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Running on all cylinders

By David Rogers. BLOWING ROCK, N.C. — With a small-town population of around 1,300 full-time residents, Blowing Rock might not be the first place you think of to find nine world class running athletes at the top of their game. Then again, relatively few places — at least on the East Coast of the U.S. — are home to elite professional running teams like ZAP Endurance, training at modestly high altitude in a scenic environment with often challenging mountain trails.

In the 20-plus years that ZAP has been operational since its founding by former elite marathoner Zika Rea and her late husband Andy Palmer, the ZAP team has had several noteworthy performances. That includes Andrew Colley’s earning a spot on the U.S. team to the World Cross Country Championships in 2015, staged in China — and again this year, headed next week to the World championships hosted in New South Wales, Australia.

That ZAP history also includes Tyler Pennel’s finish just off the podium in the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials – Marathon, in Los Angeles. He earned global headlines for leading the race from Mile 13 to Mile 19, then hung on to finish 5th among the nation’s top 300 male marathon athletes, a race won by Nike sensation Galen Rupp. And the ZAP team had six marathoners who qualified to run in the men’s and women’s Trials. On a per capita basis, Blowing Rock and the High Country likely had more runners in that 2016 Olympic Trials marathon event than any other municipality in the country.

Just wait for ZAP’s 2024 encore, when as many as eight team members may have qualified to compete in the Trials, even with the U.S. Olympic Committee tightening the eligibility standards.

Since its founding, zap endurance qualified 54 team members for the olympic trials in events from 1500 meters to the marathon. 

Over the years since the club’s founding in Blowing Rock, the ZAP Endurance team won the title as the top professional cross country club in the nation: 2006, 2007, 2011, and 2014. In two of those years, a ZAP man won the national cross country championship race, including current ZAP assistant coach Ryan Warrenburg (2007) and David Jankowski (2011).

That is just a sampling of ZAP’s best historic performances. There are others. Fast forward to 2023 and the High Country based team has never been stronger.


    • ANDREW COLLEY: After an injury-plagued mid-career, Colley is returning to the World Cross Country Championships. He earned a spot on the U.S. team last month, placing second in the Richmond, Va., hosted U.S. Cross Country Championships. Only six Americans represent the USA in the Worlds, which is only held once every four years. On Feb. 18, the USA team will be running in the World Cross Country Championships, hosted this year by Bathurst, in New South Wales, Australia. Colley is a rare combination of both speed and endurance. According to World Athletics, in 2017 he covered the Sacramento U.S. Marathon Championships course in 2:15.27, placing 16th. Three years earlier, he ran 3:59.34 for the Mile at the Greenville Blue Shoes Track Invitational, placing 5th. This comes after a stellar career running for North Carolina State University where he earned multiple “All American” honors in both track and cross country at various distances. He will be looking to qualify for the U.S. Olympic Trials in the marathon after the World XC Championships.
  • Andrew Colley mid-race during the National Cross Country Championships on Jan. 21 in Mechanicsville, Va. He place second and qualified for the U.S. team. He will compete with the U.S. team on Feb. 18 in Bathurst, Australia. Photo by @pacephoto, courtesy of ZAP Endurance
    • TRISTIN VAN ORD: As assistant men’s cross country coach at Appalachian State, when Tristin Van Ord speaks, the guys are likely to listen. A highly decorated collegian while competing for App State just a few years ago, the 2:27:07 she ran last month for the Chevron Houston Marathon not only lowered her personal record by some two and a half minutes — set just eight months earlier in Rotterdam, The Netherlands — but made her the 10th fastest American woman among those currently running the 26.2 mile distance. It also qualifies her to compete for a spot on the U.S. Olympic Team in the next U.S. Olympic Trials at that distance, which will be run in Orlando, Fla., on Feb. 3, 2024.
    • RYAN FORD: One of the newest members of the ZAP Endurance team, Ryan Ford quickly gained notice in the running world when he finished 12th in the same U.S. Cross Country Championships in Richmond, Va. on Jan. 21, the same even where Colley finished second and qualified for the national team — and Ford was the youngest competitor in the top 12 by roughly two years. Only six days earlier, on Jan. 15, Ford won the 3,000 meters event at the Virginia Tech Invitational vs. a strong field of top collegiate and professional runners. The latest? On Feb. 11, Ford placed second in the 5,000 meters at the Valentine Invitational in Boston against a strong professional and collegiate field.  In running a 13:29.96, he was just half a second behind the leader. In recording his first time for the 5,000m under 13:30, he took a full five seconds off of his personal best.
    • DAN SCHAFFER: Running a sub 4-minute mile remains a significant accomplishment and Dan Schaffer, another new ZAP team member. has done it both outdoors and indoors. Last month, he ran a 3:59.6 to win the featured Mile race at the Hokie Invitational in Blacksburg, Va., against some of the nation’s top collegians and professional runners. He followed that up with a second place finish at 3,000 meters, in a time of 7:43:47 at the Dr. Sander Columbia Challenge in New York City, less than a second and a half out of first place. The performance lowered his personal best at 3,000 meters indoors by seven seconds, set a new ZAP club record for the distance, and qualified him for his first senior national championship event, the U.S. Indoor Championships on Feb. 18, in Albuquerque, N.M.
  • ZAP Endurance team member Dan Schaffer lines up at the start of the Hokie Invitational Men’s 1 Mile Run on Jan. 20. Photo by Ryan Warrenburg, courtesy of ZAP Endurance.
    • TYLER PENNEL: To say that Tyler Pennel burst onto the national stage in 2014, when he ran away from the field to win the U.S. Marathon Championships in the Twin Cities (Minn.) wouldn’t quite be accurate since he had already started getting attention as a collegian, winning the NCAA Division II 10,000 meters title in 2012 while representing Western State College (now Western Colorado University) of Gunnison, Colo. Early in his tenure with ZAP, he also rattled off a 3:58 for the Mile, 13:32 for 5K, and 28.22 for the 10K. Since winning at Twin Cities, he has maintained a spot among the top American marathon athletes. After his 5th place finish at the Los Angeles hosted U.S. Olympic Trials, he followed up with an 8th place run in the 2016 New York City Marathon and a 4th place at the 2018 Boston Marathon. In 2020, as COVID-19 was just beginning to engage the world, Pennel finish 11th in the Atlanta Olympic Trials with a personal best of 2:12.34. That “PR” didn’t last long, however. Last month, on Jan. 15, 2023, he ran a 2:12:16 in the Chevron Houston Marathon on a muggy day in south Texas. The run lowered his PR as he place 5th and met the qualifying standard for the next U.S. Olympic Trials, in Orlando, on Feb. 23, 2024.
    • JOSH IZEWSKI:  A former star performer at the University of Florida in track and field, at 3000m, 5000m and 10,000m distances, Josh Izewski took five years off after college to compete as a professional triathlete. In 2018, ZAP’s Tyler Pennel “discovered” Izewski as a potential teammate when he beat Pennel in a 10-mile road race. A short while later, ZAP welcomed him onto the team and the Florida alum quickly started recording faster and faster times. In the distance running world, Izewski has the potential to be a speed demon after running 1500 meters in 3:54 as a collegian, in a 2013 Tallahassee race. After returning to the track and joining the ZAP team, he has begun to focus more and more on the longer distances, including the marathon. As soon as the qualifying window opened up in January of 2022 (for the 2024 U.S. Olympic Trials), Izewski ran a 2:12.45 at the 2022 Houston Marathon, well below the U.S. qualifying standard of 2:18 for the men. He is currently taking about five months off (training only) after a full schedule of racing in 2022, ending with a 10 mile road race in the Twin Cities last October, where he lowered his own personal record for that distance by some 20 seconds. The big push now? He and Pennel are focused on qualifying for the Olympic Trials, aimed at competing in the Berlin Marathon to better the 2:18 qualifying standard in September.
    • ANNMARIE TUXBURY: ZAP Endurance head coach Pete Rea says that Annmarie Tuxbury is his “diamond in the rough.”  A native of New Hartford, Conn. and 2016 graduate of Bryant University in Rhode Island, where she is 4th on the program’s all-time list for 1,000 meters, 7th in the Mile, 3rd at 3,000 meters, and 2nd at 5,000 meters. She is also on three of the school’s Top 10 teams in the Distance Medley Relay. After leaving school, she began transitioning to longer distance running. She ran in the Atlanta Marathon in late February 2020, posting a time of 2:39. In May of 2021 she finished 7th at the US 25k Championships in Grand Rapids, Mich., and followed that up in the fall of 2021 with another top 10 US Championship finish, a 10th place showing at the U.S. 20k Championships.  In 2022, Tuxbury ran 2:38 at the Boston Marathon and turned around six weeks later to run 2:39 and take the win at the Vermont City Marathon. Now 28, the former middle distance runner ran the Boston Marathon in April 2022, the 23rd woman to cross the finish line and lowered her personal best to 2:38.15. Then, just a month after joining ZAP, in December 2022 she finished 12th among 3,421 women competing in the U.S. Marathon Championships in Sacramento, Calif, where Tuxbury lowered her personal best by some 7 minutes, to 2:31:29. While Tuxbury has already qualified for the U.S. Olympic Trials with her 2:31 (the standard is 2:37), she is currently training for the Rotterdam Marathon on April 16.
  • New ZAP Endurance team member Annmarie Tuxbury finished the California International Marathon in 12th place on Dec. 4. Photo by Pete Rea, courtesy of ZAP Endurance
    • WHITNEY MACON: Whitney Macon, a native of Asheville who was part of a University of New Mexico championship cross country team, has also already qualified for the U.S. Olympic Trials in the marathon, running a 2:32:48 at the Rotterdam Marathon in April 2022. Along with Tuxbury, Macon is training for the Rotterdam Marathon in April 2023. She is a 2015 graduate of Harvard University and spent her last year of eligibility as a graduate student at New Mexico. At the Atlanta U.S. Olympic Trials in 2020, Macon finished 40th, in 2:39:40, among the 390 women who had qualified for the Trials race, all competing for a spot on the U.S. Olympic Team.
    • ERIC VAN DER ELS: The ninth and final athlete being supported on the ZAP team is Eric Van Der Els, a recent graduate of the University of Connecticut where he was a top performer in cross country as well as on the track. While his debut with ZAP has been cut short by a foot injury, Van Der Els has a lot of upside as a middle distance runner. In May of 2022, he finished in 1st place of the Big East Conference Outdoor Track and Field Championships at 1500 meters, running the distance in 3:46.64 to win the final after being a tick faster in the preliminaries, 3:46.63. At the elite Dr. Sander Invitational Columbia Challenge in February 2022, Van Der Els finished first in the 3,000 meters. Just out of high school, Van Der Els showed his potential in running a 3:43.16 at 1500 meters to capture first place in the Pan American Under 20 Championships in Trujillo, Peru, in 2017. Once he returns from the foot injury, Van Der Els is expected to compete in distances ranging from 3,000 meters to 10,000 meters. In his pro debut with ZAP, he placed 10th in the USA Track & Field 5k Championships in and around New York City’s Central Park, in early November. Only 32 pro athletes had qualified to run in the race.
  • Left to right, Eric van der Els, Andrew Colley, Ryan Ford and Dan Schaffer in Connecticut after all finished in the top 16 of the historic, Manchester Road Race on Nov. 24, with more than 10,000 running in the race. Photo courtesy of Pete Rea, ON/ZAP Endurance elite running team

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