Ashley Nordell returns to the Lake Sonoma 50 Mile as the top returning woman from last year’s race. In the following interview, Ashley talks about how she got into ultrarunning, what she gets out of it, and what else she’ll be up to this year.
Ashley Nordell Pre-2018 Lake Sonoma 50 Mile Interview Transcript
iRunFar: All right. Bryon Powell here with Ashley Nordell before the 2018 Lake Sonoma 50 Mile. How are you, Ashley?
Ashley Nordell: I’m good. How are you, Bryon?
iRunFar: Doing all right. As we’ve been discussing, we’ve known each other for pretty much a decade now.
Nordell: Yes, we’re like old buddies.
iRunFar: But this is our first interview, so I’m pretty excited. You’re here at Lake Sonoma, and with a wild change-up in the field, you’re the top returning woman from last year.
Nordell: Don’t say that. That sounds scary.
iRunFar: It’s not scary. You were seventh here last year in your first time in Lake Sonoma and you had a pretty good race. Tell me how the race went last year.
Nordell: It was good. I remember feeling good for the first 40 miles, then it was rough for the last 10. Overall, it was kind of a steady day and I had some fun out there – except for the last 10. I think the wheels started to fall off, bonking. I felt like I had run 40 miles.
iRunFar: The standard “last 10 miles of an ultra” situation.
Nordell: The last ten miles is uphill a lot. It’s sort of tricky. All those climbs at the end were starting to feel a little rough.
iRunFar: Last year there was a reroute that you went through.
Nordell: Yes, and it felt way steeper on the way up than it did on the way out. Last year it was a little bit muddy in some sections. But it was a lot of miles on the legs. I made it to the finish. I’m glad it wasn’t 51 miles.
iRunFar: But you’re back this year. What brings you back?
Nordell: Well, to be honest, I was coming back because my husband was supposed to do a triathlon Sunday in Napa so we were going to do a whole family trip for that. That kind of fell apart, so he’s at home and my dad and I came out. It’s a little change of plans but we made it work.
iRunFar: So you’re just out here to have a good spring race?
Nordell: Yeah. I enjoyed it last year. It’s nice to throw in something at this time of year. It comes one month after running that race in Arkansas that I do every year. On the one hand, that’s great training for this. On the other hand, I still feel a little tired from that to his.
iRunFar: And you raced last weekend?
Nordell: No, I helped put it on. The Peterson Ridge Rumblebenefits the Sisters Cross Country Team. Josh is the coach so we help Sean [Meissner]with everything he needs. We store his stuff in our garage all year since he’s no longer a Sisters resident.
iRunFar: Do you bring him donuts?
Nordell: Yeah, there are lots of donuts there. And then we get to see Shawn for a few days, which is super-nice. It’s more exhausting for Josh because him and Shawn are there all day long, but I go out and help make sure people don’t miss a certain turn, haul the girls around and cheer.
iRunFar: So you’re out here, and it was supposed to be a family weekend, but it’s not a family weekend.
Nordell: I am kid-free. I mean, I wish the kids were here, but it takes a little of the stress off as far as knowing the kids aren’t stuck hanging around. I sleep a little better.
iRunFar: You said you had a good night camping last night?
Nordell: I had a good night camping. Tonight I’ll have another good night camping. My mother-in-law is actually in from Minnesota helping at them home so I know they’re happy with grandma and my dad is out here with me. It’s a full-on family event doing one of these things. I’m super lucky, if I didn’t have those people helping me, I wouldn’t be here this weekend for sure.
iRunFar: You’ve been ultrarunning for long before you were a mother. You’ve been at this for a while.
Nordell: For a long time. It’s making me feel old when you talk about that.
iRunFar: Where you a runner before you were an ultrarunner?
Nordell: Yes, not necessarily willingly. My parents are runners, my sister was a runner. My dad still does ultras. He ran Peterson Ridge Rumble, the 40-miler, last weekend. So when I was little we would go on family vacations and they would go for runs. My sister would run and I was kind of anti-running. I ran track for a few years in high school and then in my final year I said, “I want to play tennis.” I was more into tennis and soccer. So running would be about getting fit for other sports.
iRunFar: Or punishment.
Nordell: Yes! That’s the problem. Then in college I sort of rediscovered running. That’s when I started to like it. Right out of college I was home in Corvallis for a year before I started grad school. That was when I did the McDonald Forest 50k. Right out of college. So I was 23.
It was right after school, so I was out running. It was a D3 school, and the he track coach saw me running on the track. He said, “you’re running, why not come out and run track?” So I decided – I was missing sports because I didn’t do any since high school and I was missing them in college. On a whim, after being at school for a few months, I decided to join track and loved it. Yeah, they teased me because I used to complain that 3000 meters was way too far to race. And here I am.
So the first 50k race I did was the McDonald Forest 50k in Corvallis, where I grew up. My dad tells everyone about it because he ran it, too, and he beat me at the end.
iRunFar: At the very end, right?
Nordell: As I remember it, he outkicked me. But as he remembers it, there was a climb and he said, “come with me,” and I said, “I can’t.” So he just ran away. He’s happy with either of those versions.
iRunFar: You’ve been running ultras ever since.
Nordell: Yeah. That was 2003, I think. So, since then.
iRunFar: One of the races you’ve done through most of that time is the Three Days of Syllamo. How does that happen?
Nordell: Yeah, people are like, “do you have relatives in Arkansas?” Why do you keep going there?
iRunFar: Exactly! Tell us why.
Nordell: Okay. Several years ago, I want to say it was back in 2007, that year I ran on the Montrail team and the race director, Steve Kirk, also ran on that team. He had offered up two entries to this three-day stage race in the Ozarks of Arkansas. I didn’t have kids, I was probably just out of grad school teaching, and I was like, “cool, I’ll go to Arkansas and run a stage race.” The idea of a stage race was fun-sounding. I went and I loved it, and I went back the next year. Over the years I’ve become really good friends with the Kirk family, he’s the race director.
The same people come back year after year. In a way I do have family in Arkansas, I’m just not related to them. Steve’s the one who helped me back in October when I did that Ozark Highlands Trail [fastest known time] so we’ve just become really good friends. Every year – though I took a few years off the years I had my girls – but both girls have come out to the race. My oldest, when she was nine months we brought her out, my dad came out and watched her. My youngest when I think she was about six months Josh came with me. So both of them have been there. So yeah, I keep going back.
iRunFar: And you go out because you have fun, obviously, but you must also take it a little bit competitively because you’ve won the race outright at least the last two years.
Nordell: Well, I don’t know. I go to it because it’s fun. This year was actually really fun because I ran a bunch of it with a couple guys from Missouri and one of them is Tommy Doiasand he and I actually met at the Ozark 100, which is in Missouri. Apparently, Ozarks and Missouri are places that I like to travel.
So, he and I raced to the very finish of that race. Billy Simpsonjumped in and paced me for the last six miles and Tommy and I were both at that aid station. It was for the win of the race. Billy starts yelling Prefontaine quotes at me. He was fired up and making me run, run, run. So me and Tommy were neck and neck to the end. So then, this year Tommy was at Three Days of Syllamo and we ran a lot of it together. It was fun. I felt like we were working together. He’s actually going to be at the Superior 100in September that I’m doing so we’ll hopefully get to run together.
iRunFar: You do a lot of racing in the Central Time Zone.
Nordell: I know! Well, Josh’s family is from Minnesota. That’s why, last year, we happened to be there while the Minnesota Voyageur 50 Milewas held. We were in Minnesota and it’s hard to train in the area where his family lives, and so on a whim I decided to go up and do Voyageur. It was a neat way to get to see other places and run. Part of why I’m going to Superior is to go up and his family is up there.
iRunFar: So you’ve got this, you’ve got Superior. Anything else on your horizon?
Nordell: In a couple of weeks I’ve got a run in Oregon. It’s not a race but you run the Rogue River. You run 40 miles down the river and you stay in a lodge and you run 40 miles up the next day. I think this’ll be my third year going. A friend of mine from Hawaii who got into the Western States Endurance Runthis year for her first 100 wanted to do a good training run for it. She’s going to come out for this run and some other friends are going to do it. So that’s a good adventure. I don’t have any other races planned. There are some adventure thoughts in the works. It’s hard to race too much with life and stuff. If I do something else it will probably be local.
iRunFar: It sounds like you can perform quite well, you’ve won lots of races, you’re competitive at Lake Sonoma. And yet ultrarunning has a lot of other aspects for you.
Nordell: Yeah. I probably don’t run the same as – I look back at what I used to do before kids and how I used to run and Josh and I both would spend the weekends running in the mountains for eight hours. That doesn’t quite fly these days. But it’s nice because we’ll do trail swaps. We’re really good friends with Chrisand Darla Askew. Darla and I will go for a run and the boys will meet us a trailhead with the kids. Then they’ll go do something and Darla and I will have the girls. I swear Darla and Chris help take care of the girls, too. We have a whole bunch of people who help us out.
iRunFar: It sounds like Sisters is a very tight community.
Nordell: They live in Bend. We moved to Sisters before the girls and so we met them through Shawn before we even had kids. They became our instant BFFS. That’s why it’s nice when it can be a family trip. I feel a little less guilty if we’re all here doing something, we can turn it into fun things for everyone. I don’t know if crewing for 50 miles is that fun for two kids. Although they do like aid station food and they like to have the cowbell out there. Leading up to this, with all of the craziness and trying to make it work logistically, it takes a bit of a toll for sure.
iRunFar: Well, hopefully you can enjoy the race tomorrow. Are you sticking around Sunday?
Nordell: I wish, but I work on Monday so I have to get back. Either we’ll camp one more night and haul home on Sunday or drive part, stay somewhere and drive the rest of it Sunday. But one day, I would love to do the wine tasting.
iRunFar: One of these days. Well, enjoy the race for now.
Nordell: Thanks, Bryon.