It’s not often that you find a competitive trail runner who likes both the mountains and the sea, but that runner is the U.S.’s Ashley Brasovan. While Brasovan doesn’t get to scuba dive these days as often as she’d like, her early days in Florida swimming and diving piqued her interest in the environment, which, in a roundabout way, led her to the mountains she lives and works in today.
I personally became interested in Brasovan this summer; her name popped up again and again in our This Week in Running column, she always winning or near the top of these shorter and punchy sub-ultramarathon-distance mountain races. While much of the media attention in trail running goes to 100-mile races, with trail running and ultrarunning in the United States sometimes seeming synonymous, I am just as impressed by people who can rocket up a vertical kilometer as those who can endure a multi-day ultra.
Brasovan tends to stick to the sub-ultra distances, and she’s put her road speed — which has previously carried her through the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials twice — to good use this year to place second by only two seconds at the 2021 Pikes Peak Ascent, in an epic battle with winner Allie McLaughlin, and to take second at the 2021 Mount Washington Road Race, a 7.6-mile uphill race with a 22% maximum grade. However, she’s also dipping her toes into longer distances, winning the 2021 Speedgoat 50k in the sixth fastest time ever.
“It’s interesting, because people [often] only track ultras. I’m really set on that sub-ultra distance…. The 50k is that weird distance that’s more of a level playing field. You have people going up and down [in distance],” said Brasovan, who has had success at a variety of distances, as evidenced above.
Brasovan moved to the U.S. mountain west eager to escape the work-obsessive culture of the East Coast, and to put her environmental degree to good use in a rapidly growing city with close proximity to the mountains.
“I grew up in Florida, doing hill repeats on landfills and inter-coastal bridges. After that, I [went to] Duke University in North Carolina for college, and knew I wanted to focus on environmental sustainability work. At that time 10 years ago, there were only a few cities doing that…. I interned in Washington, D.C., and it wasn’t the culture or lifestyle I wanted. I wanted something sustainable, and the Rockies had a good mix of the work hard, play hard lifestyle. I felt like I fit in.”
Brasovan originally wanted to be a marine biologist, fascinated by oceanography and the prospect of protecting part of the environment, spurred on largely from her early days in Florida and nearly 20-year diving career. “I’ve been to some shipwrecks, done some deeper dives…. I’ve probably logged a few hundred dives. Submerging underwater is a whole different thing,” said Brasovan.
While her early deep water research dreams didn’t come to fruition, she realized that working on something tangible regarding the environment and nature was the perfect fit, especially after she began to run and compete on the trail running circuit. Now living in and working in Golden, Colorado, Brasovan has the perfect mix of access to the trails for running and an environmentally conscious city where she can engage with city planners, policy makers, and by extension, trail people, in her work with renewable energy, energy efficiency strategy, and design implementation in the built environment.
“Being in the environmental field really drew me to trails,” said Brasovan. “There’s a weird, indirect connection to trail preservation, and it’s connected to what I do in the rest of my life. I think the cultural and environmental aspect of trails aligned with where I wanted to go with my career, and [it was] great being successful with something outside of work.”
Brasovan expanded on how she finds fulfillment in her environmental work, “I’ve done a lot of work with Colorado local governments and park and recreation districts…. We construct projects looking at greenhouse gas reduction, energy economy…. Being out west, people really experience the outcomes of the work we do: lowered emissions, changes in wildfire behavior and climate change, preventing trail destruction, air quality issues… everything that’s becoming increasingly prevalent in the western United States. It’s a very rewarding job.”
When asked about her life during COVID-19 — during the early days of which, she met her now-fiancé, Garston Tremblay — Brasovan said that while there were still a few races in Colorado in 2020, it was nice to relax for a change. While she didn’t hop on the never-ending fastest known time (FKT) train that many others did during the pandemic, stating she’s driven to compete more by pure races, she did complete a big one: the women’s supported FKT for the Maroon Bells Four Passes Loop, a 27-mile circumnavigation in the Elk Mountains with 7,800 feet of gain in 5 hours, 27 minutes, and 55 seconds.
While Brasovan was competitive in high school and in college at Duke, she’s really come into her own over the past few years after dealing with an eating disorder and subsequent stress fractures in her earlier running years. “It’s something I’ve worked on for 12 years now…. I’ve learned how much mental stress, eating, and health in general plays into [injury]. It’s been a little blessing in disguise because I’ve had to have different training…. I’m where I’m at today because of what I’ve learned.”
Overcoming those earlier injuries, Brasovan has come back with a vengeance racing, and in the sub-ultra world, she’s often the one to beat. So what’s next for her? After racing the Moab Trail Marathon later this fall, which is the 2021 USATF Trail Marathon National Championships, she’ll be taking a nice long siesta from running with some skiing, some swimming, some travel, and… a wedding.
“We’re just figuring out how to get married at this point…. We’ll eventually have a big party for friends and family.”
When asked about her scuba diving, Brasovan stated she’d like to go to Tahiti or Fiji next – stay warm!
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