By Kyle Merber
January 24, 2023
Ask anyone who has spent some time training with him, and they’ll tell you that Andrew Colley is a supreme talent. It’s impossible to spend a moment with anyone from North Carolina State or ZAP Endurance without them singing his praises. I had the opportunity to witness it first hand bumming around races together in Europe, and our teams often overlapped during training camps in Tallahassee. Through all the injuries, he’s remained consistent with one thing – he always bounces back. Most recently Colley proved himself once again, this time at the USA Cross Country Championships when he finished 2nd. Eight years later, with many bumps along the way, he’ll return to the world stage again.
THE LAP COUNT: Well, I said in our preview that you were my dark horse to win, but taking second was pretty close! What was the goal coming into this weekend?
ANDREW COLLEY: First off, thank you for still believing in me! The expectations were to compete for the win. I went into this weekend with the mindset that this is my team to make. I was very confident I could make it. Coach Pete [Rea] told me I wasn’t allowed to take the lead or anything until the last kilometer and that was the rule. I was sitting in that pack fuming a bit because I really wanted to take off and try and catch Emmanuel [Bor], but I didn’t. I haven’t listened to Pete a few times this year and got in trouble each time so I decided to listen that day. I thought the pack would reel him in, but we waited way too long.
THE LAP COUNT: It’s been a while since you made a team, but in 2015 you made the World XC team in China. Something I keep saying is you want to root for those who have been there before because it’s such a unique race. What is it about your experience that will serve you well going into 2023?
ANDREW COLLEY: I think being on the team before, you get the nerves and all that stuff knocked out of the way. And so going into this I am thinking, ‘how can we as Team USA place as high as possible and knock off one of those favorite teams?’ So like, I guess it’s the change of mindset: instead of being like, ‘oh my gosh, I have to impress at this world event,’ instead, it’s ‘how can we work together as a team so we can all do better?’ At the end of the day, that’s what cross-country is about.
THE LAP COUNT: Was the decision to do cross country an easy one? It’s a long trip and is potentially interrupting a marathon training cycle for the spring. Were you hesitant or was it circled on the calendar?
ANDREW COLLEY: It was a tough decision at first because I was going back and forth between whether I was going to do the Houston Half or US XC.What it really came down to was the fact that my family is right down the road and I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to be able to race in front of all of them. So as silly as that sounds, that was the key factor in choosing to do this one. And Pete said ‘if you make the team, we’re going to do Worlds, but that as soon as you’re on it, you’re in a marathon build.’
THE LAP COUNT: Do you have a marathon planned right now?
ANDREW COLLEY: As of now, I am doing Rotterdam in April.
THE LAP COUNT: In your Instagram post afterward, you highlighted that there were some dark times previously, but the light is shining a little brighter than normal right now. What was it like being with your family at such a high peak?
ANDREW COLLEY: It was awesome. I grew up in Williamsburg, Virginia, which is like a 50 minute drive away from the course so my grandmother was able to come watch, and she hasn’t seen me race since college. That was special. My high school coach showed up and was one of the first people I saw. My cousin, best friends from childhood and others were there. I must have had like 25 to 30 people there from home. This woman who is like a second mom to me, who was my babysitter growing up was there. I like to entertain and I feel like they haven’t gotten to see that side of me in a long time. And I like putting on a good show and they got to see how cool some of these running events actually are. My grandma used to come to all my cross country meets when I was growing up and was the kind of lady who knew everyone on the team’s name and still does.
THE LAP COUNT: Where do we even begin in discussing your personal injury history? This could be a long conversation. Take me back to 2019 after you ran 2:12 at Grandmas. What’s been going on since then?
ANDREW COLLEY: That was the start of the most recent injury cycle. I actually trained through the rest of that year for the Trials. I may have tweaked something that fall, but it wasn’t anything crazy. But at the Trials, I tore my post tib. So immediately after that there was six months of nothing. That was at the start of the pandemic and I was on crutches not doing anything. When I was able to get back into it I kept having this nagging hip pain in 2021 and it was on-and-off for about a year.
In the spring of 2022 I had to drop out of Boston because of a heart issue that was maybe from bad fueling. There were a couple of weeks where we were figuring out what was going on with my heart and once we got an okay from a doctor, I went for a 24-miler because the thought was since I didn’t run all of Boston we should go to Grandmas and see what happens. That’s when I tore my labrum.
I met with a bunch of PTs like George Alex, John Ball, Abby Douek at Run Raleigh. We started from the ground floor again. The plan was to fully rebuild me and that was a great plan as it led me into this fall and early winter.
THE LAP COUNT: Is there an underlying issue that has caused everything these last 10+ years or have you just been extremely unlucky and caught in the injury cycle?
ANDREW COLLEY: I don’t think it’s me being unlucky – maybe there’s a little of that in there? But the biggest thing I learned is that my ego was getting in the way and there would be days when my body felt terrible and I was stubborn and thought that I needed to be working harder than everyone else.
And that’s what kept getting me hurt. For me – and it sounds backwards – working hard is easy. So it was about letting go of that ego and accepting that I had to start backing off… basically sandbagging.
The alternative was getting hurt. And that’s how Coach and I approached this fall – we’re going out there to hit singles every day. And we’re not above bunting if that’s what gets us on base. I haven’t done any workouts that would impress anyone, but we are making sure that I’m staying healthy to take my base. I don’t have to prove to myself that I’m working harder than everyone else anymore
THE LAP COUNT: I guess that’s the benefit of competing in your thirties. You have some wisdom now.
ANDREW COLLEY: You kind of have to. I hear other stories about athletes who were the hardest workers, but could just never stay healthy. And yeah, but if you’re the hardest worker and working hard is easy for you, then you’re not actually working that hard. Because if working easy is hard to do, that would actually be working hard. Does that make sense?
THE LAP COUNT: I understand. But I don’t know if teenagers or football coaches reading this would.
ANDREW COLLEY: It’s tough. But you have to just trust that it is worth sacrificing knocking it out of the park on any given day for being ready to achieve the end goal.
THE LAP COUNT: You had a great first race of this cycle at the US 10 Mile Champs!
ANDREW COLLEY: That was coming off of base training.
THE LAP COUNT: So if you’re hitting singles in base training and you’ve been injured for the previous two years, how do you come out and run 46 minutes for 10 miles? Like, how dare you think it’s a good idea to go out and run 4:30s with the lead back! Where does that confidence come from?
ANDREW COLLEY: I don’t know what it is, but I have always believed that I can compete with anyone and it’s really fun to do so. I’ve been forced to hold myself back every day and feel like a caged dog, but come race day, the door’s open. Like, I’m just thrashing at the door, waiting for you to open, you know?
And so when the gun goes off that is how I get – I am just going to go. I was able to hold on for a while, but it was a learning experience because obviously I didn’t stay with those guys. They they ran like 40 seconds faster than me, but I feel like I stayed with them for a good amount of time compared to others. I feel like Peter Pan sometimes – there’s the young kid with a dream and I don’t know what reality is so I just go for it.
THE LAP COUNT: What about in those downtimes? You’re Peter Pan when you’re racing, but what about when you’re injured for six months and you don’t know when you’re going to be able to run again? How do you mentally handle that and for those in a similar situation how should they handle it?
ANDREW COLLEY: Those two are different. How I handled it and how I should handle it are completely different, but it’s getting closer. To be honest, I’m so miserable when I’m hurt – it’s tough. You think that to be the best in the world then you always have to be 100% all-in on that one thing you’re doing. But having something else to do that’s not running helps.
THE LAP COUNT: And what’s that for you?
ANDREW COLLEY: It’s kind of weird, but since I’m in the mountains and we’re in a temperate rainforest I got into foraging. I just started cooking and making things, like I didn’t buy mushrooms for a full year because I foraged 15 pounds of mushrooms. Just going out in the woods and enjoying myself or hanging with friends.
I got involved with a youth running program in town with Abbey Cooper that I helped coach. And being around second graders who don’t care about your running helps. They’re just out there running through the woods for fun. There are some tough feelings and it’s different for everyone, but there’s no easy way through. It’s just keeping the faith and knowing there’s a light at the end of the tunnel and distracting yourself mentally until you get there.
THE LAP COUNT: What about having your partner on the same team? Tristin (Van Ord) just ran incredibly well in Houston with that 2:27 – I am sure she has seen those low points.
ANDREW COLLEY: That has been nice, just being part of her journey. I get to celebrate her successes and watch it unfold – it really does help. She is really, really positive, and always joking around. So it’s impossible for us to not be hysterically laughing at some point most days. So that makes it a lot easier to be hurt when you’re still having a good time together. She really did help me a lot through those years And Tristin’s success is a testament to listening to her body and so I learn from what she does. That and always having a positive attitude are two important elements to being able to realize your potential.
THE LAP COUNT: Do you feel like if you just had two years healthy that you’d be running 2:05 or something?
ANDREW COLLEY: I seriously do. I have not had more than a year yet. In my first marathon, I averaged 66 miles a week and ran 2:15. And then I finally got some miles in for Grandma’s – before super shoes were a thing – and ran 2:12. And I fueled with sweet tea, which is the most bush league move possible! I like sweet tea! A very North Carolina thing, but I was dying the last two miles and won’t be doing that again. If I can put together a year of good training and stay healthy then I have no idea what I could do because I haven’t seen it yet. And that’s one of the most exciting things for me. I feel like I’m still in my freshman pro year because I haven’t figured anything out until recently.
THE LAP COUNT: I love it. What are your personal goals for World Cross Country and then Rotterdam?
ANDREW COLLEY: I really want to mix it up with the guys up front and throw down with some of the Kenyans and Ethiopians up there and just see what happens. I want to run with some of the best people in the world and see how I fare – obviously without dying and being a huge detriment to my team. I want to see what I am worth. I’d say my goal is to be in the top 25, though it’s hard to say until you know the whole field.
And then for Rotterdam, I want to run sub-2:09 and see how far under I can be. And from what Pete has been saying, it sounds like 2:07 to 2:09 might be a C+ effort.
THE LAP COUNT: It’s probably beneficial having the same coach for so long who knows you so well at this point. It must be eight years by now?
ANDREW COLLEY: It’s definitely been a crazy ride. And the fact that he has stuck by me when I was completely useless to the club and couldn’t get to the starting line means a lot. Most people would have been dropped in my situation. I owe a lot to them and it speaks to their character – they’re just great people. He understands me and has sacrificed his ego as well to ask what we were doing wrong and how we could be better.
THE LAP COUNT: Are you officially no longer with On?
ANDREW COLLEY: Our contract was over at the end of the year. It was kind of up in the air if we’d be renewed so we entered the meet under that affiliation and we tried to change it, but USATF didn’t let us.
THE LAP COUNT: So you and ZAP Endurance are without a shoe sponsor at the moment?
ANDREW COLLEY: I’m not with any sponsor. It should be on my Instagram: just like “Sponsor?” and maybe link to that meme –
THE LAP COUNT: “Investors? Possibly you!”
ANDREW COLLEY: Ha! Or Cuba Gooding Jr. saying, ‘Show me the money!’
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After hanging up his spikes – but never his running shoes – Kyle pivoted to the media side of things, where he shares his enthusiasm, insights, and experiences with subscribers of The Lap Count newsletter, as well as viewers of CITIUS MAG live shows.