Running the Distance with Ernie Andrus

An Epic Coast-to-Coast Run Provides Inspiration with Every Mile

There’s no sugar coating it. Yesterday, my run sucked.

I could blame it on the humidity in Tampa (where we are visiting family,) but the truth is some days the energy or motivation isn’t there. Mid-run, I found myself attempting to channel Ernie Andrus. Since hearing about his journey a few years ago, Andrus’ story has become a frequently-visited spring for inspiration.

In 2013, at 90-years-old, Andrus set out to run across America while raising awareness for a cause dear to his heart – raising funds to restore and preserve a ship from WWII. It’s a story encompassing much more than running. Along the way, Andrus is inspiring those in his path to get active, be curious, seek adventure, and be persistent in achieving goals.

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At 90-years-old, veteran Ernie Andrus set out to run coast to coast, making headlines in the process.
Andrus found a few minutes in his busy running schedule to share his journey with us:

GG: For those who don’t yet know your story, will you give background?

EA: I’m a 92 year old World War II veteran. I was a Third Class Petty Officer and spent the war in the Pacific.

I was cruising the streets of Los Angeles in my Model A Roadster on December 7, 1941 when news came over my portable radio announcing Pearl Harbor had been bombed. I turned to my buddy and said:”Where is Pearl Harbor?” He replied, “I don’t know, but I think we’re at war. Let’s go join the Navy.”

I shipped out on December 31, 1942 and made three trips to the South Pacific, taking replacement troops over and bringing the wounded back. Then I shipped out to New Caledonia on a merchant Marine ship, boarded the LST 124 there, and spent the rest of the war liberating the islands.

As for running…I retired in 1984, the same year the Olympics came to Los Angeles so I ran my first 10K for the Olympic Torch Bearers in Huntington Beach. It was so refreshing I kept running every 5 and 10K that came along.

I ran my first half marathon when I was 87, another when I was 89. I ran my first Ragnar 200-mile relay when I was 88. That was so much fun, I ran three more.

I put a coast-to-coast run on my bucket list because it just sounded like something fun to do. I was getting so much attention because of my age. I figured a 90-year-old running across America would draw even more attention so maybe I could raise some money for our LST 325.

The LST 325 is a ship identical to the one I served on during the war. One thousand fifty-one LST’s were built during World War II.  It seemed there was none left until a shipmate heard the Greek Navy had some they were scraping.  After three years of red tape with our government we were finally able to get position of the ship. We spent four months on the Isle of Crete working on the ship to make it seaworthy then brought it back to the U.S. under its own power.

This feat made the History Channel and can now be seen on You Tube as “The Return of LST 325.” Captain Robert Jornlin wrote a book Bringing Back a Hero and a movie based on the book is in the works.

GG: I have to share a few numbers you recently posted on Coast2Coast Runs“As of October 9, 2015 I have ran 1,818.89 miles in 664 hours, 13 minutes and 29 seconds. Average pace 21:55. Average leg 6.08 miles. Average miles per week 18.25 (running 3 days a week.)” I hurt just thinking about those numbers. At 92, how do keep up this pace, stay healthy, and injury free?

EA: As of December 21, 2015 I have ran over 2,000 miles and will reach the Mississippi border in the middle of January.

I do some simple exercises every morning to get the heart pumping. I have never taken food supplements or any other kind of medication. I have never been able to drink water so I try to force other fluids. My diet has always been whatever I like and I like just about everything.

Just because I can still run doesn’t mean I’m in good health. I’ve had my problems,  I’m a cancer survivor, had three hernia operations and my gall bladder removed. My veins are so bad that I’m a candidate for anything a doctor knows to do.

My doctor says what I’m doing is better than anything he can do, keep moving. I have athlete’s feet that just won’t go away. With all my medical problems I just keep a positive attitude and enjoying life.

An approximation of Ernie’s route for the 2nd half. He’s currently averaging 18 miles per week.

GG: You’ve said your route basically follows a line from San Diego, California across to Brunswick, Georgia. Where are you now in the process? Have there been any big surprises along the way route-wise?

EA: My wife had a stroke when I was just a month and a half into my run. I held her hand for a week until she quit breathing. After three weeks I went back to running, (good therapy.) I didn’t want to be running near Tuscon in July & August so I altered my route more to the north. I think I could of handled the heat more than the cold but I don’t resent making the change because I’ve met so many wonderful people.

Ernie and Susan Andrus.
Ernie and Susan Andrus.

GG: Watching your journey, I’ve been intrigued about the logistics. There is more involved than anyone can imagine. You have to arrange rides, pickups, and sometimes escorts. Can you talk a little about the process?

I pull a car behind my RV and move about once a month. I drive my car from the start about the distance I want to run then look for a good place to finish where there is room to park.

I invite runners to run with me. We park their cars at the finish and take mine to the start. If I don’t have a running mate I try to get a volunteer to pick me up at the finish.

Sometimes I have to hitch a ride back. I have ran over 2,000 miles but I’ve driven the car 43,000 miles. I get a lot of escorts by police, firemen, and others.

I post before and after every run on my Facebook page.

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What Ernie proudly calls his “Four Generation Run,” July 2014.

GG: It’s simply amazing to see the stories and images of people of all ages and backgrounds joining you along the route, either to run with you, facilitate the journey, or cheer from the sidelines. Has the response surprised you?

The response I’m getting is pretty much what I expected, but I have some surprises especially the distance some travel to meet and run with me. One runner came all the way from Japan, another from Maryland. A retired Marine has ran 33 legs with me in four different states and will be back again soon.

Four retired sailors from four different states show up every Veterans’ Day weekend and say they will be at the finish when I get there. A granddaughter and great-grandson flew in from MN, joined my daughter in CA and came to AZ for a four generation run.

I couldn’t possibility list all the surprises I’ve had, runners driving long distances time after time to run with me, the great welcoming parties I’ve encountered along the way and all the gifts from organizations and individuals.

GG: Through this process, is there anything you’ve learned that you didn’t already know about people?

I’ve traveled a good deal to other nations and have always noted that the American people are the most loving and most generous people in the world and this venture has certainly proven that to be true.

I have gotten support from some whom I felt I should be supporting. A good example is the Disabled American Veterans in Artesia, NM. They gave a liberal donation to sponsor me and another for the LST. Who deserves more support than the Disabled Veterans?

GG: What’s been the biggest surprise so far, either in people or place?

The two biggest surprises were:
Jasper, Texas
I finished my run at the Walmart. They had roped off a portion of their parking lot,  jammed with welcomers, the high school band playing, a fire engine flying a flag, and a grandstand where they had nearly two hours of dignitaries giving speeches and presenting me with various awards and gifts.

Longview, Louisana
Some of the high school athletes ran with me and when we passed the schools there were over a thousand welcomers cheering and waving flags.

GG: Can you share a few of your favorite destinations so far along the journey? Have there been places along the way that have become special to you?

I can’t begin to name the places of interest along the way.  There are so many, mainly because of the people I met there. I really haven’t time to sight see.

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Lincoln National Park, October 2014.

GG: What do you hope people take away from your story and journey?

I am very proud of what the LST’s did for the war effort and hope the ships, the ones who sailed on them and the ones who built them will not be forgotten.

I feel it’s very important for all Americans to realize that freedom is not free especially the young people. They are the ones we’re depending on to keep this country free.

I want to impress on as many as possible that apathy could be our downfall, respect the veterans and support your troops. There is no such thing as a good war but if it were not for the ones who risk their lives to keep us free we would all be enslaved.

I am also thrilled by the hundreds of people who have said that I have inspired them to keep themselves in shape.

GG: Please tell us your secret. What keeps you motivated and moving? In other words, what inspires you along the way?

What inspires me to keep going is no secret. It’s the desire for adventure. Life is full of adventure possibilities and I don’t want to miss out.

GG: Your journey began to raise funds to return the LST 325 SHIP, of which you were a crew member during WWII, back to Normandy for a D Day Memorial Ceremony. Has the run brought more awareness to this topic? How is the fundraising going?

I was hoping I could raise enough money to take the ship back to Normandy for D-Day + 75 Memorial Service in 2019.  I don’t see much chance of raising that much money, but I will not be discouraged.  I’m having a lots of fun and whatever money I raise will help to keep the LST alive and take it to other ports for the people to tour.

Ernie Andrus’ philosophy, “Just Keep Moving.”

GG: What are you most looking forward to at the finish of the run?

I’m looking so forward to completing this run and knowing that I was able to do it, then while I still have the RV, I’ll head for Alaska. I’ve always wanted to drive the AlCan.

To follow Ernie’s journey, like his Facebook page. It sure would be nice if you planned to join him for a section of the run and/or donated what you can to the dream of seeing LST 325 make its journey. 

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