Bye Bye Benny

by Andrew Benford

Setting: New River Running Camp somewhere in the mountains of southern West Virginia…Summer of 2002.

I’m climbing…and climbing…and climbing…My 14 year old mind is too inexperienced and soft to fully comprehend this type of pain.  Does it ever get any easier?  Why does it keep getting steeper?  What’s this awful burning deep in my stomach mean? Am I going to die?  I can’t hold it any longer – up come the Fruit Loops from earlier this morning.  Should’ve listened to that damn nutrition lecture…  

Doubled over, staring at a pile of my own vomit on the trail, I pathetically glance up at my counselor like a sick puppy and whimper, “What do I do now?”

“What do you mean what do you do now?  You get your ass to the top of this mountain!”  

I stare at him for a moment in disbelief, wipe the puke from my face, and #JFR the last half-mile as fast as I can to the top of the mountain. 

I made the trip back to Richmond, VA this past weekend to compete in the Monument Avenue 10K.  Believe it or not, the counselor from that story, Jon Lauder, and his wife Dana were my gracious hosts for the weekend (thanks guys!). He gives me shit about that day on the mountain all the time and takes credit for any running accomplishment I’ve ever had. Touché.

This was a pretty special weekend for a number of reasons.  I attended school at the University of Richmond, so it was a bit of a homecoming for me.  It would also be my first race in exactly one year, as my 2013 season began and ended at last year’s Texas Relays.  Lastly, this race served as the Collegiate Running Association‘s first national championship event.  This is significant because for the first time, both collegiate and professional athletes would both be competing for prize money.  In order to be eligible to accept the prize money, all you have to do is sign up to be a CRA member on the website (for free!) and be enrolled in at least one college level course. Pretty cool stuff.

Not only did the race attract UNC-Greensboro’s Paul Chelimo, the 2-time NCAA Runner-up in the 5K, but also several talented professional athletes, who are in the process of continuing their education.  The field included Kellyn (Johnson) Taylor of Northern Arizona EliteTyler McCandless of Newton Running, Ashley Higginson and Nicol Traynor of NJ/NY Track ClubCole Atkins of Zap Fitness, and Ester Erb ofNYAC.

 Andrew 2

As I stood on the starting line along with 40,000 other people in a city that I love, I tried to feed off this buzz of energy. Steve always tells us that he wants us to have amazing and memorable Starting Line Experiences, and this was definitely one of them.  Chelimo decided he wasn’t going to mess around and took the race out in about 4:30 for the opening mile.  I gave my best effort of “letting the field go” and staying within myself, but maybe got a little too caught up in the “buzz” and came through in a fairly brisk 4:42.  I would pay for this over the last 5K, but did I my best to hang tough.  I ended up crossing the line in 30:54, which was good for 5th place overall.  This was definitely a positive start for me, and the whole experience was incredible.

Despite the rainy weather, the weekend was a huge success and it didn’t stop the Richmond community from coming out and supporting the race participants with just as much energy and enthusiasm as any other year.  Coming off this weekend has me even more pumped for our Marathon High kids, as they will get to experience something similar this weekend at the Capitol 10K in Austin.

Andrew 3

In other news, life has been anything but uneventful for me over the past couple of months.  I’ve quit my job and have decided to move to Flagstaff, Arizona.  I suppose a bit of background and explanation on what led to this decision is in order…

If you have some time, check out this video of Steve talking about being a Rebel and what he believes that should look like…

He says some pretty cool stuff and quotes some amazing people, but I think this one by Ralph Waldo Emerson about 7:30 into the video resonates with me the most: “Do not go where the path may lead.  Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”

Back in January, Steve required all of his athletes to write out our purpose.  Not just our running purpose, but more importantly our life purpose, and how running connects with this.  To give you some context, I was coming off 2 foot surgeries and had been out of the sport for 9 months, so I took this exercise pretty seriously.  This has been one of the most important, enlightening, and motivating things that I’ve ever done.  I now know exactly what I want and why I want it.  In order to wholly fulfill my purpose, live my dream rather than chase it, and continue creating my path, it has become clear to me that running the trails and mountains are an essential part of my being.  It’s where I find my inner calm and peace, and it transcends everything else that I do on this earth.  I’m not sure why it took me so long to figure this out, but it hit me like a ton of bricks.  When I saw it on paper, in my own words, I knew immediately what I had to do.

So on to Flagstaff I will go to train like an animal in the mountains…where I belong.  My 2014 race schedule reflects this desire, as I do not plan to step foot on the track.  I will shift my focus to primarily mountain and trail races, including the Mount Washington Road Race, the U.S. Mountain Running Championships at the Loon Mountain Race, and the Pikes Peak Ascent.  I’m looking forward to embracing this change of scenery, and when I return to the track in 2015, I know that my mountain and trail training will have only served me well.

This blog does not afford me the space to adequately express my gratitude to everyone that has positively impacted me and played an integral role in my development during my time in Austin.  I’ve worked with countless individuals that have gone above and beyond to help and support me in so many ways and I am incredibly thankful for that.  These selfless acts of genuine love and kindness are rare and should never be taken for granted.  I want to personally thank Steve Sisson and Ruth England; Dr. Spears, Pieter Kroon and the entire staff at Sports Performance International; Doug Consiglio, Lenora Goessling, and all those in the Rogue community that have supported and helped make Rogue AC and Marathon High possible.

Andrew 4One of the first…

Lastly, I want to thank my teammates and friends.  You have all motivated and inspired me on a daily basis to keep plugging away and I will miss training with you.  But, hey, let’s look at the bright side – You all now have a place to stay when you want to come train at 7000 ft. J

I’ll leave you with this quote from the British climber, George Mallory, when asked why he wanted to climb Mt. Everest…

“Because it’s there.”

Farewell for now Austin…



Posted on April 2, 2014, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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