This is the second of two articles athat I asked Cait Chock to write about the US Olympic Trials. I wanted a story out of the ordinary. While many were focused on the top three or top six, Cait found a story of herculean challenges and the positive approach that kept Ashley Brasovan whole during nine years of trials and tribulations.
This story captures the lessons that many of us just do not find in the regular article on the U.S. Olympic Trials.
Meet Ashley Brasovan.
Enjoy the heart felt words of Cait Chock.
The Sweetest of Victories: Ashley Brasovan's Road to the US Olympic Marathon Trials
By: Cait Chock
Ashley Brasovan crossed the finish line of the Jacksonville Half Marathon on January 3rd and was immediately enveloped by her coach who had been brought to tears. To the people who know Ashley, the scene would be eerily reminiscent of another race yielding just as much emotion. That, the 2007 Footlocker High School Cross Country Championship, in which young Brasovan captured the crown.
Anyone versed in the sport of running knows the full weight of such an achievement for a high school athlete. Yes, I will address the big, giant pink elephant in the room, everyone always brings up: the 'Footlocker Curse'. But, I beg you to catch your words, finish this article, and pray tell me if you don't have second thoughts as to its existence. For you see, Brasovan's tale proves more than just a comeback -- but a statement of silver linings.
Move back to the present, Brasovan just clocked a 1:14:30 in the half marathon, qualifying her for the US Olympic Marathon Trials this February 13th. A coach in tears and an athlete still grappling to comprehend what her tiny legs had just achieved, one could argue that the spell of accomplishment tasted infinitely sweeter because of what she had endured the last nine years.
"It pretty much spiraled out of control during my senior year of high school with Achilles tendinitis," shares Brasovan. "During the following four years of college, I had four femoral stress fractures, one metatarsal stress reaction, hamstring tendinitis, and probably about 372,937 other things wrong that I just ran through anyways... Looking back, it was all a blessing in disguise, and I'm 100% confident that I would not be where I'm at today without these past few years."
Ashley continued to do what she could from the running standpoint while she pursued an esteemed academic endeavor; she was at Duke after all. She admits, "Four years of injury really tests you in every way possible." Upon graduating and moving on to earning her Masters degree, while she never abandoned a return to running, she recognized that both her body and her mind needed a break.
She vowed to take a step back from running for the two years in making an incredibly mature decision to look long term. "I would rather be healthy and run the rest of my life than consistently take that short term approach that clearly hadn't been working very well."
In time Brasovan earned her degree and her mind drifted back to thoughts of competitive running, "I promised myself that I would let myself get back out there, if and only if, it was just as fun as it used to be in high school."
It was her job, in Energy Efficiency and Sustainability, rather than running that originally brought her all the way to Colorado. Though, anyone who knows running knows she scored in that account as well. One can hardly step foot in the state without getting a vicarious endorphin buzz. Hearing she was now local, Matt Hensley picked up the phone, "In terms of the 'magic moment' that pushed me back into competition, it was when I got a call from Matt Hensley, my current coach, at the beginning of July. We had known each other from seeing each other around at meets in high school, and he had reiterated how he would love to see me out there again and was willing to help out with this process. He sold me, and it didn't take too much convincing."
She stayed steadfast to the vow she made to herself those two years ago and, "the last eight months have been the most fun and relaxed that I have been in so long, which made a huge difference in my approach to racing and my overall performance."
With Hensley only a 25-minute drive away, Brasovan is incredibly grateful to have such a well of support so close-by. Due to her work schedule, she does most of her runs alone but does join the Boulder Track Club or another group that meets in Golden, CO on occasion. Highly self-motivated, Brasovan does think that her circumstances work as another blessing in disguise, "Running alone has definitely contributed to staying healthy; I am able to fully listen to my body and run when and where I want to without the outside pressures of a college team pushing a pace that might not work for me on that day."
And then, she qualified, "To be completely honest, six weeks later I still can't believe I will be running a debut marathon at the Olympic Trials this weekend!" Riding a rollercoaster of emotions as the reality of such a feat continues to sink in, Brasovan and Hensley quickly formulated how one is to prepare for a marathon in such a scant amount of time. Jokes Brasovan, "I feel like I could write a crash course book at this point on 'Learning How to Run a Marathon in 5 weeks'."
They made the chief priority to just keep her healthy. Properly recovering after the half marathon, she needed to ensure her legs were fresh and ready to go come the Trials. Brasovan gradually increased her long runs and endeavored to learn a fueling strategy that worked. Eventually she hit some 15-20 mile long runs and, "have found that taking in at least part of a gel with water or Powerade every 35-40 minutes worked best for my stomach." Nixing the caffeinated gels and sticking to chocolate and vanilla flavors, Brasovan actually used the sometimes calamitous fuel station practices as a means to help break up the monotony that comes with marathon training. "Every 35-40 minutes was a game...'Which flavor is next? How bad is this one going to taste? Can I not manage to spill it all over myself or the person next to me who sacrificed his whole Sunday to run with me for 20 miles?' Needless to say, I made it fun!"
With all she's been through, Powerade on her singlet is nothing. Running can be a punishing sport, it demands so much from the body, and every single runner will be faced with both injuries and setbacks. The true testament of an individual's character comes down to how they manage their mindset.
In Brasovan's case she has proven she's to be commended and admired just as much for her running accomplishments as much as her strength of spirit. Remaining positive in the face of struggle is never easy, that's why she explains it's imperative to remember you have other things in life outside of running that make you happy. "You really have to dig deep and redefine yourself during injury. Otherwise it is going to be a rough journey. I found other things I could focus more time on such as traveling, hiking, research, friends, family, and my career that provided an alternative happiness and drive in life."
Ashley finds the positives in every situation, even forcing herself to when she must, and sums it up perfectly, "Life is too short to pity yourself."
As she sets her sights on this most immediate race and great honor, Ashley can't help but celebrate an even greater gift and achievement: excitement. "I have never been so excited to have running back in my life at this level."
She is still young, plenty of marathons await, so many goals to shoot for, but don't think for a moment she's lost sight of her first, "After the past few years, my first goal is still to stay healthy and keep having fun with running since that's when you ultimately race your best."
Smile on her face, I dare anyone to breathe word of a curse.
Caitlin Chock (caitchock.com) set the then National High School 5k Record (15:52.88) in 2004 and previously ran for Nike. A freelance writer, artist, and designer she writes about all things running and founded Ezzere, her own line of running shirts (www.ezzere.com). You can read more, see her running comics, and her shirts at her website.