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Why not golf?

By Jack Andrish

Golf is nice. We get to wear comfortable clothes; walk or ride around beautifully landscaped terrain; act civil to our friends; and reminisce about our game after only a mere 4 or 5 hours of participation. I actually used to be quite good at golf. I was on our college golf team and competed in the all-Navy golf tournament during my tour of duty. In fact, for most of my adult life while playing golf, I carried a single digit handicap. So why have I turned my back on a sport that I enjoyed and actually did well to pursue dreams of finishing 100 miles of trail running over rocky, rooty, and mountainous terrain? Why?!

"A man must love a thing very much if he not only practices it without any hope of fame and money, but even practices it without any hope of doing it well.” (G. K. Chesterton)
Jack Andrish
Jack Andrish at MMT
Photo: Aaron Schwartzbard

I was never good at running. As a kid, I did have some success with sports that involved eye-hand coordination and/or “smarts;” football as a quarterback; basketball as a point guard; and baseball as a catcher. But in track, I found absolutely no success; zero, nothing, nada! And this was not for the lack of trying. I probably worked harder to find something in track that I could do, than any of the other sports where I had some talent. I was just slow, slow, slow! And no element of practice helped. But I kept trying until I finally capitulated to golf.

I suppose that my life has cycled back to the dreams of my youth. I just know that if I try harder and practice harder and smarter, that I can run faster. I just know it!

So here goes, another rhapsody to failure. Leadville Trail 100 Run, ’07, was the 25th anniversary of the event. I had tried last year to complete this event and succeeded only in crossing Hope Pass, once (50 miles). The dreaded time cut-off got me. But the course was beautiful and the organizers and volunteers were great, so how could I not try again this year. But this year I would not be naïve about the course and what it takes to make three major climbs, at altitude, over the first 50 miles and then turn around and do it all again, in reverse.. I would train harder and smarter.

My “season” started well with good experiences at Crown King (completing the race with my wife); Bull Run Run where Sean paced me and then a 24 hour Virginia run with both Sean and Sue Ellen. Life was good and my dreams of completing both Massanutten Mt Trail 100 and Leadville were flourishing. And then came MMT and “the pursuit of happiness” which ended in a slog at 65 miles. None the less, with the support of Sue Ellen, I pushed on this summer with the real intent and expectation of finishing the Leadville 100. From reading I knew that working at altitudes above 8-10,00 feet subtracts about 15% of our aerobic work capacity if we live and train (in Ohio). And for me that is a formidable statistic. Regardless of the event, even at sea level, I am always “on the bubble” when trying to meet aid station cut-off times. Subtract 15% of my work capacity and the result is obvious. One solution to this handicap is to live and train at altitude for at least 3-4 weeks prior to the event. But since I still have a “day job,” this was not an option.

Sue Ellen sent me to the Leadville Training Camp as a Father’s Day gift. This was great as it gave me a chance to run the course in sections and gain familiarity. It also gave me a chance to learn from experienced Leadville finishers some valuable tips and “pearls.” But I still had that 15% rule to deal with. My colleagues offered to help with blood doping; but no, ultra runners, like golfers, do have personal ethics. Another offered to give me “epo,” but again, the ethic thing got in the way (and besides, it would probably just make my blood thick enough to give me a stroke at altitude!). But I did get the brilliant idea that if I made myself 15% heavier for my training, then when I got to Hope Pass and was 15% lighter than my training weight, the two would cancel out. Perfect!

I had been preparing well this summer and then two weeks before Leadville, I decided to have one more hard work-out.  I did a series of hill repeats with weights strapped to my ankles and waist and I went until I could not do more, and then did more!  I thought this would provide the final “toughening” required to get me up and over Hope Pass and back again.  The problem was that I tore a calf muscle in the process (medial head of the gastrocnemius) and acutely developed a very swollen and painful leg.  It of course brought my running to an immediate stop and I then depended upon an elastic stocking, motrin, and my intrinsic healing ability to overcome this; in two weeks!  It showed promise after about 10 days, but at the Friday pre-race check-in it began swelling again and was quite sore; and I was limping.  I did find an elastic sleeve in a pharmacy that fit tightly around my leg and it felt pretty good with that.  And that is how I started the race; with my right leg bound by an elastic brace applied tightly over a TED hose and of course the “special” back brace I had found last year in the Co-op Feed Store in Middlefield.  With all of this I actually felt good at the start.  But I just couldn’t muster up much speed and then while circling Mt Elbert at around 10,500 + feet, I developed a bit of high altitude pulmonary edema and just couldn’t make the time cut-off at Twin Lakes (40 miles).  And oh yes, while working through my breathing difficulties I was also dodging lightening bolts for about an hour and a half (not my favorite pastime).

I have to admit that as I was descending from the Mt Elbert section to my final aid station, the thought of being a golfer once again seemed like a good idea. But given a day or two of (mental) recovery, I realized that as long as I am able, I can’t give up on the feeling that if I train harder and smarter, I just know I can get up and over Hope Pass and back again! I just know it.

Jack Andrish

August 27, 2007

Addendum: All was not failure, however, this year. My friend and colleague, Tom Bauer, was running Leadville as his first 100 miler. We all knew this would be an ambitious undertaking to run his first “hundred” at a race where the finishing rate is almost always below 50%. But Tom has uncovered a real talent for trail running and along with the support of his wife and family; he developed a racing strategy that he stuck to with unbelievable tenacity. He was awesome and finished in 28:02! We are going to hear more of Tom Bauer in the future with age group victories, I’m sure.

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