Mount Aconcagua usually takes 10 to 14 days to summit. Tyler Andrews did it in less than 12 hours
Every couple of years we take a moment to ask, “What’s Tyler Andrews up to?” He’s an accomplished runner who’s competed in two U.S. Olympic Marathon trials, won a silver medal at the World 50k Championships and set a treadmill half marathon world record.
But what he’s doing in the mountains is leaving everyone — except perhaps Andrews — breathless. In 2019, he clocked the fastest-known running time on the 40-mile Salkanty rail through the Andes. He’s also set speed records on Japan’s Mount Fuiji and Chile’s Ohos Del Salado, the world’s tallest volcano. Now, he’s crushed the long-standing record for the fastest ascent and descent of Argentina’s Mount Aconcagua.
Tyler Andrews hikes Mount Aconcagua. (Courtesy of Tyler Andrews)
It takes experienced hikers 10 to 14 days. He completed it in 11 hours and 24 minutes, in snow, ice, rock, high winds and frigid temperatures. Now, he’s off to try to set a running record on Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.
5 questions with Tyler Andrews
Why was this a goal for you?
“It really combined a lot of things that excite me. It was a route that a couple of people who I really look up to and idolize — Kílian Jornet and Karl Egloff — had done, who are two of the best mountain runners in the world.
“One of the things that fascinated me about this record was it’s actually really complicated in this interesting way in that you really need a unique skill set. You need to be able to really run 45 miles, but at the same time, you also need to be able to climb and hike up really, really steep terrain where you’re actually not running, you’re just hiking. You need to be able to cover that terrain quickly. And all of this is being done really high altitudes and with really extreme temperature variations.
“I gave it a shot last year and didn’t quite make it. And having that very small window where you have only a couple of months a year where you can prepare for something like this, it makes it a multi-year project almost by definition. So this was really the day where everything came together.”
How do you handle altitude sickness?
“I’ve always, for some reason, done really well at high altitudes… And I know that going up gradually for me is important, but also that my body responds really well to pushing itself at high altitudes.
“I did a lot of running. I raced a couple of long ultra trail races, 50 or 60-mile races. But then I actually started doing less running, but focusing more on just being up high and doing a lot of really big days in the mountains.
“Those adaptations happen slowly, but they’re really profound adaptations when they happen. And so by the time we finally got to Aconcagua National Park, we’d been up so high for so long that it pretty much just felt normal.”
How did you get to this point of achievement from your past as a high school runner?
“My coach at the time, John Waldron, inspired me to adopt this idea of progress relative to myself and say, ‘Okay, let’s just get faster than last week.” And I fell in love with that idea. And I kind of just have been doing that for 15 years now.
“I kind of saw what I could do in the marathon and even in the 50K and this is the thing that is now exciting to me because it’s complicated. That’s hard to train for. It’s hard to get it right.”
What kind of recognition do you get for these feats?
“I do run for Hoka. I run for Chaski. So I have brands that sponsor me. I also recognize, I’m not in the NFL or the NBA and there’s less attention on a sport like mountain running or even running in general.
“But at the end of the day, I think athletics and being in the mountains is something that I would be pursuing, whether there was money involved or not.”
What parts of the journey on this beautiful mountain stood out to you?
“You could see the summit from the start of the route, which is really, really intimidating because it looks really far away.
“That huge difference in altitude means you run through an unbelievable change in environment. So the environment at the bottom is lush and green and there are animals. And then you get to the top and there’s literally nothing. There are no plants there, no animals. There’s nothing there. Running back down there is this very visceral sense of, ‘I am coming back to a place where life is welcome again.’
“I kind of went up into this special sacred place where people really aren’t supposed to go, really living, things aren’t supposed to go. And now I’m back down here and there’s this particular moment where you come around this bend in this valley, and all of a sudden there’s just grass everywhere. And it goes from being this brown beige environment to this bright, bright green environment with these streams and giant boulders and everything. And that was really magical, especially because we were kind of approaching sunset, so the light was really beautiful. There was actually a bit of snow falling. Breathtaking moments up in the mountains. That’s a huge part of why I do it.”
This article was originally published on WBUR.org.
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