by Tyler Andrews
Over the past few years, I’ve spent my summers in the cool, high-altitude mountains of Peru working with STRIVE (see note at end) and so late-August and September usually mark a challenging period of transition: higher volume and intensity of training, settling down on a different continent with a different pace of life, adapting to late-Summer’s stiflingly hot and thick air. But, for the third year in a row, the start of October signifies the end of this transitionary period; it means heading to Albany for the Mohawk Hudson River Half Marathon.
Maybe it’s the fact that I spent a year at Skidmore College (in nearby Saratoga); maybe it’s the fact that this first serious race of my fall season necessitates a down swell in training load; or maybe it’s the cooler, crisp fall air and the lurid color of Berkshire forests en route. Whatever it is, it’s something to look forward to, get excited about.
The last two years, I’ve come to Albany fit, healthy, and itching to race. In 2016, I had picked out the full marathon to test my fitness before competing at the 50K World Championships the following month. We stood on the start line, bouncing up and down with a slight chill on the perfect, windless day, conditions, which spurred several competitors out to an extremely aggressive early pace. Despite not even being able to see the leaders at the halfway point, I gradually worked my way up to finally pass the top runner in the last 5 miles and finish under the old course record and in a new personal best (2:15:52).
Luckily, MHR weekend fit into my calendar perfectly again in 2017 as I returned to race the half marathon. Unlike the perfect conditions from the year before, we found ourselves facing a strong head-wind and rain on the point-to-point course and I found myself focused purely on competition with the runners around me, with the times irrelevant. After 4 miles, the lead pack had been whittled down to only me and the hometown legend Louis Serafini - a runner with tremendous credentials (sub-4 in the mile, sub-13 in the 5K and sub-29 in the 10K). We went back and forth for a good portion of the race, but somehow I managed to come out on top again.
Now, as I approach my third trip to Albany in as many years, I’m arriving from a different direction. Despite having my strongest summer of training ever, I’ve struggled through the months of August and September, battling setbacks and injuries, which have brought me to October lacking the confidence I’ve had in the past two years.
No runner ever goes his whole career without going through challenging times, times when resignation appears much easier than perseverance; but our sport is self-selective for those who can hold a long-term goal in their mind and understand that the path there might not be entirely clear or linearly positive.
And so, I enter this race not knowing what to expect. My goals I had set during the summer for running a fast time have been put on the back burner. For now, I’ll just focus on racing the other great competitors in this race and remember that this is just one step in a long journey. And I’ll be grateful just to be on the start-line.
A question that I often get is, “What do you do other than run all day?” Depending on the day, I sometimes spend an awfully long time lying in bed with my cat, Richard Parker, but I also work with a program called STRIVE, which is the perfect way to balance my inherently selfish pursuit of athletics with something more selfless. Our programs are specifically catered to runners who want to do more than just go to running camp. STRIVE combines all the best parts of running camp - being surrounded by motivated peers and knowledge, experienced leaders, learning about the sport, and, of course, being able to run through truly majestic landscapes - with what you might expect from an international service-learning trip.
We focus on learning about service and how to serve others and hope that not only will our participants contribute to meaningful projects during their time on the ground, but that they’ll also take the lessons they learned about how to be a better citizen of the world on with them wherever else their lives may take them.
Oh, and we also do tons of fun stuff like climb mountains and touch giraffes and take ice baths in high-altitude Andean glacial pools (it’s fun; I promise!). Our adult trips are all about having fun and experiencing an awesome new place through running (though a portion of the money from those trips does go to fund our service work and we’re more than happy to show our adults some of the projects we work on in country).
Anyway, so during the year, I spend a lot of my time between runs helping STRIVE with recruitment (e.g. visiting high schools or talking at local events), fundraising (like the time we set a world record for the treadmill half marathon and raised over $10,000 for a community center in Peru), etc. It’s a great balance and keeps me motivated from day-to-day.
During the summer, I actually lead these programs (hence the major transition from June/July to August/September). It’s a completely different lifestyle but one that I find incredibly rewarding as I truly love sharing my passion for running, service, and the Andes with our students each summer.
If you’re interested, check us out at www.strivetrips.org.That’s the end of my pitch and I hope to see you on October 7, at the MHR Marathon and Half Marathon.