Interview: USA 50K Trail Champion, Andy Wacker

Andy Wacker made his debut to the world of ultra trail running with a bang, winning the USATF 50k Trail Championships and setting a new course record with a time of 3:37:20.

The 2015 championship race was run on the Tamalpa Headlands 50k course, which boasts a challenging 7,300 feet of elevation change and tours the scenic redwoods forests and coastal bluff of Muir Beach. Wacker, a 26-year old from Boulder, CO, gives us the inside scoop on how he tackled the highs and lows he dealt with during his first ultra…along with his near slip into insanity, and all things trail running.

How did you get started in trail running? What was your first trail race? 
I’ve always loved nature. Running around like a savage, climbing trees, that was my entertainment as a kid growing up in the sticks of North Carolina. So, basically nothing has changed in twenty years except what trees I’m running through. My first trail race was the Summer Roundup Trail Run in Colorado Springs in the summer of 2013.

Did you ever think you would race a trail ultra?  
No, in fact I’m usually the guy making fun of ultra runners. Usually, the word “insane” comes up when talking to ultra runners and also the expression “why”?!  Why, I guess, I must have gone insane.

What is your favorite trail run?  
My favorite trail is a gorgeous moss covered single track, through old growth bristle one line forests, at 10,000 ft, that’s snow covered nine months of the year – it’s attached to the Jean Lunning Trail near Brainard Lake, west of Boulder, CO.

How is racing a trail different than just training on the trails? How does your mental game change for racing?  
The most noticeable thing is that when I train on trails, I might be running a 15 minute mile. It’s all about the solo effort, reflecting and connecting with nature. Trails are an awesome way to get outside that human bubble and enjoy strange vivacious mammals. In racing, there is the slight mental challenge of having to deal with intense, long lasting, unrelenting, and agonizing pain. But, hey get over it, and check out the mountain goats every once in awhile.

How did the trails for the US 50k championships compare to where you train in Boulder CO?  What was your favorite part of the course?
The U.S. 50k champs was in one of the most beautiful places in the world, along the Northern California coast. Don’t get me wrong, Boulder, CO isn’t too bad, either. The main differences are sea level vs. 5,500 ft, roots vs. rocks, ocean views and redwoods vs. mountain vistas. Oh and I guess the race was run through intense fog, while Boulder is perpetually dry and sunny. My favorite part was a trail called Steep Ravine, which was the last huge climb. It featured towering redwoods with fallen logs across the path, ferns, mist, a trickling creek, a ladder at 26.2 miles, and a lovely banana slug crossing.

50k start

Tell us about your high and low points of the race. 
The high point was 1,600 ft at Pantoll Campground and the low point was at Stinson Beach near sea level. Oh…my emotional highs and lows. So there were a lot of ups and downs.  I’d say that one of my many bonks, which included muscle spasms, in the fog, by myself at mile 25ish was pretty low. Highlight was having my mom hand me Skratch bottles and cheer me on to my first ever national championship flying sidekick! She hasn’t seen me race since I was in high school, nine years ago. It was really special having her there.

50k jump

Your signature finish line move is a spirited leap and karate kick across the finish line – how did that feel after running 50k on the trails? 
I thought the last 4 downhill miles would be easy. Let’s just say, I thought wrong. I really didn’t want to jump with about a mile left, but you have to give the people what they want! Plus it’s all fun, and my mom was there. So jumps followed by wood fired pizza and beer. What’s not to like?

What advice would you give someone interested in racing their first trail race? 
Don’t do it! Save them all for me. Just kidding. I think any runner can enjoy a good trail race. Just get out there and do one; you won’t regret it.

What’s next for you in the world of trail racing? 
I’m boldly going where no road racer of sound mind and body has before and attempting to race the Jungfrau Marathon in Interlaken, Switzerland on September 12. It’s a prestigious point to point trail race with a constant uphill gradient. So a mere two week recovery time for this trashed and newly minted ultra runner. Followed up by the World Mountain Running Championships in Snowdonia, Wales, UK on September 19. Yes, I know I have a problem: I’m addicted to trail running.