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April 5, 2018

Track On The Road: Post-Collegiate Wanderers Chase Times From A Van On The West Coast

It all started during late nights in the library at Western Washington University, procrastinating homework by watching YouTube videos, alternating between world championship track races from the ‘90s and climbers sending routes in dramatic mountain ranges around the world. I met Brittany at cross country camp and it’s been us ever since. We dare each other to run faster and dream up trips to beautiful places. It was sometime during our junior year that we started looking at livable vans on Craigslist. We started talking, vaguely, about travelling across the country in a van and winning races to pay for gas and food.

But there’s something strange about following through on a dream and having it come together.

Suddenly, our collegiate careers were over. We bought a wheelchair van off Craigslist and spent a winter building it out. The mid-April track meets in California began to loom on the calendar. We had both joined local post-collegiate clubs, I run for Club Northwest in Seattle and Brittany runs for the Bellingham Distance Project, but injuries and work kept us off the track during the indoor season.

And the challenges of trying to hold on to this dream, to continue seeing oneself as an athlete beyond college, extends beyond health and time management. There are voices in my head that didn’t exist during school, voices that say my best races are behind me, that I’m wasting valuable time that should be spent building a career and improving my credit score. I keep watching close friends settle into steady jobs, buy houses and talk about their running career in the past tense. And I wonder if maybe that’s the healthier approach.

Depending on what kind of track journalism enthusiast you might be, (long-tenured coach or obsessive high school freshman) you might take my name and plug it into the Track and Field Results Reporting System. You might surmise, correctly, that I do not have the resume of an athlete who has any business trying to make it as a professional. We’re not expecting to run the kind of times that will get us sponsored on this trip. But we do feel strongly that graduating from school doesn’t have to mean we’re done running fast. Plenty of people have proven that.

And because we aren’t professionals with sponsorships, we’re trying to trim our cost of living down as much as we possibly can. That’s where the van comes in. But we also found ourselves out of school with a little bit of money saved up and found ourselves with a rare opportunity to live without obligations for a couple of months.

The van also will force us to live in a simple, minimal way. Saif Saeed Shaheen set the world record in the steeplechase after spending a training block living in a shipping container rather than the large comfortable house he owned several miles away. The van is our own version of that, a tool to minimize distraction and focus on this pursuit.

I’ll admit, trying to train while traveling, especially driving long distance, is an experiment that might backfire. Our first workout on the road, mile repeats and 400’s at Fernhill Park in Portland (a rare, truly public track) was a slog. But then that’s the reality for post collegiate athletes around the country: it’s about figuring out how to workout alone, at weird times of day, when the body doesn’t quite feel the way it should and your mind is stuck on a loop stressing about things that have nothing to do with running.

At the heart of this is that there are other people like us out there, grinding away miles in total anonymity, daring to imagine themselves on that Olympic Trials starting line despite every bit of evidence to the contrary.

And we might run some crappy races along the way. But we’re committed, and we have some time. We intend to be honest in documenting this whole thing, including the crappy runs through strip mall wastelands and the comparatively slow workouts in less than ideal conditions. It’s our belief that track tends to put on much too clean of a face, that reality of training tends to be smelly, dirty, mucus-smeared, salty, soggy, vomit-inducing work, and we don’t intend to hide any of that.

After the races in LA, we’ll make our way to Colorado, where I have a job lined up as a janitor in Rocky Mountain National Park. Hopefully this will be the first of a few racing road trips. Along the way, we’ll be looking to catch up with folks to run. We want to string together all the little outposts of people still trying to put down fast times on the track. We’ll provide semi-regular updates on Brittany’s Instagram.

We’ll post some updates here as long as the editors think they’re worthwhile.

The Plan

  • Drive from Bellingham, WA, to Los Angeles in time for the Asuza Pacific/Mt. SAC/Beach Invitational races.
  • Keep consistent mileage and workouts.
  • Run in beautiful places.
  • Reconnect with old friends along the coast. And maybe make some new ones.
  • Eat well on a budget.
  • Take naps.
  • Avoid driving more than three hours a day.
  • Write a lot of postcards.

The Van

We know, it’s not really a VW bus.

  • 1993 Volkswagen Eurovan CL.
  • Former wheelchair van.
  • Colorway: Storm trooper/Space shuttle
  • 56,968 miles (and counting)
  • Underpowered but scrappy.
  • One taillight out.
  • Custom Interior:
    • 1920’s-era travel trunk. Formerly owned by G.E.M. of Denver.
    • Full kitchen.
    • 1 bed / 0 bath.
  • Two stories (rocket box).
  • Two bicycles.
  • Tempermental AC.

The People

Brittany Grant

Port Townsend, WA.

Western Washington University, Class of 2017. Kinesiology.

1500: 4:30

5000: 16:46

3000S: 10:32

Sailing enthusiast. Partial to potatoes. Takes no guff from boys. Fearsome kick. Pragmatist.

Andrew Wise

Denver, CO

Western Washington University, Class of 2017. Journalism and Environmental Policy

3000S: 9:05

5000: 14:39

10,000: 30:22

Sometimes writes. Mileage-oriented. Former future MLB starter in the mold of Greg Maddux. Romantic.

If you want to catch up for a run, hit us up. If you’re also training for some big spring races, know that we’re out here too, and we can’t wait to see you on the track. Reach out to Andrew on Twitter or email us and we can make the connection happen – [email protected]

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