The lure of Leadville
(All photos courtesy of Life Time)
By Henry Howard
The hardest marathon I’ve ever completed is the Leadville (Colo.) Trail Marathon (my recap is here). Starting at 10,000 feet of elevation in the beloved, remote Colorado town, runners head up to Mosquito Pass at 13,185 feet, then return to the start line.
Beyond the climb and at sometimes difficult footing, athletes also have to deal with the breathing challenges at elevation. To me, that makes the recent course record set by Tyler Andrews, 32, of Concord, Mass., all the more impressive.
Andrews finished in 3:22:24. On the women’s side, Elizabeth Hogan, 22, of Louisville, Colo., edged out second-place finisher Kristina Mascarenas by 30 seconds in a time of 4:20:09.
I had the opportunity to interview Andrews about his running background, success at Leadville and more.
‘Never super fast’
Andrews admits he “was honestly not very good” at running in high school. He just ran cross-country since his high school did not have a track team. Still, a spark was lit.
“My high school coach was really the one who actually got me into it my senior year,” he explains. “I fell in love with the sport, with the whole process of improvement and got more and more into it, running in college.”
After graduating, Andrews turned pro and hasn’t looked back. In fact, he’s looked ahead — to longer races.
“I always saw myself as being stronger at longer stuff. I was never super fast in the 5K or the mile or the 400 meters,” he says. “I was always running long runs, even in college and a lot of mileage. I always saw the marathon in my future.”
From there it was an easy transition to the world of ultras.
“Once I started running marathons, there was the gateway drug in the 50K, which is really close to a marathon,” he says. “And honestly, meeting a lot of other ultra runners and testing myself at longer and longer distances. I felt like every time the race got longer, I did better. That's kind of how I ended up there, was just really following my competitive instincts and my love of training and seeing where that pushed me and where I did the best and it was in the longer and longer stuff.”
Living, training in the mountains
While Andrews is originally from the East Coast, he lives and trains in mountain areas now. The first half of 2022, Andrews lived mostly in the Andes in South America, following up stops in Chile, Argentina and Ecuador. In his final tune-up to Leadville, he was in Flagstaff, Ariz., during May and early June.
“I spend most of my time at altitude in the mountains,” he says. “That's where I love to be to run and train.”
When not training, Andrews is running his Chaski Endurance Collective. It started out as a coaching side hustle but has evolved into trips and retreats like a recent one in Peru.
“Literally the day after Leadville, I drove out to Denver, flew down here to Peru, and then just finished leading up this 10-day trip here,” he says. “We just had an absolutely amazing time. I've spent a ton of time here in Peru. It's an amazing place, really spectacular, beautiful running.”
Andrews has led annual Peru adventures for about a dozen years now.
“We had a really fantastic group of people, just had a lot of fun together, culminated with about a 40-mile run on the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, which was so beautiful and spectacular,” he says. “That was a really great way to bounce back from the marathon and have some great running and maybe more importantly, just really great, positive energy from spending all this time with all these people in this really amazing place. It was really special time to be here.”
Road marathon to Leadville Marathon
Interestingly enough Andrews ran a flat road marathon at sea level three weeks before the Leadville Marathon. He ran a 2:20 and finished second at the Vermont City Marathon.
“It was actually my first flat road marathon in quite a while, so I’m pleased with the time, but no one likes to lose,” he says. “I felt like I had a little bit of a chip on my shoulder there and was able to recover really well from that race.”
That inspired Andrews to run competitively at Leadville last month.
“I was already signed up to do the 100 in August and it felt like a really good opportunity to just be up high and get in a good, hard effort at altitude and compete with some other great runners,” he says. “It was definitely a very interesting buildup, like running it mostly off of my flat road marathon fitness versus doing anything kind of specific about mountain training or anything like that. There's really very little of that in the last couple of months, leading up to the Leadville Marathon.”
Andrews finished the Leadville 100 last year in 15th place with a time of 21:34:19.
“Leadville 100 is definitely where all my focus is. The marathon was definitely just kind of a stepping stone toward it,” he says. “It's a great race and it was pretty competitive this year, but all of my focus is on the 100 and last year I was really disappointed. I got quite sick the week of the race and didn't really listen to my body and just imploded spectacularly. I am definitely looking for some redemption this year. Going for the win is really the only thing that I'm interested in. I'm super excited.”
Both the race and the community have a way of drawing people in.
“One of my strengths as an athlete is competing at altitude, that's really where I shine, relative to other athletes,” he says. “I think other people slow down more at high altitude or are more intimidated by it than me. It’s a great race. It's relatively high, but it's not something that I worry about in terms of the altitude.”
Andrews says he spent a lot of time in Leadville last summer, and spent time with friend Mitch Dulleck who lives on Sixth street, a block from the 100-mile start.
“He's just an amazing dude and super plugged into the Leadville running scene,” Andrews says. “He was just an amazing resource for me to learn about the race, the history of the town, the course, training up there, everything about it. That's just been tremendously helpful and having now run two races in Leadville, I can see just how much the town really gets behind everything and how much people seem to really enjoy the atmosphere of these races. I love that kind of energy and feed off it a lot, like a lot of athletes. Leadville is a very special place to be way up in the mountains.”
And he will be back racing again soon.
The Leadville 100 is all my focus,” he says. “I’m putting pretty much all my eggs in that basket and really coming back, going for redemption, going for the win, maybe going for the course record if the day looks good and training goes well. I feel really good about that race, super excited after the marathon.”
The Leadville Marathon and Leadville 100 (related: my seven takeaways from the 2021 Leadville 100) are part of the Leadville Race Series, which got its start with only 45 runners in the Leadville Trail 100 Run in 1983. The series now consists of seven running races and four mountain biking events, as well as six events in the Leadville Qualifying Series.
Over a span of three months, the series hosts thousands of racers on foot and on mountain bikes. More details can be found on the website.
Name: Tyler Andrews
Hometown: Concord, Mass. Number of years running: Since 2007 How many miles a week do you typically run: 100 to 150 Point of pride: “I can finally drive a manual.” Favorite race distance: 50K to 100K Favorite pre-race or training food/drink: Black coffee and stroop waffles Favorite piece of gear: Hoka bucket hat Who inspires you: David Foster Wallace Favorite or inspirational song to run to: A Plea from a Cat Named Virtute by The Weakerthans Favorite or inspirational mantra/phrase: Hunker down Where can other runners connect or follow you:
• Website: www.chaski.run
• Instagram: @TylerCAndrews