Andrew Down trains for the New York City Marathon.

Coming back from burnout; Andrew Down lines up at NYC Marathon after falling back in love with running

Saskatoon runner Andrew Down has no idea what to expect when he lines up at the TCS New York City Marathon this weekend.

The race — the world’s largest marathon — is poised to welcome 53,000 elite and amateur athletes to the streets of New York City on Nov. 6.

Almost all races Down has done to date have been in Saskatoon and Regina, where fields tend to top out at 1,500 runners. The only exceptions are a comparably sized half marathon in Kelowna, B.C. and the TCS Toronto Waterfront Marathon half, which Down ran last month to prepare for the crowds in New York. That race featured roughly 15,000 athletes between the half and full marathon distances.

“To me, it felt like 50,000 people,” Down said. “I can’t imagine actually 50,000 runners in New York.”

Andrew Down on a winter training run.
Andrew Down runs in the 10k for Ukraine fundraising run.

Now 37, Down started running in his early 20s when a friend became manager of the Running Room on Eighth Street and persuaded Down to take an assistant manager position. Down had always been active growing up (he particularly enjoyed hockey and football), and soon became addicted to running. “I just love the idea that you get out what you put in,” he says. “The more I do to train, to focus on nutrition, the more I get out of it.”

Down ran his first half at the Queen City Marathon weekend in 2007 and finished in just under 2:20. “I’d undertrained, under-prepped, hadn’t really done the distance before,” Down recalled. “And for some reason I enjoyed it.”

Down tried for seven years to crack the 1:45 barrier without success and eventually shifted his focus to the marathon. He ran the Queen City Marathon in 2014 and still remembers hitting the wall around the 32-kilometre mark.

“I’d never experienced that literal feeling of ‘I cannot run,'” Down said. “It was definitely a huge accomplishment completing it, but it wasn’t a fun race.”

Andrew Down on a winter training run.
Even in Saskatoon winters, Andrew Down says running makes him a better, happier person.

Down planned to take a few weeks off after the marathon, but the break stretched into months as he dealt with personal and mental health issues. The time away from the sport made him realize how much he loved running even if he wasn’t hitting the ambitious time goals he’d set for himself.

“It was a huge wake-up call to see how it positively impacted so many areas of my life with family and friends and professionally,” Down said. “I was just a better, happier person when I was running and I made the decision to to get back in 2016.”

It wasn’t easy. Down was heavier and slower than he’d been two years earlier and paces that used to be easy were a struggle. But Down recalibrated his goals. His first race back was the 2016 BMO Okanagan Marathon half, which he completed in just under two hours. It wasn’t Down’s fastest time, but crossing the finish line remains one of his proudest running moments.

After the 2016 race, Down enrolled in a half marathon clinic through Brainsport and started running with Brainsport’s free run club. Before long, he was consistently running times under 1:40. He also tackled the marathon again — virtually during the pandemic — and had a more positive experience than his first crack at the distance.

Andrew Down, left, and friend Jeff Banow at the finish line of the 2022 Saskatchewan Marathon half marathon.
Andrew Down, left, and friend Jeff Banow at the finish line of the 2022 Saskatchewan Marathon half marathon. Both are heading to the New York City Marathon.

“Maybe I needed the break,” Down says now. “It was exactly what I needed to get where I wanted to go.”

Earlier this year, when Down’s friend suggested a trip to New York City to run the marathon, Down enthusiastically agreed and the pair guaranteed their entry into the popular event through a tour group.

Down’s build for the race has gone well and he says New York City is a perfect marathon for Saskatonians because it allows them to get their highest mileage training in during the beautiful fall months.

He hopes to run the race in under 3:30, but his primary goal is to enjoy himself and cross the finish line excited to keep running.

“I definitely have goals, I’ve trained to hopefully accomplish my time goals, but it is very much more of an experience,” he says. “I can see myself wanting to do more of these bigger races in the future.”