How Trail Running Astronomer Andy Boyle Ran—And Won—His First Ultra

Boyle used a Trail Runner training plan to build speed and break into the ultra distance.

Photo: Vasily Samoylov

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Andy Boyle, 25, of Pasadena California, grew up in the shadow of Pike’s Peak in Colorado Springs, where he fell in love with trail running during his freshman year of college. 

In high school, Boyle and his friends would do “Ramble Runs”, where they would take different, exploratory routes around their high school in a certain amount of time. 

“We used these runs as an opportunity to explore trails we normally didn’t get to use and they ended up being some of the most fun runs we did, mostly because we really got to explore and go on an adventure during those runs,” says Boyle. 

Boyle then went on to study at the University of Colorado, where instead of competing at the collegiate level, he took to the trails around his backyard in Boulder. 

“I started spending a lot of time on the trails as a way to destress and explore the world around me and fell in love with trails for the sense of exploration, freedom, and peace they provided to me. And, plus, it was just damn fun! There’s nothing I love more than bombing down a trail, jumping over rocks and roots,” says Boyle. 

That adventuring propelled him to two top-twenty finishes at the Pikes Peak Ascent in his hometown, as well as two top five finishes at the Barr Trail Mountain race. Up until this summer, the longest race he had ever done was the Pikes Peak 30k. But, the allure of ultra distances called. 

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Getting Into Ultras

Boyle didn’t want to dive in with a 100-miler, that seemed a bit extreme. But a 50k or 50-miler didn’t seem like enough of a challenge, as he’d just about run those distances in training. 100k seemed just about right.  

“I’d actually never raced anything over 18 miles before this race, so it was a big jump to go from racing 18 miles to racing 62!” says Boyle. “I thought it would be fun if the race was significantly longer than any long run I might do.”

To prepare, Boyle used Trail Runner‘s 100-mile training plan, developed by Coach David Roche. Boyle incorporated some higher-volume weeks, topping out with a 110-mile week with 16,000 ft of gain and a 30-mile long run. Outside of the workouts, Boyle says he kept it really easy.

“One aspect of the training plan that I actually really enjoyed was the speed workouts. Two of my favorite workouts were actually track workouts, which feels almost blasphemous to say. These workouts helped me feel like I could just run fast if I needed to, which gave me a lot of confidence going into the race.”

But Boyle doesn’t just run. After college, Boyle moved to Pasadena to work for the California Institute of Technology, where he studies exoplanets (planets located outside of our solar system). As an astronomer, Boyle is tasked with keeping the NASA Exoplanet Archive up to date with new planets as they’re discovered and making the archive more accessible to users in the scientific community. 

Since his work hours are fairly flexible, Boyle took advantage of mid-day lunch breaks to get some heat training in preparation for the Kodiak 100k. Boyle chose Kodiak because of its proximity to his home in Pasadena, which allowed him to spend weekends scouting the course and familiarizing himself with the terrain. The course winds through aspen groves and pine forests, similar to his stomping grounds in Colorado. 

RELATED: A 12-Week Training Plan To Prepare You For Breakthroughs

Race Day

On race day, Boyle paced himself conservatively, running with the 100-mile leaders for the first 20 miles of the race. Boyle’s quads started to feel the wear and tear of 10k+ of descending, but he pushed through, believing that he just barely had the lead. 

“As I was coming into an aid station at around the 45-mile mark, I heard some volunteers cheer for me, then they cheered again about 20 seconds later. This made me think that someone was right on my heels, so I ran the rest of the race pretty stressed out and paranoid that I was going to be passed at any second,” says Boyle. Whatever they had been cheering for, it wasn’t another racer. 

To fuel, Boyle used GU, chips, Roctane, watermelon and a few Oreos. To stay focused, he listened to music by his favorite band, The Mountain Goats. 

“It’s easier to push through the pain when you know why you’re pushing. Matt Carpenter has an interview where he talks about being nervous, and even scared, to run the Pikes Peak Marathon one year, and was planning on dropping out. On the morning of the race, he looked through the people who had dropped from the race and the reason they dropped (sick, hurt, job, etc.), and thought ‘Wow, my reason is because I’m afraid. I better get out there and do this.’ I found that motivational and thought about it a lot during the race,” says Boyle. 

At the last aid station, Boyle found out he had a comfortable lead, and eight miles later, he cruised into the finish. 

Boyle’s best advice for others looking to break into longer races is to make sure your quads are up to the task. Strength training and making sure to practice descending with intention during long runs can help reinforce your legs for the rigors of descending. 

RELATED: Train for Mountain Running, Even if You Live at Sea Level

“I also think it helps, both in training and on race day, to be flexible and roll with the punches (like you do with the hills). Training hardly ever goes exactly according to plan, and races are the same,” says Boyle. 

“Ted Lasso has a good quote where he says ‘It may not work out how you think it will, or how you hope it does, but it will all work out exactly as it’s supposed to.’ I like that,” says Boyle. “Go out, put in the work, have fun, do your best, and if it doesn’t go according to plan, that’s okay. You learned something and can always try again.”

Click here to see the plan that Boyle used to win the Kodiak 100k. 

To see training plans for all athletes and distances, go here. 

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