On June 13, Ashley Paulson of St. George, Utah crossed the finish line of the Squaw Peak 50 Mile Trail Run as first-place female. As she stood at the base of the towering Wasatch Mountains, she smiled her usual infectious smile. That smile, however, wasn’t just because she won; the win was an added bonus. For Paulson, being able to race again after several months filled her with gratitude.
It was on February 29, 2020 when Paulson last toed the line of a race. The 2020 Marathon Olympic trials in Atlanta was that race, and despite the heat, Paulson completed the distance in 2:40.07. Riding high from her recent accomplishment, she was looking forward to a season full of races that included her specialties: road races and triathlons. Less than two weeks later, however, all that would change when the novel coronavirus shut things down. Suddenly Paulson found her race schedule cleared. Unlike many, however, not having races did not hinder her training. In fact, her fitness level increased.
Paulson is an iFit trainer who spends many hours filming at-home workouts for a virtual training app offered by NordicTrack. Due to social distancing, and the increasing number of individuals exercising at home, Paulson has found that her workload has increased exponentially. "It's been nuts!" she said. "My part-time job has increased to over full-time. I feel grateful to have it, and to be able to help people reach their fitness goals during this difficult time."
While she was working hard to get everyone else in shape, Paulson started to feel the itch to race, but there were no races in sight -- until she heard that the Squaw Peak 50 Mile Trail Race was given the go-ahead. The race director had eight staggered start times and the aid stations were adjusted from grabbing your own food buffet-style, to having volunteers with masks and gloves hand out food. Racers had to have their own cups, were required to stop 20 feet away from the tent, and have their own hand sanitizer with themselves to use. Paulson said that even with all the regulations, she was so excited to be there.
"I guess you could say that I'm slightly addicted to racing," she said. "I was so excited to be in an event again, that I could care less what I had to do. It is what it is, and you just need to be grateful for what you can do." Paulson admitted that racing on dirt trails was not her specialty, but that just being able to race again was so exciting. "My strengths are definitely on the pavement but I have trail experience, so I decided to try," she said. "The farthest trail race I had run before was a 33-miler, but I was so dang excited for a race, that I signed up!"
According to Paulson, she had one goal for the race, and it was to finish under 10 hours. This was because she had to be done in time to film an iFit training video later that day. When the race got underway, however, Paulson said that she was concerned that she would be able to finish the race in her goal time. "The first couple of miles are on pavement, which really played to my strengths," she said. "But once we hit the trail, I lost steam. I also had a really loaded week leading up to this, and I started to wonder what I had gotten myself into. After about 1.5 hours out on the trail, I had serious doubts that I would finish under 10 hours."
Even with the demons that often plague trail and ultrarunners, Paulson persisted. She found herself in the lead at nearly 40 miles in. But, that's when things took a wrong turn, literally. "At mile 39, I took a wrong turn," she said. "It was just after a really hard climb, and I must have had my head down. The course was marked so well, and I never went very far without having seen a trail marker, and I noticed that I had gone a long time without seeing anything. I stopped and looked up to see runners, and knew that I had taken a wrong turn, and I had to go back up a steep hill. I didn't want to go back up that hill, but knew that I had to. I kept telling myself that I had to do this, and I got up that hill. That wrong turn added about 20 minutes to my time."
Even with the added distance and time, when Paulson made her way to Windy Pass, people were yelling that she was the first place female. She had not lost her lead. She also checked her watch to see that she was still on track to finish under 10 hours.
Fueled by overcoming challenges with her lead still intact, and the fact that she was nearly to the finish with 3.5 of the final miles on pavement, Paulson let it go. "The last 3.5 miles were on pavement, which I love!" she said. "I was able to cruise to the finish, and I felt so good. My total time was 9 hours and 22 minutes."
Having finished well under her 10-hour goal time, Paulson was able to film her iFit workouts for her thousands of app users to reach their personal goals.
As for her goals moving forward, Paulson says she has her sights set on the St. George Ironman in September. "So far, the St. George Ironman is still on," she said. "I hope things go as planned because I have unfinished business."
To follow Ashley Paulson's progress, find her under @ashkickn on Instagram.