Sunday, November 20, 2005

The Virginian Speed Demon, Sean Andrish (An Interview)

In the small world of ultrarunners who actually “compete” in 100-milers (rather than “finish” like normal mortals), Sean Andrish is one of the best. Not only has this Virginia-based phenom won races such as the 2004 Hellgate 100k, 2002 Mountain Masochist, and 2003 Finger Lakes Trail 50-mile, but he also won the 2005 USATF 100-mile USA Trail Championships at the Mohican 100-mile in an outstanding sub-17 hour finish. Hot, rocky, lots of vertical, doesn’t matter – Sean has yet to meet a trail he doesn’t like.

I caught up with Sean on e-mail to talk about his season to date.

(Sean at the JFK in 2000, photo courtesy of VHTRC)

First, congratulations on the USATF 100-mile trail championships! Was that your peak race for the year? Tell us a little about how that race went.

Yes, the USATF 100-mile trail championships was one of my peak races for the year. I had decided to run the Mohican 100-mile race even before I was sure it was going to be the national championship because I wanted to try and run a relatively fast 100-mile race. All of the 100-milers that I had run up until that race were on difficult courses like the Wasatch 100 and the Massanutten Mountain Trails 100. The Mohican 100 provided me with the opportunity to run a race in Ohio, which is where I grew up, and allowed me to have my parents and sister crew for me since they still live in the Cleveland area.

Although the 100-mile trail championships was a target race for me, I didn’t really focus on the race in the Spring because my first goal to run a good race at the Massanutten Mountain Trails 100 in May. Unfortunately, I did not finish that race but at least it kept me from thinking about the Mohican 100 too much. I tend to do better when I just go out and run rather than over-analyzing a race beforehand.

I arrived at the starting line at the Mohican 100 a little undertrained and had not run well in any races this year, so I decided to start a little conservatively. I settled into a comfortable pace and just let the race develop on its own. When I was leading after about 20 miles, I realized that this was the national championship, I was leading the race, and I felt pretty good! From that point on I got more aggressive and tried to build up a lead. When I was going through those inevitable low points during the race, it was great to have my parents and sister crewing for me and encouraging me…this was the first time they had all been at one of my races. Although I had a pretty good lead with about 25 miles to go, I started to slow down and was told that Mark Godale was gaining on me. I ran scared for the last 10 miles of the race because that section was all on gravel and paved roads and I knew that roads are Mark’s specialty. It was a great feeling to cross the finish line, break my personal record for the 100-mile distance by about 4 hours, and win the national championship!

How many events (and of what types) do you typically target in a year?

While I will run a couple 100-mile races each year, I prefer to run 50-milers and 50 km races. One benefit of running these “shorter” races is that they do not beat me up too badly and I am able to race more frequently. I generally run about 8 races a year and then like to throw in the occasional relay race and Fat Ass event for fun.

(Sean wins the Finger Lakes 50, 2004, photo courtesy of

I have a ton of VHTRC folks stopping by my blog. Do you run with this group regularly?

I run with the VHTRC group as often as possible. They are an amazing group of people who put on several well-organized and well-supported races each year, get together on a regular basis for training runs in the mountains, and have several irregular events each year (i.e. the Eagle Run, a run where spotting eagles is as important as the run itself). VHTRC members seem to have a healthy perspective regarding trail running. While they can be competitive runners, they are also a fun group who enjoy a social group run (often with Gary Knipling as a guide to point out the various types of wildflowers we encounter on the trails of Virginia) followed by a party.

When did you start trail running? Have you always been an athlete?

I have always enjoyed playing sports and focused on soccer as a kid. I ran some in high school, but did not start to run competitively until after I graduated college. When I was in graduate school out in Arizona some friends introduced me to trail running in the mountains around Tucson. From the moment I started running trails I was hooked! The addiction took hold quickly and I found myself running trails as often as possible. Running on trails through the mountains is just so much more enjoyable than pounding out the miles on city streets!!

It’s hard to imagine you fit time in for job and family. Can you tell us a little about what you do outside of trail running, and how you keep it all balanced?

The fact that I am single allows me to schedule my training however I see fit. Also, the company I work for has been very supportive of my running habit.

I have been very lucky in that the company I work for has allowed me to have a flexible work schedule, which provides me with the opportunity to coach high school cross country and track. I have been coaching high school sports with Courtney Campbell for about 5 years now. I love watching the kids improve throughout the course of a season and over their 4 years of high school. During the track and cross country seasons, my weekday runs are simply whatever workouts we do with the kids (along with the occasional trail run after practice). While my weekly mileage drops off during these periods, the intensity of my weekday runs increases as I try and keep up with the varsity runners!

When I am not running, I can often be found biking, hiking, or skiing. All of my recreational activities compliment each other, so I am actually doing a lot of cross-training without really thinking about it.

What inspires you to run? And keep up the training?

One of my inspirations for running is simply enjoying nature. I enjoy getting to the top of a tough climb at sunrise or sunset and taking in the view of the surrounding mountains, or jumping into a cold mountain stream after a run on a hot summer’s day.

Another inspiration is that running provides me with the opportunity to have some control over my body. I developed epilepsy as a teenager and have been having seizures on a fairly regular basis ever since. As an epileptic I cannot control when I have seizures or how my body reacts during a seizure. Being able to go out and run 50 or 100 miles provides me with a sense of control.

Do you ever do road races, triathlons, or other types of events?

I used to run marathons before I got into trail running and ultramarathons, but I haven’t run any kind of road race in several years. I still have hopes of breaking 2:30 for the marathon (my current PR is 2:35), but I don’t know if and when I will make the time for that. Trail running is just so much more enjoyable!

What are some of your favorite races/locations?

While I have enjoyed running races all around the country, a few of my favorites include the Wasatch 100 near Salt Lake City, the Crown King Scramble 50km in Arizona, and the Bull Run Run 50-miler near Washington DC.

Lastly, a few training questions. What’s a typical training week look like for you? How many miles? When do you add in speed work?

I have found that my body performs best on a relatively low-mileage schedule. During the winter and summer I generally run 60-70 miles a week and my two key workouts are a weekly tempo run of 8-10 miles at sub-6 minute pace and a long trail run on the weekend of 20-30 miles. During the spring and fall, my weekly mileage drops down to about 60 miles a week, my speedwork is dictated by whatever the track and cross country teams are doing for practice, and I get in a long run of 20-30 miles on the weekend.

What are your favorite foods/race snacks?

My body does not seem to tolerate solid foods very well during races, so my race foods are Clif Shots and Ensure. My favorite aid station food, which I have only found at one of the aid stations at the Bull Run Run, is an ice cream sandwich.

Do you cross-train at all in other sports, or stay specific to trail running?

During my off season (usually Dec. – Feb.), I make an effort to do some weight training. That is my only attempt at making a conscious effort to cross-train. However, my bicycle is my main form of transportation, so I get some exercise that way each day. I also hike, ski, and play soccer, but I do that simply for fun and variety and not with the goal of cross-training.

A lot of the blog readers love to hear about “lessons learned” (ie, things that didn’t go right that perhaps they could avoid). Any you would like to pass on?

I have found that since I started taking Succeed tablets (salt tablets) I have not had any problems with cramping.

Another lesson I learned was that I can’t be afraid to go out too fast. In my early races I would start very conservatively in order to save energy and protect my legs for later in the race. This often backfired since going slow often resulted in more pounding on my legs. Also, I have never figured out how to save energy for later in a race. I am always exhausted in the later stages of a race, whether I have started a race fast or slow. The key is to simply find a comfortable pace and stay with it as long as possible.

Any tips you would like to pass on to somebody trying their first ultra? How about a first 100-miler?

While I enjoy racing and the competitive aspect of our sport, I think it is important to remember that ultrarunning should be about enjoying a day in the woods, taking in the scenery around us, talking to other runners, and encouraging others.

What’s next on the race/run agenda? Any plans for ’06?

I am currently taking a short break from racing to regroup, refocus, and let my body recover from some nagging injuries. I hope to come back strong in 2006. I will start the year off at the Uwharrie 40-miler in NC in Feb., followed by the Old Pueblo 50-miler in March and the Bull Run Run 50-miler in April. One new challenge I would like to attempt in 2006 is to run a multiday event. I am planning on trying to break the record for the Tuscarora Trail (250 miles) sometime next spring.

Thanks for a great interview!



  1. Another excellent interview, Scott. Thanks for helping us mortals learn more about great runners in our sport. These kind of posts are always helpful.

  2. Wow! I saw his time at the 100 miler championships - sub 17 hour. Very fast!

  3. Thanks Scott for interviewing two of the VHTRC elites (Annette and Scott). I found his comments about starting too slow interesting.

    At JFK, I had a chance to talk to Eric Clifton who is one of the legends in ultrarunning. His JFK record set in 94 still stands in addition to all the other ultras he has won over the years.

    He would be a great person to interview and he is a very nice guy. Also becuase he has been doing it for so long he has perspective that others may not have. I wish I had contact info for him but I don't. But if you could find a way to get in touch with him, I think it would be a fascinating interview.

  4. great site! do you have any good training programs for trail runners? Everything out there seems oriented to road and track

  5. I agree with "The Goat" about training plans. Most trail runners follow a marathon-like plan, with two notable additions. First, they often do two long runs back to back on the weekends if they are training for 100k/100-milers. Second, there is hill work every week.

    I've tried to ask the folks I have interviewed to share their training regiments - be sure to check them all out!

    Thanks for stopping by,



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