Andy Wacker is looking forward to representing the US at three world championships this year starting with the Trail World Championships in Italy this weekend. In the following interview, Andy talks about where he’s raced since we last interviewed in the summer of 2015, what he’s thinking about the descents in this race, where his nutrition might not be dialed, and how the team aspect plays into his racing.
Andy Wacker Pre-2017 Trail World Championship Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Andy Wacker before the 2017 IAU Trail World Championships. How are you, Andy?
Andy Wacker: Doing great.
iRunFar: Last time we spoke was back in the summer of 2015 when you were second in the US Mountain Running Championships. What have you been up to since then? You raced pretty decently.
Wacker: Oh, that’s been awhile. Let’s wrap up things. I ran at the World Mountain Running Championships last year where we got a gold medal. That was pretty awesome. I won the US Trail Half Champs at Lake Paddon. What else? I did a lot of things. I did some cross-country races.
iRunFar: Did you do the long distance mountain running, as well?
Wacker: Yeah, I did the long distance mountain running. I had to drop out unfortunately, because I caught the worst stomach bug ever. I’m already a human skeleton and lost 10 pounds last year which was not a good thing.
iRunFar: I know last weekend you were fourth at the US Mountain Running Championships to qualify for yet another US squad. Did that kick off your season, or what were you up to before then?
Wacker: Yeah, I kind of do a lot of different genres of running. This year my big goal was to make three US teams for trail and mountain, and I did that. I made the US Mountain Running team, the Long Distance Mountain Running Championships team, and then this IAU Trail World Championships (50k team). Yeah, so I’ve been gearing up for a big summer trail season. It started off with the Sky Race in China which I just ran in May.
iRunFar: The Yading Sky Race where you were second to Bhim [Gurung] which is pretty easy to do as he’s a stud out there on the high mountains?
Wacker: Yeah, it was a great tune-up. Yeah, I think I just felt a little… it’s mostly a climb, and I had a great climb actually. I had a good lead. I took the downhill too easy and was feeling the altitude. It was at 15,500 feet, so I was feeling a little dizzy on the downhill and was taking it really slow. He just came bombing down. Yeah, not a bad guy to lose to at that altitude.
iRunFar: You had a little problem with the descent there. You said the descent at the US Mountain Running Championships beat you up a little bit. You have 10,000 feet of descent on Saturday. Are you going to be worried about that at all?
Wacker: Not here. Now, again, China was a good tune-up. That was the point of it. It’s a lot easier at sea level or 3,000 feet than it is at 15,000 feet. US Mountain Running had very extreme ups and downs—really big climbs up black diamonds and really big descents down black diamonds and through trees. I’m definitely warmed up for it now which is great. I’m right where I want to be for this weekend, which looks more rolling comparatively than Cranmore.
iRunFar: Two weeks apart, you have a very short race in terms of distance and times at Cranmore, and you have this. Did you prepare specifically towards the short, sharp stuff, or… I think this will be your longest race ever, right?
Wacker: Yes, I’ve done one 50k, so I’ve been training a lot more for this, to be honest. I was way more worried about Cranmore. That’s more my background, the shorter races and the fast stuff like Cranmore, but I was worried going into it, because I’ve been doing a lot of endurance and hill climbs that last an hour as opposed to whole races that are only 45-50 minutes long where you’re just going psycho.
iRunFar: That’s more compatible with your history coming from cross country and that sort of thing and some great half marathons in the past. Have you run any other races besides the Tamalpais Headlands that have been over two hours?
Wacker: Oh, yeah, a couple years ago I got second in the World Mountain Running Long Distance Championships at the Zermatt Marathon—that was about three hours. Then I’ve run… well, the race in China was only a 30k, but with the altitude, that took about three hours.
iRunFar: Tamalpais was 3:40?
Wacker: 3:30, yeah. Then, I also ran Jungfrau Marathon.
iRunFar: So you have some experience.
Wacker: Yes, I definitely think the 3:30 is in my wheelhouse. This race I’m excepting to be in the three to four-hour range.
iRunFar: You think folks are going to go under four hours on this course?
Wacker: We’ll see, but it looks pretty runnable. I know there’s tons of vert, but I think for the distance… even if it’s four hours, it’s good for me. I’m not sure experienced in five or six hour races, but…
iRunFar: You’re not trepidatious about four hours?
Wacker: Not at all.
iRunFar: Is there anything in particular you’re looking forward to in this race?
Wacker: Yeah, we’re going to go check out the course today, so I’ll see more of that, but just being here, it’s beautiful, and it’s a really good, rolling course. It looks great. I think it’s going to be really good for our team and for me personally.
iRunFar: Yeah, in some years, like last year, the men’s team didn’t have a great run at the Trail World Championships, but there’s plenty of potential. You guys won gold at the mountain running championships last year. What do you think the upside of the potential for this year’s squad?
Wacker: I think we have a really good team. I’m really excited about it. We have a lot of good guys and a lot of good experience. This is really, I think this is pretty unique for the ultra champs, because they’re usually around 85k which is more like a 50-mile race, and this year it’s a 50k. So you get different people like me who wouldn’t usually be on the team, and I think it’s good, because we have a lot of really fast people. Coming for an ultra championship, we have a really fast team for a 50k race. I think that’s a good sign and a lot of people can really run well.
iRunFar: Have you guys talked about team strategy at all? At least from my personal perspective, I don’t think three guys have to go out and have their 100% race. I think you can run a strong race and do really well from that regard rather than throwing it and trying to see if it sticks.
Wacker: We haven’t talked strategy yet. We’re all just basically gathering here today, Wednesday, and Thursday before the race, but personally I’ve been thinking about it a lot. I think with my experience with who I know on the team, I think it’s going to go really well. I tend to race hard out front for a lot of races especially long races, and I tend to think of myself as a climber. We start with a nice climb, and once we hit that big climb, I’m imagining I’ll be near the front. I think it would be nice because there will be other people on our team who will be with me.
iRunFar: Hayden [Hawks] runs aggressively.
Wacker: Exactly, specifically Hayden is definitely like that, and David [Roche]… lots of people who can run well and run like that.
iRunFar: The team aspect is definitely important for you? It’s hard because you’ve done well individually, and as a team, how do you look at both? I know in cross country sometimes people do.
Wacker: Oh yeah, these teams… Yeah, exactly, the nice thing is it is like cross country or like any of these team running sports where you want to do well in both. Doing well individually helps your team. For me personally, I always want to help the team the most I can. Winning the team gold is more important than anything else, but…
iRunFar: Really? Does that mean you’d run a little more conservatively?
Wacker: Not necessarily. Sometimes there are strategies where you say, it will help if I run with this person for this amount or something like that or I don’t blow up because it’s not just me doing this on my own. But for me it’s usually a balance. I think you run your best and that’s how you’re going to help your team the best.
iRunFar: Now that you’ve had a little bit more experience at this long-distance stuff, what does your nutrition plan look for a three to four-hour race?
Wacker: It’s always a hard question. I’m definitely the bonker. I bonk all the time in these long races. I think it’s one of the things that’s really difficult to deal with especially for me personally. I’m so skinny. I’ve tried a lot of different things, but it’s really easy to bonk still.
iRunFar: So you haven’t quite figured that out yet? It’s still an experiment?
Wacker: Yeah, but I think for me personally, I’ve been doing a lot of stuff in training to figure it out, and I think a lot of it is the training. So, I think instead of doing something like where if I’m coming from a road and cross-country background where you’re used to running a 20-mile run at sub-six-minute pace, that’s a lot different than the slow grinding gear you need to have for trail races. So, I’ve been doing a lot of the strength and endurance stuff where… the training for long five-hour runs through the snow in Colorado, that gets you ready I think.
iRunFar: So, you’ve been going out doing some really long stuff over the winter?
Wacker: Yeah, definitely. I was training for the US 50k Champs which was the Fourmidable 50k in February. Unfortunately, I had to DNF as I had a huge slash in my knee, and I had to get eight stitches. For things like that, it was kind of fun because usually in the winter you’re not getting up in the high mountains in Colorado, but I was trying it out. I was doing some skimo stuff. I ended up hike-running some 13ers near me that are really slow in the winter I found out. It’s really slow and beautiful and challenging when you’re in waist-deep snow for half of it or running on…
iRunFar: So, though you are doing 20 milers at six-minute pace, you also enjoy the slogging through the snow at 13,000 feet?
Wacker: Yeah, I think it’s good to do both is what I’m saying. You do both and you train with the nutrition you’re going to have. I’m sponsored by Scratch Labs, and I love that stuff. I take gels and that stuff too, or whatever you want—bring a bagel on the run—something to keep you going.
iRunFar: Do those long adventures have you thinking about doing more 50ks and even toward the 50-mile distance at all?
Wacker: Yeah, you have to be open-minded in this sport. I’ve been hesitant to go over marathon or 50k distance before. This is only my second 50k. I’m definitely more open-minded to it in the future, but maybe not in the next…
iRunFar: It must be hard, too, because you still have success at the mountain running short distance.
Wacker: Yeah, so maybe not a 50 miler in the next six months, we’ll say, but in the future, for sure.
iRunFar: It’s not a… it could happen sometime soon?
Wacker: Yeah, and something especially like… I won’t put it out there, yet, but something like The North Face where you’re on those trails in Marin, something that’s more my style and faster… it’s not like a 24-hour 50-mile race. That’s maybe something that would interest me in the future.
iRunFar: A fast, runnable 50 miler.
iRunFar: Best of luck here at 50k first and have fun out there.