The title of “Foot Locker champion” has served as a blessing and curse now for several generations of prep runners. Ashley Brasovan has certainly had her share of ups and downs since her Foot Locker title nearly 10 years ago. After years of injury plagued her collegiate career at Duke, Brasovan is back at it, now focusing her attention on longer distances both on the roads and trails.
We had a chance to catch up with Brasovan just two weeks before racing the USATF Marathon Championships to reflect on her accomplishments, struggles, and future aspirations in the sport.
Given your work commitments with a full-time job, how are you handling marathon training this time around?
This fall for marathon training, I’ll typically train from 5:30-7:30am, consisting of running, stretching, and strength training, so I can be in the office by 8:00-8:30am. And if I double, I would be back out when I get home around 4:00-5:00pm.
This fall’s been really cold — a lot of 25 to 30 degree mornings [Editor’s note: Brasovan is based in Denver, Colo. area]. I’ve had to realize I’m probably not going to hit the same splits I would when it’s warmer out. The layers you’re wearing are heavier and there were a couple of workouts where I was dealing with snow and wind. It’s hard to compare times, so it’s been more about trusting the training rather than times.
Last time around [for the 2016 California International Marathon], my mileage was pretty low — around 65 miles a week. I felt fresh and undertrained going into the marathon. This fall, I tried to get up to 75-80 miles a week, which is probably still on the lower end of the marathon field that will be at CIM. I got sick a couple times and had some foot issues, so this cycle has been much more of a rocky road. I’ve had to trust in the process more, but the goal is always to make it to the starting line healthy. I feel more fit, but it’s hard to gauge exactly where I’m at because of the weather and other bumps this fall.
After a injury-plagued career at Duke, you took some time away from the sport. How did you find your way back?
Going from high school to college was a very hard transition. I was injured within two weeks of going to Duke. I didn’t run for the first two years there — injured straight through. I ran my last two years and tried to do a redshirt fifth year and got my fifth stress fracture. I came out of college really hating running and not wanting to compete ever again.
From there, I decided I needed to focus on my career and grad school. After grad school, I moved out to Colorado where I was running but wasn’t tracking mileage and learned to love the sport again. I had fun with it, met up with friends, and did some local club runs but no intense workouts.
When I moved out to Colorado, I saw a bunch of people competing and having fun. Matt Hensley, who’s from Florida and works for Roll Recovery now, offered to coach me and from there, he pushed me into some competitive races and to try to qualify for the Olympic Trials. [Editor’s note: Brasovan qualified for the 2016 Olympic Trials Marathon with a 1:14:30 half marathon run in January 2016.] Qualifying for the Trials was a breakthrough moment for me — it was the realization I could be back to where I was in high school and not be a complete burnout.
Everyone sees Colorado as this idyllic training hub. How did you find your way out there?
Running is always on the back of your mind, but it was more of a career and lifestyle decision. I interned in D.C. for two summers and realized I didn’t want to do the 80-90 hour work weeks. I started looking at Colorado and really liked that everyone was super active and health conscious. I work in energy and sustainability, and Colorado is one of the leaders in the nation in what I wanted to go into career-wise. I also knew people from Duke and from running circles, so it was cool place to start over.
The college training environment can be awfully pressure packed. How has being outside of that helped you stay healthy and compete well?
I had a unique college experience. When I first got injured, my college coach made me see a nutritionist and endocrinologist who looked at my long-term health. My bone density wasn’t where it needed to be, and that’s something that can resonate with a lot of female distance runners. They told me, “If you want to run for the rest of your life, we need to sit you out the next year or two and focus on getting your weight up, your hormones back into check, and reversing all the damage you did in high school.” That was a reality check for me, and not a lot of colleges would care to do that. I contribute a lot of why I’m healthy now to those first couple years at Duke.
The academic stress, the stress of being on the team, the stress of having a scholarship all compiled on top of each other and put a lot of stress on myself. It’s a lot easier being out of that environment to train, stay healthy, and maintain a love for the sport.
Going into college as a Foot Locker champ has its own pressures. How did that impact your stress?
That definitely puts a bullseye on your back. If you win Foot Locker, you’re “the best” forever — people don’t forget that. My recruiting class was stacked — we had Madeline Morgan who won NTN and Juliet Bottorff who won the NCAA 10k. I was good, but everyone else was great, too. That was high pressure, and we probably pushed each other too much.
Now that you running is heading on the right track, what do you want to accomplish with the remainder of your competitive career?
This year, I won my first national title since high school [at the USATF Half Marathon Trail Championships]. That was rewarding. The goal for 2018 is to make a world team either in the short distance or long distance mountain running events. The goal for CIM is to qualify for the 2020 marathon trials and place higher than I did in 2016. Then after 2020, I’d reevaluate my goals. I still want to be competitive, win U.S. titles, and represent the U.S. on world teams.
Your foray into trail running is interesting. How did that happen, and how is the approach in trail running different from the roads?
It’s definitely a different sport. It’s easy to train for in Colorado — we’re already at 5000 or 6000 feet elevation and you drive an hour to run up mountains at 10,000 feet. My first mountain running race was this summer when we started at 10,000 feet, and the first two miles was a 2000 foot elevation rise to a ski basin. It was definitely a shock to the system.
The training is pretty ideal in Colorado. There’s definitely a culture for it out there with a lot of ultra and trail runners. I honestly didn’t realize it was a whole different sport and something you could do until I moved out there.
The races are much more by feel. You’re never racing the clock because the courses are these winding single-track trails, your GPS doesn’t work, the mile markers are off, so you really have to trust the process and let go of any time and just go on place and feel. It’s a cool concept that can be a hard transition from the roads.