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Katie Asmuth Prepares To Toe The Line At Western States

After facing down 2020’s challenges as a healthcare worker, Katie Asmuth talks balance and resilience in getting ready for Western States.

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Katie Asmuth is a 35-year-old family nurse practitioner who lives in Culver City, California, with her partner Pete and two children Noa, 6, and Liam, 4. In 2019, she racked up wins at the Zion 100 and Bear 100-milers, before winning 2021’s Bandera 100K, which scored her a Golden Ticket to toe the line at the coveted Western States Endurance Run, the U.S.’s most competitive and historic trail 100’s, and this year is shaping up to be one of the most competitive – and hot – years on record. This is Asmuth’s first year running Western States, and with a stacked field and temperatures slated to peak around 108 degrees Fahrenheit, it’s sure to be a year worth watching.

This spring, Asmuth went pro and signed with Saucony, all while working full time and raising two kiddos. She sat down with Trail Runner to talk balance, resilience and how her work and family have made her a better ultrarunner. 

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How did you get into trail running?

I feel lucky I stumbled upon a lifelong passion in my 30s. I am a “late bloomer” when it comes to running. I played sports growing up—basketball, volleyball, softball, soccer. I loved the team aspect of sports and pushing myself, but I didn’t start running until after college when my mom was diagnosed with cancer. I used running as a stress reliever and a way to escape. I ran on the roads. It was the easiest place for me to run after working the night shift as a nurse in the ER at LAC+USC Medical Center [Los Angeles’ County hospital]. I hadn’t considered running on trails. 

Being from Ojai, California, I’ve always loved being in the mountains. My parents and four siblings would go backpacking as kids. While on our honeymoon, my husband, Pete, and I started running on trails to cover more ground while exploring New Zealand in a camper van. We ran on pristine trails, past glaciers and jumped in rivers. After that, I was hooked on trail running. 

TR: How did you get into trail racing?

In 2015, while I was pregnant with Noa, our first child, Pete was training for an Ironman. He would take off on six-hour bike rides, and I remember feeling jealous and imagining myself as a new mom and not being able to escape. He challenged me, “Well then sign up for a race”. 

And from that challenge, I didn’t look back. 

You’re a family nurse practitioner. What does that entail? How do you balance that with training? 

I work at a low-income/free community clinic as a family nurse practitioner and take care of patients across the clinical and socio-economic spectrum—from prenatal care to addiction medicine to patients with uncontrolled diabetes. I feel privileged to be a primary care provider. 

I work with patients who have very little, some struggling to know when they will get their next meal, or where they will sleep that night. I know training and racing is a luxury. I treat it as such. Running to me is all about perspective. To have a healthy mind and body, to have time to move my body for leisure, to feel safe where I live, to have a supportive family that wants me to succeed, to afford shoes and fuel for running, I never take it for granted.

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TR: You’ve combined your professional work and ultra-love to work in the med tent at the Angeles Crest 100. What was that experience like? 

I volunteered for two years in the med tent at Angeles Crest 100 before running it, one year at mile 26 and one year at mile 75. Volunteering at an aid station is a great way to get a small window into what an ultra is like. I studied how crew prepped for their runner, what the runners were eating and drinking. 

I was shocked at how little the med tent staff is allowed to do in the backcountry. I wanted to give IV fluids and albuterol nebulizers, but quickly realized that we are there more for first aid. We were told to always encourage runners to keep going, unless their issue was truly life threatening. 

 

TR:How has parenting changed your approach to ultrarunning?

This is an obvious shout out to Pete for being the most amazing dad and partner so that I can train. It would be impossible to train for ultras as a parent without a village of support. Parenting takes flexibility, staying in the moment, taking yourself less seriously and learning to work your training into whatever the day gives you. 

I love incorporating our adventures with my boys and to be creative about the way I work in training. Whether it’s through choice or necessity, I have definitely learned the gift of patience. Parenthood also helps you be able to deal with fatigue and total exhaustion! “Mom grit” (or “Parent Grit”) is real! All of this helps running an ultra. And running ultras helps me become a better mom. 

 

TR: When did Western States appear on your radar? 

Western States has been on my radar since I committed to running ultras. I knew how long it would take to get in via the lottery and as my performances improved, I began to entertain the idea of racing my way in via a Golden Ticket. Runners who get 1st or 2nd place at a Golden Ticket race get an entry into the “Big Dance” that is Western States 100. 

I signed up for a Golden Ticket race, the Bandera 100K, the day registration opened in June 2020. I had hoped that the COVID 19 pandemic would be under control by the January 9, 2021, race date. However as race day got closer, I realized that it was not a realistic goal with COVID 19 surging. 

In November 2020, I decided I would switch my focus to a Santa Monica Mountains Backbone FKT attempt. I thought there was no hope in getting a vaccine. I switched gears, telling myself I would only race the Bandera 100K if I had both vaccines [J&J was not available at that time]. Miraculously, I was able to get both vaccines completed the week before race day. The stars aligned and I decided to go for it. I bought tickets a couple days before the race and flew to Texas, still in full PPE [personal protective equipment! 

RELATED: Could 74-Year-Old Eric Spector Become The Oldest Western States 100 Finisher?

TR:You broke your nose in the middle of the Bandera 100K running for your Golden Ticket! How did that happen? How did you work through it? 

Around mile 40, I was coming into an aid station in the lead for the first time all day. There were fans cheering and cowbells and it was exhilarating. Until my toe caught a rock on the downhill to … and SMACK, I face planted. Blood was everywhere. I was shocked, but I jumped up, knowing that 2nd place was closing in. 

I walked on into the aid station, and a girl named Jordan asked if I wanted a tampon. That was JUST what I needed! I’m not sure I would have been able to continue racing hard without the help of the tampon to stop the blood. I owe that aid-station angel the win. 

As I shoved the tampon into my nose, the runner behind me ran by to take the lead. My legs felt great, the endorphins from racing helped keep the pain at bay, and I was able to pull into the lead again and finish with the win. It wasn’t until sitting in the ER waiting room that the endorphins began to subside—ouch! 

 

TR:What happened next?

I went full steam ahead for Western States, and have been loving the training. I trust my coach, David Roche, to get my body where it needs to be. 

In September, I’m planning on running Ultra-Trail Harricana of Canada 125K, on the Ultra Trail World Tour elite circuit, and in November hope to run in the World Mountain and Trail Running Championships in Thailand.  

I have a blast racing, which I view as the celebration of the training, as a meditation. There is nothing else to do on race day but to be present and seize the moment. To move forward, one step in front of the other. I have hours and hours to be in the mountains and to only think about feeding my mind and body what it needs to move on trails as efficiently as possible.

 

TR: It’s probably an understatement that working on the frontlines of healthcare during the pandemic was challenging. Can you describe that experience? 

From panic to confusion to fear, there were a lot of emotions that we all experienced. I have had many patients die; I’ve had many more intubated in the ICU. LA County was an epicenter of COVID 19, which disproportionately affected Black and Latino people living in lower-income neighborhoods. Witnessing health disparities is overwhelmingly evident in my day-to-day professional life. 

This past year has highlighted areas of critical need, including disparity in wealth, access to quality healthcare and education and structural racism. This has also been evident in how vaccines have been allocated. These issues feel like monumental issues to tackle alone.  Whether working on the frontlines or speaking out for injustices, I hope that together we can be champions for equality.

TR: You specifically work with underserved populations. What have you learned from that experience? What’s something that people may not know, or might misunderstand about that work?

I was always taught to recognize your talents and find ways to use those talents to serve others. I have learned that we all need each other to lift each other up. As I mentioned- it’s all about perspective. I used to think it only took a pair of shoes to run. Now I know it’s far more than that. First, the luxury of time to run. Most of my patients have 2-3 jobs trying to feed their families or pay rent and have jobs that are physically draining. Access to trails via public transport is something that parts of LA County, such as the organization Nature for All, is working towards. Second, feeling safe while running. Yes, as a woman, I have dealt with catcalling and whistling, but I have never had to run for my life or feared getting shot or robbed. I am in awe of the grit of my patients as they navigate their life circumstances and their mental and physical health.

 

TR: What have you learned about “balance” in your busy life?

I think balance is all about setting priorities. I spend time doing what’s important to me. I am intentional about being present where I am. When I’m on an adventure with my kids, I’m present in that moment. When I’m running, I give it my all. And when I’m at the clinic, my mind is only with my patients. 

 

TR: Any training tips for other busy runners?

Taking time to run is the best gift you can give yourself. Getting into a habit is key. Commit to the run. Good communication is a must. My husband and I chat the day before to make sure we can each get our workout in the next day. 

If I have a 30-minute break in between patients at the clinic, I’ll change in the car, and get out for a 25-minute jog. Weekend long runs are planned several days in advance—we often meet at the trailhead with the kids and do a tradeoff.

Always grind the coffee the night before, lay out clothes/shoes (don’t forget shoes! Once I almost ran in Birkenstocks because I forgot my running shoes and wanted to run so badly with a friend who was meeting me on the trail). 

TR: How about strength training and stretching?

I try to incorporate mobility and strength into my daily life. I’ll do a couple of eccentric calf raises as I climb the stairs to work. I balance on one foot while putting on shoes and try and activate my glutes when I walk or sit for a period of time to keep them engaged. I use a standup desk at my clinic and do a couple of lunges between patients. A silly dance party with the kids doubles as a warm-up or cool-down.

The best strength work is the strength work that you actually do. I have made Speedlegs https://trailrunnermag.com/training/8-minute-speed-legs.html into my routine at least two times per week and try and get in band work for glute strength daily, even for a couple of minutes.

I usually run with a hydration pack if I’m running over eight miles. Maybe it’s only mental training but I feel like if you are going to race with a pack, you should train with a pack. I’m always sipping throughout training runs, which is great for training your gut for intake while running.

Bottom line, my advice for busy runners would be to make the run non-negotiable. Then to plan your training in advance, have all your gear and nutrition ready the day before and don’t skip out on recovery, as even just a little makes a world of difference.