Pawel Nazarewicz: Building connections in the classroom through ultrarunning

Climbing Gateway Trail is a staple in Pawel Nazarewicz’s ultra training. He’s run the path more than 400 times.

Last month, Pawel Nazarewicz completed the Grindstone 100 ultra for the third time. He’s now more than halfway to his goal of earning 5 finisher buckles on the brutal, rolling course that features more than 20,000 feet of climbing over 101.5 miles.

His finishing time of 28 hours, 36 minutes and 46 seconds placed him among the top 25 percent of the 200-runner field on a weekend when hot and sticky conditions contributed to more than 50 racers dropping early.

It was an accomplishment he shared not just with his family, coach (Darren Thomas) and race support crew (led by Sean Raines) — but also with his AP statistics students at Salem High School.

Leading up to Grindstone, Pawel talked about his training and race goals with the class. They discussed the statistics involved, for both individuals and the collective field. The day before the race he wore his full racing outfit, including his hydration vest, to school.

It wasn’t really about the math.

“I think none of them have any idea of what that world and culture is like, so I wanted to give them some insight and make it personal,” he said.

During the race, Pawel carried his phone and shared live updates with students via Instagram (MrNmath).

“I imagine it’s kind of fun to follow along and see how an event like that unfolds and then ends. Anytime you make it personal and then add some conflict, it makes for a memorable experience.” (Read his full Grindstone race report)

So, what’s his advice for preparing for a 100-mile mountain ultra?

“A lot of climbing and run/walks at a comfortable pace,” Pawel says. “Gotta get the vert in. Thank goodness we have so many great trails around the NRV which simulate the race well.” 

His longest run before Grindstone was about 35 miles — but he was consistently climbing during his shorter, midweek runs. His go-to route: Up the steep, rocky 1.3 mile Gateway Trail to the top of Brush Mountain, a path he’s run more than 400 times. His “local legend” status for that section on Strava will be tough to beat given the proximity of his home (¾ of a mile) to the trailhead on Meadowbrook Drive.

When he’s not running, teaching or coaching — Pawel is likely immersed in one of his other avocations: real estate (he and his wife own Clay Corner Inn and several other properties), investing in cryptocurrency or NFTs (non-fungible tokens), or poker (he once played professionally).

Pawel Nazarewicz

Salem High teacher Pawel Nazarewicz wore his racing gear to school the day before the Grindstone 100.

Age: 41

Family: Wife (Katy) and daughter (Anna). I have a sister who lives in Rhode Island.

Hometown: Born in Warsaw, Poland, currently living in Blacksburg.

What brought you to the NRV? Katy got a job at Virginia Tech. She was recruited by Andy Norton.

Occupation: High school teacher, Salem High School. Also coach XC there.

When/how did you start running? After 9/11, I wanted to go into the military. Because I’m blind in one eye, I was unable to do so, but I kept running. In graduate school I started running 5K races with Andy Norton and went from there.

Why do you run now? Great community and the most meditative/centering thing I do.

Most satisfying running accomplishment? Finishing Grindstone 100 in under 24 hours my first time around.

You’ve played professional poker, written a book on the game and helped develop a video series. What lessons from poker have helped or influenced your approach to running? Focus on the process and the execution. The rest is out of your hands. Things will happen that you didn’t account for so roll with the punches. 

Favorite workout? Comfortable 10-miler with two climbs at Pandapas. Finish feeling good with ~1,600 feet of climbing. 

Favorite places to run? Love the trails around Kelly Knob and Captain, the Sarver ascent and descent, and obviously Gateway (which I’ve done close to 400 times and now live less than 3/4 of a mile away).

Advice for new runners? Focus on being consistent and go more slowly than you think you should. The key to sticking with it is making it sustainable. Doing too much, too early, too quickly is a recipe for injury and then you’ll quit running.

Any running superstitions or rituals? Not that I can think of. I love my Balega socks – it’s the only brand I’ll wear. 

Favorite gear? Ultimate Direction vest, Petzel headlamp, regular Buff. HOKA Speedgoat shoes have served me very well on trails. 

Suggestion for growing our running community? Ask to run with people and get to know them. Help people at races. 

Favorite pre-run fuel? Sour patch kids.

Favorite post-run recovery/reward meal? Waffle House!

Fact many people don’t know about you? I’m blind in my right eye and fluent in Polish.

Running goals for the next few years? Five Grindstone finishes, get lucky and earn a lottery entry to either Western States or Hardrock. Maybe BQ (Boston Marathon qualifier)?

Near mile 85 of the Grindstone 100 last month, Pawel was still climbing strong.

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