While the pandemic made many feel confused and anxious about the future, architectural engineering junior and ultrarunner Chris Andrews found clarity within his newly granted free time.
“It helped me manage my time for what I really wanted to be doing at the moment, which was running as much as I possibly could,” Andrews said.
Andrews recently participated in the Black Canyon Ultras 100K race in Arizona. For Andrews, running is more than just a hobby; it’s a way of life and his main weapon in combating depression and anxiety.
“I’m running to basically fight off depression and anxiety, and just getting out the door and feeling like I want to run and having a smile on my face and [feeling] like I actually want to leave my house is super important, because I don’t feel like that all the time,” he said.
In March 2020, Andrews found himself in the same position as many other students, unsure about his major and questioning his decisions. Andrews said that his main attraction to Cal Poly and the architectural engineering major was the financial prospects offered by the degree. After working towards that goal for years, the COVID-19 pandemic suddenly put everything on hold, and Andrews was left to contemplate what he truly wanted for himself.
“I was serious about doing well in [my major] but I wanted to do well because I didn’t really value myself and I wanted to find value in doing something that was hard no matter whether or not I enjoyed it,” Andrews said. “But it turned into something self destructive for me.”
Andrews is a self-proclaimed competitor and perfectionist, traits that serve him well while running marathons, but hindered him in his academic progress. All of this led him to his decision to take a step back from his academics, taking a quarter off from classes to train and focus on mental health. So far, the decision has served him well, as Andrews recently set the seventh fastest recorded time to the bottom of the Grand Canyon.
“It was a huge confidence builder as much as it was a humbling thing to realize that my body could do something like that,” Andrews said.
Andrews explained how his achievement has motivated him to continue on his journey, with the experience only deepening his love for the sport. Running and competing in races has also provided Andrews with a community to support him, something many are lacking in the midst of COVID-19.
Having competed in his first race since the start of the pandemic three weeks ago, Andrews described the 100-mile race as feeling like an “all day party.”
“The communal aspect to the competition is the coolest part about ultra-marathons in general because everyone’s there for the same reason, because they love to run and they love to see what is possible,” Andrews said.
As of now, Andrews is trying to support himself as a professional runner, saying that he feels the most balance in his life that he ever has. He also said that he would not be able to do what he’s doing without the support of his parents.
“I recognize they’re making a sacrifice in just allowing me to be this flexible with my life at this moment,” Andrews said. “I’m just overwhelmingly appreciative of their support in me doing this for myself because they’ve seen how sad that I can get and how happy I can be when I’m running.”
While he understands the difficulties in becoming a professional ultrarunner, Andrews said he remains completely motivated to attain his goal. He is currently looking for a sponsor and continuing his training, with his eye on the Western States 100 as his next career goal.
“The Western States 100 is like the Super Bowl of ultrarunning,” Andrews said. “One day, I want to set the course record for that course, I’ve got a whole decade to get up to that time.”
If you want to keep up with Andrews’ journey, you can follow him on Strava.