Zane Grey Highline Trail 50-mile Endurance Run

April 16, 2011

Interview with Sean Andrish

Sean's thumb post-surgery





Sean, congratulations on a great race, especially given the circumstances.  As I recall you have quite a history of toughing out stress fractures, seizures, a broken foot, and other injuries during races – how did this one compare to previous injuries?

This was by far the worse.  The broken foot was nothing.

So how bad would an injury have to be to make you drop out?  What’s the pain threshold?

I’ll drop if there is a chance that it will do permanent damage.

Um, how do you know that?

As soon as I knew that there was blood flow for the thumb, I knew that I wasn’t going to lose it.

Okay, so backing up, you were out skiing in Frisco, CO, the week before the race with the Frisco Ultra Contingent.  Did this help prepare you for Zane Grey?

We had a great time at Kerry’s house in Frisco, CO – it was a group of VHTRCers and WUSsies, including Kerry, Doug, Aaron, Linda, Bill, and Bob.  We had several days of spring skiing, including a fantastic powder day at Copper Mountain.  While in Frisco, I was pretty encouraged by the fact that I got a couple fairly comfortable trail runs on snow-covered trails at 9,000 feet of altitude (Zane Grey is 5,000 – 7,000 feet).  Then of course there was the run that became known as ‘Sean’s Death March’ that I did with Doug, Bill and Bob one morning with a bone-chilling wind with most of us gasping for air from the elevation and that saw Bill sink up to his waist in snow.

Good times.  But in general you’d recommend at least a week of FUCing before a race?

I think it was good for acclimatization.

So how do Aaron and Brian compare as bedmates?

Well, um, Aaron and I didn’t share a bed like Brian and I did, so I’d have say Brian was a bit more affectionate.

(Laughing)  So, um, why did you decide to do Zane Grey instead of Bull Run this year?

I actually first got into trail running in Tuscon, Arizona, so it was great getting back to that scene.  I had heard great things about the trail, that it’s really rocky terrain, which you know I’m a big fan of.  It was great catching up with Tom Nielson, Chase Duarte (who has run Catawba), and other old Arizona buddies.

So you kind of knew going in that there were going to be a lot of nose-dives.

Yeah, but Tom Simonds, a fellow Leesburg trail runner, and I did a short hike on the Zane Grey Highline Trail the night before and the trail had some rocks, but wasn’t as horrible as I’d been warned.  We wondered if, like so many trails, the difficulty of the trail was overrated.

Like what trails are overrated?

Western States comes to mind.

I recall you skipped Terrapin Mountain in March – how were you feeling going into the race?

Having not run an official ultra since last September (G.E.E.R. 50k) (and Uwharrie was just was a wimpy 20 miler), I was just excited to get on the trail again.

So how did the race go?  When exactly did the break happen?

There was a pack of four of us who took off at the start and we stayed together for a mile or so, until the climb got steeper and I decided to walk since I was a little worried about being able to cover the distance given my lack of long runs this winter (and because I’m a lazy runner who consistently walks the uphills).  I was cruising along somewhere around mile 3, enjoying the sunrise over the mountains of northern AZ and the Mogollon Rim, when I tripped on a rock and went sliding down the trail.  It didn’t seem like a particularly bad fall, but when I was picking myself off the trail I noticed that my left thumb was pointing in the wrong direction and was bent at about a 90 degree angle.  I was careful the next couple miles, and frequently made sure I could feel the tip of my thumb to make sure blood was still flowing there.  Once I convinced myself that my thumb was only dislocated and had not suffered any major damage, I became determined to get my head back in the game and finish the race.

Coming into the aid station at mile 8, I asked if there was anyone there with medical training.  It took several minutes to locate an EMT and during this time fellow WUSsie Amy Sproston found me and asked if I needed anything.  I was disappointed to hear that she had dropped out of the race within the first mile, but was grateful to see a familiar face there to help me.  She was the calmest person there and didn’t seem alarmed at the shape my thumb was in.  When the EMT arrived, I asked him to just pull my thumb back into place, but he said that he was not legally qualified to perform this task.  So he just made me a splint out of a popsicle stick.  Amy realized that I could not carry a bottle in my left hand and offered to let me use her Nathan hydration pack, which I quickly accepted.  I had spent at least 10 minutes at the aid station and, during that time, several runners had passed through.  I was somewhat discouraged by the fact that my thumb was throbbing, I was not going to be in contention to win the race, and I still had over 40 miles to go.

Did you ever think about dropping?

As I hiked up the next climb, my mood changed and I decided to not be a mental wimp and just keep running the best I could.  How could I not enjoy spending a day running on rocky trails in the hills below the Mogollon Rim!

It warmed up quickly and by 8:30 I was feeling the 80+ degree heat.  I settled into a routine of taking two salt pills every hour on the hour and drinking as much as possible.  The vast majority of the trail between miles 17 and 33 was very exposed due to a wildfire and that’s when the hot weather was most noticeable.  I ran this stretch fairly well and to my surprise I actually passed a few people.  I seemed to run stronger throughout the race, even though my thumb was killing me and I kept falling on a regular basis (partly because of muscle fatigue caused by my epilepsy meds but mostly because I wasn’t paying close enough attention to the trail).

So you kept falling on the thumb?  You know you’re crazy….

I practiced several falling techniques throughout the run as I tried to protect my left hand.  I became proficient at the right-hand extended slide, the tuck and roll, and the sliding on my forearms rather than on my hands.  Occasionally I would fall on my injured thumb and yell in pain.  Given time to react, my preferred technique was the tuck and roll and I felt awful about the beating Amy’s hydration pack took as a result of these falls.

Sean's legs make friends with the AZ foliage

Amy became my lifeline.  She was there at every aid station, filling my water bottle and my hydration pack, making sure I had food to eat at the aid station and on the trail, and offering lots of encouragement.  She called my dad to tell him what happened and to see if he thought I should continue running.  Amy told me that he did not seem too concerned and did not object to me finishing the race; this is no surprise to anyone who knows my dad!

If your dad lets you drop, you can be pretty sure it’s because you’re already dead.

I continued to catch people throughout the day and, as I came into the final aid station at mile 44, Amy excitedly told me that I was in 6th place and that three runners were right in front of me.  That gave me a boost of adrenaline, and I took off out of the aid station.  The boost of energy didn’t last too long, though, as I hit the final climb of the day; an extremely steep climb that seemed endless.  However, as soon as the climb was completed my mood improved as I realized that the trail was runable, there were no more significant climbs, and there were only a few miles remaining!  I passed one of the guys and ended up in 5th.

Master’s winner too!

Yeah, fastest old guy.  Great.


7 Responses to Sean Thumb

  1. aaron says:

    In my defense, I wanted to cuddle, but Sean wouldn’t let me push the futons together!

  2. Neal Gorman says:

    How’d you get home from Cleveland through the metal detector with that thing?

  3. Tom says:

    You are one tough man Sean. I would have stopped, dropped, and drank bourbon. Congratulations on a fine run!


  4. brian says:

    sean, i say we knock down brittany’s wall and make a luxury suite. it would allow plenty of room to fit a queen size and we could snuggle most nights

  5. amy says:

    wow, i’ve never been a lifeline before. glad I could help! and you are a major badass.

    on a side note, i have mental images of sean and aaron cuddling that i just can’t get out of my head…

  6. aaron says:

    Dear Amy,

    You’re welcome.

    Fondle regards,

  7. sean says:

    Aaron — I wanted to push the futons together too, but I didn’t want Brian to get jealous. Or Martha.

    Neal — I have a pin in my foot, a pace-maker in my head, and now a Terminator piece in my thumb, so they just let me through.

    Amy — You’ll have to come visit us in DC to satisfy your curiosity.

    Everyone — I ran 40+ miles with a dismembered thumb and all anyone cares about is who I spoon with?? (I guess Martha was right.)

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