Friday, August 18, 2006

Headmaster runs more than just the school

Ultramarathon runner holds a national championship

Express Staff Writer

Andy Jones-Wilkins, headmaster at Sun Valley?s Community School, competes in the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run earlier this summer near Lake Tahoe in California. A world class ultramarathon runner, Jones-Wilkins finished seventh in the event. But earlier this year, he won a national championship. Courtesy Photo.

Come Sept. 9, the Community School's new headmaster will be running more than just the school—he'll be running a 100-mile race up and down the Wasatch Front near Salt Lake City.

Ultramarathon trail running is nothing new to Andy Jones-Wilkins. In fact, the headmaster already has a national championship under his belt.

At 38, Jones-Wilkins isn't ready to hang up his running shoes either. He has his sights set on winning next summer's Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run near Lake Tahoe in northern California, an event Jones-Wilkins describes as the "Boston Marathon of ultramarathon running." He took second last year in the event and has finished in the top ten for three years straight.

So how long does it take to run a 100-mile race? For Jones-Wilkins, a world class athlete, from 15-17 hours, depending upon the terrain.

"For whatever reason—I can't explain it—I just have this will to keep going, so I just keep going," he said.

A newcomer to the Wood River Valley, Jones-Wilkins moved his family of five to Hailey in July. Originally from the suburbs of New York City, he left Oakland, Calif. for his new job as headmaster at Sun Valley's Community School.

"Oh, I love it, " Jones-Wilkins said about living in the Wood River Valley. "We've been in big cities all our married lives so we've longed for a small town. Plus, living at 5,000 to 6,000 feet will help with my endurance, so that's an added bonus of living here."

Ultramarathon trail running is a grueling sport, with races from 50-100 miles long and normally over rough terrain and up and down hills or mountains. For example, the Sept. 9 Wasatch Front 100 Mile Endurance Run that Jones-Wilkins is currently training for has a total of almost 27,000 feet of elevation that runners will have to negotiate.

Jones-Wilkins runs several races each year, but prefers the 100-milers to the 50-milers.

"I use the 50-milers as training for the 100-milers," he said. "I tend to get stronger as the day goes on. The first 50 miles are all physical, and the second fifty miles are all mental."

Jones-Wilkins brought all his training and endurance to the forefront when he won the 2006 USA Track and Field 100 Mile Trail Running Championship in February near Huntsville, Texas. He finished the race in first place out of a field of some 250 runners. His winning time was 14 hours and 57 minutes, a full hour faster than his closest competitor.

"I just finished really strong that day," he said. "I was shooting to break 15 hours."

Jones-Wilkins says there are three things that make him a strong competitor in ultramarathon racing. First, is nutrition—he watches his food and fluid intake closely before and during a race.

Second, he never gets blisters, a problem that knocks a lot of competitors out of long distance races.

"For whatever reason, I have durable feet, and don't seem to suffer blisters," he said.

Third, Jones-Wilkins spends a significant amount of his training on running downhill, which he said is actually harder on a runner's legs than running uphill.

"There will be people at mile 85 whose feet are so shot that they have to walk the downhill, while I can just run by," he said.

To stay in top condition, Jones-Wilkins runs between 100-120 miles a week.

While running 100 miles can be a lonely vigil, Jones-Wilkins as turned the sport into a family affair.

His wife Shelly and sons Carson, 8, Logan, 6, and Tully, 3, serve as his "pit crew," mixing and serving the nutritional drinks he needs while running, providing food—often a peanut butter sandwich, keeping him posted on his progress and providing the support he needs to keep going.

"I couldn't do it without them," he said.

Jones-Wilkins is also appreciative of his sponsors, primarily main sponsor Montrail Footwear. The Portland, Ore. company provides his running shoes and travel expenses for the races. Other sponsors are Nathan Human Propulsion Laboratory, Clif Bar, First Endurance and Smartwool Socks.

Without sponsors, Jones-Wilkins said it would difficult to compete on a national level. Winning a race doesn't pay much. He said he only received about $1,000 for winning his national championship.

It's the love of running that keeps the headmaster going.

"There are a lot of runners who are very excited and eager who don't run a smart race," he said. "What I've learned is it's better to be slow than dumb, because if you start out too fast, it can just make for a death march."

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