed, including victories at the Bel Monte 50K Endurance Run each of the three times he has lined up for the race produced by Bad to the Bone Sports.
“Obviously, it is fun to win races and victories keep me motivated to train hard and try to become a stronger, faster runner,” he says. “But the Bel Monte races also remind me of why I enjoy running ultramarathons; to have fun spending several hours racing through the mountains, making sure to appreciate some of the views of the surrounding mountains, and visiting with old friends and making new ones.”
In May, Andrish will run the Ultra Race of Champions (UROC), which also is directed by James Gill and Francesca Conte, owners of Bad to the Bone Sports.
The Ultra Race of Champions, held in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, caters to both elite performers and regular ultra runners. The May 12 event offers 100K, 50K and 25K options. The point-to-point course starts at Camp Blue Ridge and ends at the Skylark Nature Preserve and Lodge.
If you would like to rub shoulders, swap war stories and commiserate with top ultra marathon runners, visit the UROC site and use the discount code “UROCBLOG17” to get 15 percent off your race entry.
‘A true mountain ultra running experience’
UROC was an easy decision for Andrish.
“Having run the Bel Monte 50K and the Great Eastern Endurance Run 50K, I know that Gill and Francesca design challenging courses on scenic trails and fire roads in the Blue Ridge Mountains,” says Andrish, who was hooked after watching drone footage of the UROC course. “The course has great single-track trails and great views. I’m excited about running another race in the Blue Ridge.”
But it’s not just the scenery, it’s the little things that go a long way for endurance athletes like Andrish.
“The races are well-organized, the courses are well-marked, and the volunteers are extremely helpful,” he says. “The Camp Marty aid station at Bel Monte is always a welcome site, especially after a difficult climb, because the volunteers’ enthusiasm always picked me up and got me motivated to race through the extremely technical trails toward the end of the race. Also, Gill and Francesca have been very good friends of mine for many years and I’m excited about running another one of their races, knowing that it is a challenging course and the event attracts many of the top runners in the country.”
Past UROC participants include Chris Mocko (2017 winner), Cody Reed (2016 winner), Camille Herron, Sally McRae and Catra Corbett
“The Bad to the Bone races provide a true mountain ultra running experience,” Andrish says. “One thing that appeals to me is that even though their races attract top runners from all over the country, you can always count on all of the runners to support and encourage each other. Everyone is out there to enjoy a long run in the mountains.”
A recipe for success
One of Andrish’s most memorable races was the 2006 Superior Sawtooth 100-miler.
“I had brain surgery to treat my epilepsy less than two weeks before the race,” he says. “After surgery, I asked my neurosurgeon and neurologist if I could run the race. They told me that I could run, but not to expect too much because I’d lost a lot of blood. The night before the race, my dad, an orthopedic surgeon, removed about 50 staples from my head. I went into the race with no expectations because I was still recovering from the operation and had the best 100-mile race of my life. I won the race and broke the course record by three hours!”
Andrish is the voice of experience from ultra races. He has run so many ultras, he isn’t exactly sure about the exact number. He estimates he has completed between 135 and 140 ultras and fat ass events, with the 50K being the most frequent distance.
With all of those miles threatening to take a toll on his body, Andrish relies on cross-training to stay active.
“I found that running high mileage led to injuries, so I’ve focused my training on quality instead of quantity,” he says. “I’ve had my fair share of injuries over the years, such as a broken bone in my foot and a broken thumb, but, in general, I found that listening to my body and learning the difference between injuries I can run through and those that require rest has helped me stay healthy. When I’m injured, one of my favorite cross-training activities is cycling.”
It’s a recipe that has not only kept him healthy but competitive.
In 1998 Andrish finished 192nd overall at the JFK 50-miler. He quickly improved to fourth overall in 2001, citing speed work training with a former colleague in Leesburg, Va.
He trained with Ray Pugsley, who finished fourth in the 5000 meters at the 1996 Olympic Trials. “He taught me how to run a consistent pace, which was very important when training for marathons and other road races, how to mix different speed workouts, such as tempo runs and fartlek workout, into my weekly training,” Andrish says. “One of the most important things I learned from him is something pretty simple but extremely important: if you want to race fast you’ve got to run fast. In other words, if you want to run fast race times you have to mix some fast workouts into your training.”
Andrish also learned from training partner Courtney Campbell, who was one of the top ultra runners at the time. “He excelled at running fast down technical, rocky trails and I needed to improve my speed on rocky trails in order to keep up with him on our training runs,” Andrish recalls. “Not surprisingly, one of my strengths became running fast on technical trails.”
Virginia is for (trail) lovers
While Andrish lives in Colorado now and has run races all over the country, one of his favorite races is the Massanutten Mountain Trails 100-miler in Virginia. “It is probably my favorite race because I’ve done a lot of running on the Massanutten trails over the years when I lived in Virginia and love running on the extremely rocky trails,” he says. “The Crown King Scramble 50K is another of my favorites because it was my first ultra and there’s something appealing about starting a race in the desert and ending in a pine forest on top of a mountain!”
As far as his bucket list is concerned, Andrish wants to return to the San Juan Mountains of Colorado. “Although I’ll probably never run the Hardrock 100 again, I’d like to run the San Juan Solstice 50-miler,” he says. “I’d also been interested in running the Susitna 100-miler. There’s something appealing about the challenge of running 100 miles in Alaska in February.”
Andrish is also someone who gives back to the running community; he coached cross country and track at the high school level for about 15 years. Now, he has returned to where his own running journey began.
“I loved watching the kids improve over the course of a season and throughout their high school years,” he says. “I also like to see kids who come back to visit during and after college and hear that they are still maintaining an active lifestyle. I’ve switched gears and am now coaching middle school cross country, which is a totally different experience, but just as much fun!”
Name: Sean Andrish
Hometown: Frisco, Colo.
Weekly mileage: 40 to 50 miles per week
Point of pride: USATF 100-mile national champion, 2005
Favorite race distance: 50k or 100k
Favorite pre-race or training food/drink: pizza and Mountain Dew
Favorite piece of gear: Garmin watch
Favorite or inspirational song to run to: I prefer to listen to what’s going on around me rather than to music while I’m running, but sometimes I’ll get a Bruce Springsteen or classic rock song stuck in my head.
Favorite or inspirational mantra/phrase: Pain is weakness leaving the body
Where can other runners contact/follow you: Facebook, www.facebook.com/sean.andrish