An Unstructured Champion: 5 Questions With Ashley Arnold

Ashley Arnold competes at last year's North Face Endurance Challenge. Photo: Courtesy of The North Face

The 27-year-old trail runner from Colorado won the Leadville 100 last year.

The trails in Colorado’s Roaring Fork Valley provide a constant source of inspiration for Carbondale resident Ashley Arnold, who got into trail running and racing when she moved to Colorado after college. Even though she admits to “knowing nothing” when she first started, Arnold had enough grit and natural talent to run her way to podium finishes, including first at her first 50K, the 2008 Dizzy Fifties in Alabama, with a time of 5:10:14. She also finished on top at her first 50-miler, Colorado’s Collegiate Peaks, in 2010, and had a third place finish in her first attempt at the Leadville 100. After winning Leadville in 2013, the 27-year-old is still running for the love of it. Her goals for 2014 and beyond include bettering her 20:25:43 time at Leadville and running the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc and Western States.

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What’s life been like since you won the Leadville 100 in August?

I feel like I recovered pretty quickly, but I didn’t race again until The North Face Endurance Challenge 50-miler in San Francisco this past December (after DNFing due to a nasty tumble in 2012, Ashley ran an 8:19:54, good for 11th place in 2013). I took the fall to enjoy running. I don’t feel more pressure from others just because I won Leadville. Instead, I feel the same pressure I always put on myself because I set high expectations. I’m learning how to be tough during a race, when to go harder and when to coast. I feel like I’m still experimenting.

How do you train?

I definitely have an unstructured approach to training. I try to focus on quality over quantity, and did put some emphasis on speed work last fall. I listen to my body and build plans on a week-by-week basis. I like to run doubles and also run a mix of trails and roads — roads are good for speed. I train by mileage and use a GPS to check my miles and pace, but I don’t record a lot.

Do you take time off from running and racing?

Yes! I try to take a whole month off from training — I’ll focus again in February. I run when I feel like it, water run, get back into yoga and dance more. Dancing (Arnold is part of a modern dance company) is a good balance to running, it really opens me up, plus helps develop ankle and leg strength. When I’m not dancing, I miss the balance and my neck and shoulders start to bother me.

Is the life of a professional trail runner all running, massages and hanging out with your legs elevated?

Ha! Not so much, it’s definitely been interesting since I quit my full-time job. I do PR, write, have a sponsorship with The North Face, am starting a trail running clinic for recovering addicts, volunteer at the Carbondale food co-op to get a discount on groceries, and work at a local gift store in exchange for rent. I’m flexible and frugal and always looking for ways to make ends meet. But, I can run whenever I want. I’m trying to create a space that has value for me and is shaped around my passions.

RELATED: The North Face 50-Mile Championship Photos

What are some of your race habits?

When it comes to race food, I’m pretty inconsistent. I purposefully try not to be rigid, so I don’t have to carry particular things. But I do like ice-cold coconut water during a race. Bacon is good during races, and I like to eat Bison Epic Bars after long training runs.

One thing I always do when I race is carry a rock — I collect them. For Leadville, I carried a rock that I got on Mount Blanc, that mountain is intoxicating! To make the race cut, rocks have to be lightweight and small. I don’t think I’m superstitious, but the solid strength of a rock resonates with me. I think they hold power, strength and energy. As for selection, it just depends.

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