When Andrew Byers recently stepped up to the starting line at the 50K Millersylvania Trail Race, he wasn’t thinking “I’m going to win this.”
His goals were more pragmatic, more fundamental. All he wanted was to finish.
After all, he was running his first 50K – a 30-mile race through the woods at Millersylvania State Park. So when Byers, a physical therapist in Olympia, crossed the finish line, completing the challenge in 5 hours and 11 minutes and placing seventh, it was mission accomplished. Not bad for this 41-year-old “youngster.”
This accomplishment opened the door to his next challenge – a 45-miler around Mount St. Helens in July.
“I used this as a gage to see if I could do a race around Mount St. Helens,” Byers explained. And the outcome was positive.
Byers’ commitment to running continues, squeezing a couple two-hour training runs through the woods and some cross training each week. As a physical therapist at Steamboat Physical Therapy and a husband and father of three young children, it’s not like his schedule isn’t already full.
However, Byers was born to run. At age seven, he ran his first mile. He remembers riding his bike as his dad would run along the streets. Before getting married, he remembers running with his wife-to-be, Heidi.
“I’ve just always enjoyed running,” Byers said.
At the Millersylvania Trail Run, which included 10K, 30K and 50K races, Byers was joined by a host of running devotees. Finishing one spot ahead of Byers in sixth place was John Zeier of Vancouver. But Zeier, at 65 years young, had the advantage of experience going for him.
Garrett Skinner of Orting, a kid at 35 years old, won the 50K race, finishing in 3 hours and 54 minutes.
The race was founded and directed by James Varner, the founder of Rainshadow Running. Varner utilized the three runs as a fundraiser for Interfaith Works Emergency Overnight Shelter which provides help for the homeless. The race raised $3,000 for the shelter.
In the 30K, Craig Dickson of Olympia won with a time of 2 hours, 16 minutes and 49 seconds, beating Krosby Keller of Lacey by just over a minute. In the 10K, Sam Willis of Olympia won with a time of 36 minutes and 11 seconds. A total of 138 runners combined entered the three races.
“I really enjoyed the race,” Byers said of his first ultra-running outing. “Everyone was super friendly and welcoming.”
For Byers, running through the woods is his best way to enjoy outdoor scenery. A couple of years ago, he had back surgery, ending his days of backpacking and hiking.
“I don’t think I’ll ever be able to put on a big heavy pack and go hiking into the back country because of that,” Byers said. “This is kind of like my alternative to that. I can go into these places that will take a couple of days to hike into. I can see them and I don’t have to carry a big heavy pack.”
Back in 2004, Byers and his wife ran their first marathon and Heidi qualified for the Boston Marathon. Heidi ended up pregnant before the Boston Marathon and had to skip the race. She continues to run and recently ran the Capital City half marathon, winning her age division.
“She’s not running all that often now,” Byers said. “Our daughter is heavily into volleyball. Heidi’s coached her team so is playing more volleyball. But she still enjoys getting out and running as well.”
As a physical therapist, Byers understands the importance of getting off the couch and outdoors. Maybe not to run a 50K, but at least walk around the block. “Getting people to do what they enjoy, have some fun doing it and getting healthier – that’s important,” said Byers.
Byers’ advice is to not overdo it when getting started. “Starting out slow is important,” he said. “That’s where a lot of people make mistakes. They start too energetic and wind up getting hurt.”
Byers also recommends consulting your doctor. “Just for safety,” Byers said. “I realize there are lots of reasons why people cannot, or should not, run. I am thankful that I am able to run.”
Byers is determined he’ll running for a long time – for the exercise and for the fun. “I keep telling my wife I’m not going to peak until my mid to late 80s,” Byers said with a chuckle.
Byers ran his first marathon with his wife, but the pair split up at a water stop. “I bent over to get my Jolly Rancher and when I got up my wife was gone,” Byers recalled.
He admits he hadn’t trained for the race very hard and wasn’t able to keep pace with her. He ran his first marathon in four hours and he’s since cut that to three hours and 17 minutes. Byers, a member of the Club Oly Road Runners, emphasized that training for a race is key.
“I equate it to studying for a test,” Byers shared. “When you went to school and you really didn’t prepare well for a test, it just didn’t feel good when you went to test day. But if you do your homework and you study, then test day is kind of a fun day because you know you’re doing to do well on it. It’s been said before – running is one of those sports where the more you put into it the more you’ll get out of it.”
And Byers is all in, enjoying every step.