Track on the Road: Discovering The Vastness Of The Sport
Andrew Wise has been a contributor to CITIUS MAG for a year and recently graduated from Western Washington University. He decided to take time after wrapping up his studies to live out of a van with his girlfriend Brittany Grant for a few weeks and chase personal bests on the track. We published his quest a few weeks ago and the running community has rallied around to welcome him with open arms. The following is an update from Andrew’s travels. He will be racing in the fourth heat of the the 5,000m at the Bryan Clay Invitational tomorrow and will represent the CITIUS MAG Track Club. If you’re in Los Angeles, go out and give him a holler.
We’re almost 20 days into this thing, and it seems worth taking stock, now that we’re all in the denouement of the drama in Boston and rolling toward the climax of our little story.
In the morning, we will run to the Pacific Crest Trail along the ridgeline of the San Gabriel mountains to try to send this thing off to my benevolent editors. There is very little phone service amongst these high-desert canyons. We’ve had the van parked here for a couple days, hiding out above the track where we’re set to race on Thursday and Friday.
Being out of service the last few days made it obvious how much we have relied on social media to make this trip happen. The small but mighty track Twitterverse, with its stats-minded old timers and mass of anonymous, irreverent high school kids, has come together for us on this trip a few times.
This sweet kid named Elliott who runs for Humboldt State responded when I sent him a message asking their track might be open to the public. He even came out to watch us run the workout, dutifully watching as we grinded 200’s in a thick misty rain. And when the HSU coach showed up, he convinced him not to kick us off the track.
I guess I was only half kidding when I put out a call for the use of a laundry machine in Northern California. We did have a growing pile of soaked running clothes from the nearly constant rain that had followed us down the 101. But an almost immediate response from our new friend Reed Breuer in Sacramento offering a laundry machine and a driveway had us headed inland.
Reed runs with SRA Elite in Sacramento. They put on the California International Marathon and the SACTOWN 10-mile, a race that I wasn’t aware of until the race director, who had seen our back and forth about the laundry, had offered to add us to the elite field if we made it to town in time for the 8:40 a.m. start on Sunday.
It felt like a dare, but we decided to go for it.
And then I was warming up for a race with Craig Lutz, Matt Llano and (CITIUS MAG’s own) Stephen Kersh, guys I have no business running with (yet). They asked about the van and the laundry before returning to a steady stream of Flagstaff gossip.
Brittany opted for the 5K instead of the 10-mile and tempo’ed to a third place finish, and then it was my turn.
The gun went off and while the top guys were flying away at a sub 4:40 clip, I was cruising amongst a stacked group of local club guys.
And that brings us to a sudden, slow, clenching walk along the American River. For days I had been feeling not right in the GI department- the literal runs had been interrupting every run. It was time I finally admitted to myself that something in my body hadn’t been quite right in days.
It was a lonely stroll until a fellow DNF stopped and walked with me. I told him what we were doing. He seemed stoked. He calmly talked me through the last, tricky quarter mile to a port-a-potty at a water stop.
Reed was kind about the DNF as we chatted on a shuffling cool down around the Capitol. I felt empty, a little embarrassed and terrified about trying to race on the track in a week and a half.
We spent three days in Yosemite, staring up at the impossibly huge faces, recognizing the total commitment it demands to climb those routes. We wandered anonymous with everyone else visiting from every corner of the world and our little pursuit felt comfortably miniscule.
We said we’d tell the truth about this whole thing and the truth is it’s pretty darn hard to train and road trip at the same time. It can be hard to fall asleep on a quiet urban side street, imagining the various conversations one might have with a police officer that knocks on the window at 3 a.m.
Like any 10-hour bus ride to a track meet, legs feel junky after travel. We get demoralized doing workouts that should feel easier. We have ongoing conversations about what the hell we’re doing, if we’re worth anything as athletes, if we should go to grad school, how to make the kind of money that will buy a house in all these nice neighborhoods that we’ve been hanging out in along the way.
We’re realizing these next couple meets will mean something just because we’re making time to toe the line. The important thing about this trip likely might not be the marks, but the people we’ve gotten to connect with along the way.
I don’t think any of us anticipated Craig Lutz being a hero in this story when we set out from Bellingham, but now I’ve hung out with his cat and slept in his driveway, not once but twice.
Craig’s a dedicated CITIUS MAG follower and supporter.By some twist of fate, he saw our story and reached out to see if we’d detour to Santa Barbara to watch Tyler Andrews try to break the 50K world record and then watch some fast guys throw down in the mile.
After a haul across central California, an incredible run at Montaña de Oro State Park near San Luis Obispo, and a healthy dose of kite flying on the beach, we found ourselves brewing coffee from the back of the van just outside the fence at the Santa Barbara City College track at 7 a.m.
The crowd on hand to watch Tyler Andrews’ heroic, daunting effort on the track was small, dominated by HOKA employees and his own family members. There were as many USATF officials as there were athletes on the track.
The gun went and the trio took off. They were so steady, almost meditatively consistent, that we in the stands were subdued, quiet, not wanting to disrupt this delicate hum of feet on the track in the early morning.
There were some theatrics around the directional change, including the proper placement of the turnaround cone, and then it was just a marathon-worth of left turns to the end.
The dutiful pacers had him on track through 20 miles. It was that final 11 miles or so, just a solitary dude clipping off laps, that gave the moment its gravity.
It was beautiful because it got ugly. A mix of sweat, water and electrolyte fluid that had missed the mouth soaked his kit. He fought with everything he had to hold his form together as individual muscles started to give up. His stomach was clearly going and his face was scrunched in a pained concentration.
We were spread out on the track for the final mile. Leo Manzano and Kyle Merber had shown up to watch the final few minutes.
He went for it in the last 400, pushing every millimeter out of each stride, seeming to have forgotten the preceding 124 laps.
A few hours later, under the lights, Tyler sat in the bleachers, slouched in a hooded sweatshirt. The milers were ripping strides on the backstretch getting ready to go off, and throngs of athletes from the community college meet that had taken place through the day walked back and forth in front of him, oblivious to what this man had done on this track that same morning.
It was in that moment that the vastness of this sport became clear to me. Here, on a Friday night in Santa Barbara, was a massive web of interconnected storylines punctuated by laps on a 400-meter oval. They were wildly different in their scale, in their ambition, in how many people they might inspire. But they were, nonetheless, interconnected.
We introduced ourselves to Tyler and shook his hand. We told him what he’d done had been a thrill to watch. When the miles went off, we got as close as we could to try to absorb a little of that speed. Afterward, we went for a few more miles along the beach in the dark and tried to plan the next chapter of our own story.
Here’s a scorecard to sum it up so far:
-Meeting Reed’s dog Liam
-Laundry turning into racing
-The Redwood Bowl at Humboldt State
-Sylvester’s Big and Juicy Burgers
-Flying the kite at the beach
-Free camping in National Forests
-Craig Lutz’s driveway
-Shaking Tyler Andrews’ hand
–One taillight (yes, Brittany’s mom we will fix this soon)
-One pair of undies (RE: stomach viruses)
-Crippling fear of bike theft
-Going no faster than 40 mph on any hill
-“No overnight parking” signs
We’d say on the whole, we’re coming out ahead. See you in LA.
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.
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