Ashley Arnold wants to run the Leadville Trail 100 again. Right now. This dancer, journalist (and, of course, ultrarunner) set herself up for success with plenty of kale, espresso, really fresh figs and a solid support crew.
You’ve raced in Leadville one other time, correct? Why come back this year?
Yes, I have only run Leadville once before, in 2010. Ever since I paced Bryon Powell at Leadville in 2009, I wanted to run it (hence why I signed up for the 2010 race and Bryon paced me). And since I’ve lived in Colorado, I’ve always wanted to win Leadville. I am in love with the town, the race, the energy. The top of Hope Pass is one of my favorite places. I wrote a letter to Leadville (well, to the 100-mile distance) before race day, asking it to “play nice” with me. I think it did. I think I’m perhaps even more smitten than I was before.
You knocked more than 2.5 hours off your previous time. How did you do it, and how did you pace yourself for this race?
I tried to be smart. I just kept moving. I didn’t stop when I wanted to. I eliminated the option. I had fun. I laughed. I let go. I just spent the day outside breathing mountain air. I had a group of some of the most important people in my life there supporting me. Plus, I knew I was going to want to drop. I reminded myself of it every day and my friend Zeke [Tiernan], who was second here last year (and has had numerous impressive ultra finishes — he’s pretty much a rock star), told me I would want to drop and that I wouldn’t. We sort of talked through all the emotional states before the race. Even though I convinced myself I should drop at mile 39, I didn’t. He was right.
My best friend since I was five was my crew leader. My sister paced me the last seven miles (I felt so fortunate to have my sister there!). My second sister, my trail sister and Salomon teammate, Gina, was helping crew and pace one of the most important sections. And she rocked it. A new friend, Zach, paced me over Hope. My boyfriend, Austin, was helping with driving and whatever anyone needed. Deb, a close friend with whom I dance and adore cats, was in charge of food and first aid. Alex, who is also a close friend and cat lover, was in charge of whatever anyone told him to be in charge of, and my friends Ben and Alex T. cheered me on and helped keep up my morale. As did my brother-in-law and niece. They were a rocking, AWESOME MEOW SQUAD!!
You sprained your ankle last year and have had some issues with it. Was it a problem for you last weekend?
You know, it was definitely a problem when it came to steep downhills and on rocky sections when I was tired. I was so scared of rolling it on the downhill from Hope to Winfield that I walked most of it. Actually, I sort of crab-walked part of it. I’m such a chicken. And then around Turquoise Lake on the way back I got pretty scared on some sections. There is a really short, steep and rocky cutaway in the last four miles that I honestly tiptoed down.
While it hurt with pretty much every single step during White River a few weeks before, I think the comfrey oil that Deb rubbed on my ankle at every aid station actually really saved me. If Deb hadn’t had brought that, I don’t know what would have happened.
I have been working on ankle mobility and stuff. Honestly, I think if I hadn’t been dancing it’d be a lot worse.
Speaking of dancing, you founded a contemporary dance company in Carbondale, Colorado. How do your two interests of ultra running and modern dance complement each other?
My friend Deborah Colley should be credited with being the actual “founder.” I, along with Deb (who was in charge of food and first aid during the race — she was on my crew), Dana Ellis and Aja McAdams are founding members. We have a fifth member now, Brianne Jones. We have a performance coming up in September. Both Deb and I are choreographing pieces about boundaries. They are both really different, so I’m excited to perform them together. It’ll be our third performance as a company. The piece I’m working on right now has to do with boundaries between wilderness and society and our minds, and the domineering attitude we humans quite often have over the natural world. It’s about dismantling that — ourselves and the boundaries that exist in our minds in this life. We’re performing both pieces late September in Carbondale, Colorado. Please come! Here is a link where you can buy tickets when they go on sale: danceinitiative.org.
When did you get hooked on trail running, and what is it about long distances that intrigues you?
I became interested in trail running just before moving to Colorado to intern with Trail Runner magazine a few years ago. Trail running offers freedom. And I need that. Our western existence feels claustrophobic. To be able to move over dirt and mountain passes and down roads and through forests, all of that, to me, is wealth. It’s my meditation, too. And the mountains are such spiritual teachers. So many moments of complete bliss happen while I’m running.
How did you fuel for this past weekend’s effort?
During the race, I pretty much tried to just eat whatever I could. I ate GU even though I didn’t want to. Avocado and bacon wraps definitely were my favorite. I love drinking soda, IZZE sodas, too. Leading up to the race, though, I ate relatively normal. I don’t believe in carbo loading or anything. I believe in the power of kale, espresso and really delicious fresh figs. I also believe in drinking a beer before every race. I could only drink half a beer at 10,000 feet, though.
As a journalist, do you ever write stories in your head or hatch ideas for articles as you run?
Yes, I come up with so many ideas while running. The key is remembering them when I’m done. I tend to do most of my writing in the morning when I first wake up, though. Morning sun pours into the windows next to my desk. It’s perfect for waking up, drinking coffee and writing.
Where will we see you race next?
Good question! It’s a little up in the air and dependent on my recovery. Since 100 miles is still such a new distance, I’m not sure what the next couple of weeks are going to feel like. I actually feel pretty good now, but who knows how that’ll translate to running. I am signed up for UROC. I’m also interested in Run Rabbit Run, UpChuck 50K, StumpJump, The Canyon de Chelley 55K and the TNF 50-Mile Endurance Challenge Champs.
I wish I could run Leadville again, though. Like, now. I know I felt bad, but I can’t remember at all when that was or what it felt like during the race. Every uncomfortable feeling just dissipated from my memory. Of course, I thought I would feel “burned out” or something after I finished, but I actually feel quite the opposite.