TRAILBLAZERAfter starting on the pitcher's mound, Zach Andrews has crossed the finish line of some of distance runing's most adventurous races.
By Anne Riley
Photos by Dawn Harrison
Zach Andrews has accomplished something that only a handful of people in the world can claim. In October 2013, he completed the Pitchell 100K – a grueling self-supported run through the mountains surrounding Asheville, North Carolina, that takes participants through 67 miles and 30,000 feet of elevation change.
“To this day, finishing Pitchell is the single most defining moment of my trail running life,” Andrews said. “After 18 hours and 48 minutes of nonstop movement, I reached the summit of Mount Mitchell. It solidified the type of trail running and adventure that truly spoke to my soul, and it was a monumental moment of my life.”
The funny thing is, he didn’t really mean to become a runner.
Andrews grew up in Hartselle, Alabama, and attended Hartselle High School. There, he played basketball – his favorite sport – and baseball, which occupied most of his focus. His parents have always been incredibly supportive of his athletic pursuits and gave him exactly the kind of encouragement he needed as a high school athlete.
“They never pushed me to be better than anyone else,” Andrews said. “Instead, they instilled in me a hard work ethic and encouraged me to always do my best and to do all things with integrity.”
That hard work ethic accompanied Andrews to the University of Montevallo. From 2004-2008, he was an All-American pitcher for the Falcons, leading his team to the College World Series in 2006. It was his coach that first threw out the idea of distance running as a good form of conditioning for baseball – and sometimes, as a form of discipline for misbehaving team members.
“On the not-so-rare occasion that I got in trouble, I would get special treatment,” Andrews said. “This special treatment meant waking up on Friday mornings at 4 to meet Coach Goff. I would hop in his car and he would drive me 6-7 miles from campus, drop me off, and let me run back. There was something extremely satisfying about running in the dark, knowing that the majority of the world was still fast asleep.”
Despite that satisfaction, Andrews didn’t see running as something that could be fun. It was conditioning at best, punishment at worst, and it certainly wasn’t on his radar as a potential hobby.
But shortly after his marriage in 2010, he took up trail running. Before he knew it, he had signed up for his first race: the Black Warrior 50K. At that point, he’d never run farther than a half marathon, but he completed the race and solidified his love of ultra trail running.
“There is something so magical about strapping on a pack with the bare essentials, heading out into the mountains before the sun rises, and not returning until the sun goes down,” Andrews said. “What I love most about trail running is that it really gives you an opportunity to push your limits and explore your potential. The mountains aren’t biased and won’t hesitate to humble you!”
When he’s not running, Andrews stays busy serving as an ambassador for The FARM – a local Shelby County business that specializes in chiropractic care, injury rehabilitation and sports therapy.
The FARM even sent him to the Bryce Canyon 100 in Utah, which offered him two things he’ll never forget: the most beautiful scenery he’s ever experienced and a close encounter with a mountain lion, which “resulted in nothing more than one wild and vivid memory,” according to Andrews.
He also had the opportunity to be a hike leader for this year’s Make-A-Wish Trailblaze Challenge – an event that aims to bring people together who are facing the common obstacle of life-threatening health conditions. Thanks to everyone who supported the Trailblaze Challenge, over $222,000 was raised for the Alabama Chapter of Make-A-Wish Foundation.
On any given day, Andrews can probably be found on the Blue Trail at Oak Mountain State Park, where he enjoys running up to King’s Chair and taking a break to enjoy the view. He’s also an active member of the Birmingham Ultra Trail Society, a group that encourages runners to take advantage of the incredible trail systems at Oak Mountain, Ruffner Mountain, Red Mountain and the Preserve. Andrews enjoys volunteering and helping with local events – anything to share the love of running and help others enjoy the adventurous outlet he thrives on.
As far as future races go, he’s got his eye on the Hardrock 100 in Silverton, Colorado. It’s not an easy race to get into, but Andrews has kept running qualifying races so that his name stays in the lottery. Whether or not he gets invited to the Hardrock 100, one thing is for sure: Zach Andrews isn’t slowing down anytime soon.
To connect with Andrews online, visit his blog at www.fictionrunning.blogspot.com or follow him on Instagram @zeeger6.