Trail Tips

Healthcare Worker Katie Asmuth Wins Bandera 100K With A Broken Nose And Bloodied Knees

If you know Katie Asmuth (@kt_runshappy on Instagram), you know that she will always bring some extra joy and light to your day. On race day, it might be smiling with a face streaked by blood, as she applies a nostril tampon for a mid-race broken nose. Or maybe it’s from her ability to joyously celebrate the achievements of others, on the course and off. If you don’t know Katie, you can just look at this video from the mile-40 aid station of the Bandera 100K.

“I yelled WOOHOO and threw my hands up in the air,” Katie says. “Then FACEPLANT.” She didn’t specify that “faceplant” should be in all-caps, but after hearing how gruesome it was, there is no other option.

“Blood was everywhere. It went from cowbells and cheering to total silence.”

At that moment, I know what would have gone through my head. My internal monologue would scream: I gave it a go, I guess this is the universe telling me to drop out, as I jumped onto a stretcher and sipped a Capri Sun. The aid-station captain thought the same thing, telling Katie to just make sure the race directors knew that she dropped out before she left.

But that’s not Katie. Her life is a balancing act. “Juggling things is my best self,” she says. She juggles her work as a family nurse practitioner with her running training, juggles caring for her two boys with making time for friends, juggles being a loving partner with having her own goals. And with blood spouting out of her broken nose, she had a new juggling act to attempt: improvised first aid while competing for a top finish at the first 2021 race giving Golden Tickets to the Western States 100.

A woman at the aid station was her salvation. “I have a tampon!”

Katie responded with joy. “Oh, my gosh, seriously? You are a dream!”

“I shoved it in and I kept running,” she says, laughing. “It definitely wasn’t the first time a tampon saved me.”

She went on to win. She celebrated. She went to the ER to get her nose treated. Another day in the adventurous life of Katie Asmuth. 

Juggling Acts

Katie is a 34-year-old family nurse practitioner who lives in Culver City, California, with her partner Pete and two children Noa (5) and Liam (3). They form a superteam to tackle the many harsh realities of post-COVID life.

“Pete has done four Ironman races and understands the ultra mindset. He’s my biggest supporter and behind me 100 percent,” she says. “And Noa and Liam are the best adventure partners!”

Professionally, she practices at Venice Family Clinic with a mission to care for underserved and low-income populations on issues like uncontrolled diabetes, women’s health and substance abuse. In 2020, she added the new task facing all healthcare workers: managing COVID-19, being overloaded with work and seeing so much suffering. Running was an outlet during busy days and nights for months on end. In that grind, Katie says she found strength.

“I work with people who are struggling with health crises, food insecurity, homelessness, substance abuse. It gives a lot of perspective.”

The same goes for motherhood. “Being a parent has made me a better runner,” she says. “It’s very hard to balance things sometimes, but it has really helped ensure that running is a relief and outlet, rather than another stress.”

Listening to her, I am reminded that the best stories are the ones with a lot of twists, just like the best trail runs are the ones with a lot of swerves (hopefully not face-first into a rock). Juggling is way harder if you spend the whole time questioning if you know how to juggle.

It’s so fun to hear about Katie’s journey, partially because she intersperses jokes that have me laughing too hard to transcribe what she says (she also talks fast), and partially because she is inspiring with how little she planned it all out. Listening to her, I am reminded that the best stories are the ones with a lot of twists, just like the best trail runs are the ones with a lot of swerves (hopefully not face-first into a rock). Juggling is way harder if you spend the whole time questioning if you know how to juggle.

And from the outside, her running journey can seem like a series of highly challenging juggling acts unfolding on the fly. It really began around a decade ago, when she was working night shifts at the LA County General Hospital as a nurse. She needed an outlet, and running filled that gap, giving her respite from the bright, fluorescent nights full of dark, difficult moments. On her honeymoon with Pete in New Zealand, she discovered trail running. Knowing Katie, she also befriended some orcs and made them into loving creatures that volunteer at the local animal shelter.

She never looked back, joining the Santa Monica Mountain Goats and Ultraladies running groups to learn the basics and discover the community spirit of trail running. She also sheepishly admits to being one of the millions who read Born to Run. We all know that reading Born to Run is a gateway drug to trail running and/or wearing running sandals for some reason I am still not 100-percent clear on. Hopefully she also found out answers about the whole sandal thing. I’ll ask her next time. 

She grew up hiking the coastal mountains of Ojai, California, with her family, loving all things outdoors. However, it wasn’t until her late-20s, after the birth of her first son in February 2015, that she discovered the magic of trail racing. She hopped into a race in Griffith Park … she won. A few weeks later, a 50K … she won. Then, she went through some injury cycles as her body adapted to the new stresses while dealing with work and life, but always tried to get to the trails for a release.

I want to be my best self and every time I come back from a run, I am a better mom,” she says. “I learned from other badass moms like Jenny Capel not to feel guilty about running. It’s self-care for me, and it’s beneficial to my strength in the rest of life too.

In February 2017, Liam was born, and Katie was a woman on a mission. She ran (and then shuffled, she clarifies) on trails through much of her pregnancy and set her eyes on the Angeles Crest 100, volunteering in the med tent two years in a row.

“Being a mom helped with negative splits,” Katie says. “I’d be running and my breasts would get engorged so I’d have to get back to the trailhead faster to pump.”

Parenthood added even more toughness and even more ingenuity related to planning (and pumping). But running also helped parenthood. “I want to be my best self and every time I come back from a run, I am a better mom,” she says. “I learned from other badass moms like Jenny Capel not to feel guilty about running. It’s self-care for me, and it’s beneficial to my strength in the rest of life too.”

At the Angeles Crest 100 in 2018, her trajectory as an athlete experienced a seismic shift. She came in second to one of her idols, Darcy Piceu. But, more importantly, she says, “It was one of the best days of my life. All of my trail friends and family were there. It opened up so many possibilities.”

Possibilities

That planted a seed that would spend a couple years germinating: racing for a Golden Ticket to the Western States 100. Western States is one of her dream races, plus it’s her favorite distance. She won the Bear 100 in 2019, adding to her fire. As the COVID-19 pandemic raged in 2020, her Golden Ticket dreams had to be pushed back a year, and she set her eyes on the 2021 Bandera 100K.

Healthcare worker on the frontlines of the pandemic response … unpredictable schedule … lots of juggling. You get the picture—it wasn’t easy. But Katie had a secret weapon, a training approach that gave her space for stress. “Being a mom and working full-time are amazing for training,” she says. “I think that’s why my mileage can be lower than some of the other racers. I get training stress from other things too!”

Being a mom and working full-time are amazing for training,” she says. “I think that’s why my mileage can be lower than some of the other racers. I get training stress from other things too!

She took at least two rest days a week most of the year, sometimes more, usually running around 40 to 60 miles per week. Her fitness grew month-over-month, compounding on top of year-over-year gains. And she was ready. Only there was one big problem: she was still unsure on whether she’d be able to (or want to) travel to Texas for the race. 

“The week leading up to the race was really tough, being on-call most of the time, plus the guilt of travel.” Her voice lowered a bit, and I could hear her darkness and fatigue coming out. “It’s the middle of a crisis, a global pandemic, and things are really bad in L.A. I know how badly people are suffering. Many of my patients have died. It’s all so hard, and so terrible.”

Her voice turned toward a resolute tone. “But I have this opportunity, as a person and athlete and mom and everything else. My goal is to recognize the suffering, and do what I can to alleviate it, but also to find pockets of brightness and happiness that I can bring into my own life and into the world.

As a frontline healthcare worker, Katie also had another line in the “pro” box when deciding to make the trip. She received the second dose of the Pfizer vaccine on Tuesday before the race. While it was not quite the seven-day window that led to the complete 95-percent effectiveness in clinical trials, it was close enough to give her added confidence. She took every precaution, flying in a suit of medical armor to Texas. To paraphrase Miley Cyrus, she touched down in San Antonio with a dream and a cardigan (or in Katie’s case, a dream and a hydration vest).

The Race

I talked to Katie the day before the race, and I’ll never forget what I heard in her voice. Peace. Excitement. Maybe giddiness even? There definitely wasn’t fear, at least that I could perceive. I was reminded of Hamilton pledging “I am not throwing away my shot.” Or maybe Marshall Mathers, “You better lose yourself in the music, the moment.” I failed to ask whether her pre-race meal was “mom’s spaghetti,” and I own that mistake.

I think that strength came from something she said about why she races at all. “Competition is fun,” she says. “I love to compete because it’s this community of uplifting spirit. It’s all icing on the cake of life.”

I love to compete because it’s this community of uplifting spirit. It’s all icing on the cake of life.

And she was at Bandera to chase the golden-ticket icing. She celebrated with the competition, amazing women who she talked about with so much love and admiration, like Emily Hawgood and Erin Clark. She started easy and built into the effort. She broke her nose and stuck a tampon up her nostril. You know, the usual. 

I’m at risk of yada-yada-yada’ing the race itself, but I think that’s way less important than what brought her there. Here’s the thing about Katie: winning the Bandera 100K is 0.00001 percent of what makes her so incredible. She is fast and she is talented and she trains hard, sure. That stuff is an awesome human-interest story for a running magazine, but it might not be 100-percent applicable to all our lives. To me, what I take away from knowing her is not related to any of that. It’s about her spirit.

Gosh, I imagine Katie gets tired sometimes—I heard it in her voice whenever we talked about COVID-19. I imagine it can be dark for her, just like it is for all of us. After she won, though, I kept hearing the same thing from people that know her. Did you know that the English language includes 1000 different ways to say “Katie is the best person?” I now know that.

I haven’t conducted more interviews to fact check, since this is an online article that will mostly be read on the toilet (I’m guessing). But I can bet her fellow racers would talk about the smiles and love she shared. The same goes for her crew, the nurse who fixed her nose, the flight attendants on the trip over, any particularly articulate on-course armadillos. Katie sees the darkness—in injuries, in family stress, in the hospital, in inequality and loss and despair and death.

Katie sees all that darkness. 

And when she can, she brings the light.

David Roche partners with runners of all abilities through his coaching service, Some Work, All Play. With Megan Roche, M.D., he hosts the Some Work, All Play podcast on running (and other things), and they wrote a book called The Happy Runner.