This is an interview of Andy Pilskalns. Andy has done the Bridger Ridge Run more than anyone else. He has a consecutive streak of 22 spanning from 1990 through 2011. He set his PR of 4:10 in his 14th Ridge Run in 2003.
Andy was kind enough to take the time to answer a few questions in a phone interview. His answers are quite inspiring and entertaining. Enjoy.
Editor’s note. This is a write-up based upon notes taken during the interview. I tried to capture the essence of Andy’s answers and include as many direct quotes as possible. If anyone notices any inaccuracies please comment and I will quickly correct it. I apologize ahead of time if any of my own interpretations or ideas crept in and modified his original intent. Thanks to Jonathon Rulseh for the picture.
When was your first Ridge Run? Do you remember what motivated you to do it that first time? And what do you remember from that first experience?
1990. I was a college student in engineering at MSU after transferring from UM.
At the time, I had a lot of energy or even angst. My life had been a little rough up until then. I had left home quite young and was still putting myself through school. Tom Whitingham (sp?) suggested I do the Ridge Run as a way to positively channel my energy. I really owe Tom a world of thanks for initially suggesting I do the Ridge Run.
I grew up in the mountains of upstate NewYork and Stevensville south of Missoula. My parents instilled in me an appreciation for the outdoors and the mountains. Participating in the Ridge Run seemed like a natural fit with my love of the mountains, surplus energy and feelings. I was raised Catholic and am a practicing Catholic. Being in the mountains helps me connect with God and my spirituality. It helps put things in perspective. It is a great place to Pray.
For that first Race, I remember I wore Galibier hiking boots that must of weighed 4 pounds a piece. It was a hot day. Nevertheless, I had a great experience and came away thinking that this was a terrific event. I was impressed by all the people involved, the organizers, the participants. It was like this group experience – a team effort – lots of camaraderie. I remember Ed Anacker giving a little history of the event and what inspired him to start it. He even voiced his original intention of starting at Flathead Pass instead of Fairy Lake.
At some point, did you establish a goal to be a multiple timer, or did the numbers just add up over the years?
Initially, I had no objectives to create a streak of consecutive Ridge Runs. It was probably after I had done 5 or so, that the realization hit that I had begun a streak. At that point, I made a challenge and commitment to myself to keep it going. Somewhere in there, I think I started actually doing a little running and switched over to running shoes from hiking boots!
It hasn’t always been easy to keep doing it. Some years, because of family and work commitments or health challenges, I have not been able to prepare properly. So it is hard and I end up paying my dues during the race and at the finish line. It is only one day out of the year, but training properly does take time and commitment. Training is a somewhat selfish activity. I’m grateful to be able to do it and to those that have allowed me to do it.
Are there any especially memorable Ridge Run years and associated stories that come to mind that you would like to tell?
The first that comes to mind is the cold and snowy year. I think it was 2005. I was prepared for warm weather, was in good shape and planned to go fast. As a result, I was dressed in shorts and a singlet. It was cold. I remember seeing ice frozen to my bare shoulder and arm on the side that faced the wind. I kept moving just to stay warm. As it turned out, I did not go as fast as I had planned!
Another early year, I’m not sure which, I was coming down off Sacajawea down the rocky gully toward the foothill trail, Tom Kalakay was behind me going really fast. He was yelling to all below to get out of the way. He started a rock slide as I stood on the steep hillside holding on to the side of the hill with my hand. The rock slide deeply buried my hand in a pile of rocks. I yelled at Tom that I was going to get him for this and catch him, but I never did.
I also remember towards the end of one race running along in the woods below Baldy. I caught up to someone that I had always wanted to be as fast as. They were having troubles and sitting on the side of the trail. When they saw me come by, they were absolutely delighted that I was doing so well and had a huge grin on their face as they yelled out encouragement. That is the spirit of the Race.
Are you going to keep doing the Ridge Run? If so, what inspires you to still participate? Or do you foresee a time when enough is enough?
Yes I plan to keep going. Perhaps I’ll do another 20 more. Participating is fuel for my mind and spirit. In many ways, doing the Ridge Run all these years has made me a stronger person. It helped me mature. Realizing all this inspires me to keep going.
Based on your years of experience, what words of wisdom will you share with those that may have a goal to do the Ridge Run or a longevity goal of doing the Ridge Run for many years to come?
Savor the experience. Enjoy the mountains and people. Sure, it may hurt and be hard, but a positive attitude makes a huge difference. Take a moment and pray while you are up there. Up on the Ridge, you are elevated. All things are possible through God.
We live in a privileged era and place. We have the freedom and opportunity to do these activities. It is a time where we can choose what challenges and adversities to impose upon ourselves.
Remember all the people whose footsteps you follow in. This is a team effort. But at the same time, everyone is doing it for their own personal reasons. Each person brings their own stories to the Race.
Appreciate and be inspired by all the people that are a part of it. From the talented fast folks that go faster than anyone ever dreamed possible, to those that truly consider finishing winning, to those that organize and make it all happen.
Prove the doubters and naysayers wrong. Action, commitment and performance defeat doubt.