Ashley Anklam, 22 of Bloomington, made her marathon debut at last year’s Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon. Even the sultry conditions weren’t enough to keep her from breaking 3 hours as she ran 2:58:34. In January, she topped that performance with a 2:49:30 at P.F. Chang’s Rock ‘n Roll Marathon in Arizona. She simply followed that up by being the first American woman at this year’s Boston Marathon, running 2:48:43. The Drake University graduate was able to accomplish all this while attending medical school at the University of Minnesota.
First off, congrats on being the first American woman at the Boston Marathon. Obviously, the women’s marathon trials were the day before the Boston Marathon this year. Yet you still ran a very respectable 2:48:32. What was your goal heading into Boston?
My training leading into Boston had been a little bit sketchy because of a more rigorous class schedule, so I was hesitant to set any serious goals. I had hoped to finish within the top 50-100 females. Also, I knew that Boston was a challenging course so I was aiming just to break 3 hours. [Note: Ashley was the 15th woman overall at Boston.]
I assume you were able to watch the trials too. Any thoughts on that race?
I tend to get very nervous when I watch other runners compete, so in hopes to keep my anxiety level down I did not watch the trials. Instead, I quickly looked up the results on the internet after the race was complete. I was impressed by a few very gutsy performances. I was equally intrigued by the veterans’ ability to maintain their race strategies despite changing scenarios.
Minnesota has always had a strong presence in the women’s trials. Is that a tradition that you look forward to maintaining in the future?
Minnesota has produced some excellent runners and I am convinced it is because this state’s winters make its runners unbelievably resilient. I hope that with more intense training and more years experience I too can make it to the trials and uphold Minnesota’s competitive tradition.
One thing about your results that jumps out right away is your age. It seems like more and more we hear about runners wanting to get the most out of their speed and focus on the track, before moving up to the marathon. Obviously, you’re taking a different approach. What made you want to try the marathon so early?
It has always been apparent to me that speed is not one of my assets. Instead, endurance and determination have kept me competitive over the years. I never really liked racing short distances, probably because they do not play to my strengths. I figure as long as it’s my choice, I might as well run distances at which I best compete and most enjoy.
Plus, there is no race like the marathon. It challenges you physically and mentally, Furthermore, you can make racing errors and still recover. Also, it is unbelievable the support each runner receives from all the fans along the course.
Will we be seeing you at other shorter, local road races during the year?
I am still working out my calendar for this summer, but I am hoping to get into at least one local half marathon. I do know I will be racing in San Francisco in August and then at Twin Cities this October.
What are your goals for the rest of the year?
There are several elements of my training that need a lot of work. I hope that by improving my workouts and other aspects of training (like core strength, stretching, etc) I can achieve new PRs and have higher placing finishes.
Let’s back up a little bit. It sounds like you made it to State in cross country, but never placed in the top-30. Then you went to Drake where you had even more success. Can you tell us a little bit more about your background and high school and college accolades?
While I ran cross country and track for Holy Angels in high school, I earned a few conference titles and went to state 3 times. Like you mentioned I never broke into the top thirty for cross country and did not even make it to state in track.
When I got to Drake I became more focused on running. I was a NCAA Division I Cross Country National Qualifier and finished 54th. I was also named to Midwest All- Regional team three times, MVC Cross Country All-Centennial Team, MVC Cross Country Conference Champion, MVC Cross Country Most Valuable Athlete of the Year, MVC Cross Country All Conference 3 times and MVC Track All Conference 3 times. I was an Academic All- American and a Junior All-American, but never just an All-American, haha.
What do you attribute your continued development to over the years?
My college coach, Dan Hostager. I definitely saw a large improvement between my high school and college careers and I attribute most of the change to my coach. He was unbelievably dedicated and knowledgeable, but more than anything he really cared about his athletes as a person. It was easier to give it my all every practice and race when I knew I had a coach that believed in me whole-heartedly.
I also cannot leave my parents out of the equation. I think I can count on one hand how many races they missed during my high school, college and post-collegiate competition. Their presence and encouragement is incredibly motivating, but they also have never pressured me to continue running. They have always let me set the tone of my athletic career and have adapted to support what ever I pursue.
Do you tend to follow any certain training program? What is your training philosophy?
My college coach will occasionally send me suggested mileage, but I do not have any specific training program. I normally decide what that week’s long run and total mileage will be and go from there. I generally run at a slightly uncomfortable pace just so I feel like I am maximizing the time I have. I am sure this is not an ideal training philosophy but I do the best I can with my current situation.
What are your PRs?
XC 5K 16:40
XC 6K 20:42
It seems like year after year many college runners stop running after graduating. So I’m always interested to hear what advice recent graduates who’ve had success on the roads would give to other college runners as their collegiate careers come to an end?
I would tell these runners that it is very understandable to be a bit burnt out on running as they wrap up their collegiate careers. I would suggest that they continue running, but just recreationally at first and suggest that they enter a few races just for “fun”. If they are anything like me, they will soon miss the competition and these “fun” races will spark the competitor inside.
Right now you’re in medical school. How is that going and what does it means in terms of running? By that I mean is there any chance of joining one of the post-collegiate training groups or seeking some sort of sponsorship? Or is school your top priority right now?
I would jump at an opportunity to run with a team. I would love to have other people to train alongside as well as have a bit more structure to my workouts.
It has never been easy juggling medical school and marathons. It is not like college when I could set aside a 3 hour block each day to run, lift, ice, etc. I have learned to adapt my running to what my class schedule permits. There are days when I think it would be so much easier to just focus on running, but then I remember that it has always been my dream to become a physician. In all honesty, managing my training and school schedule helps me achieve a balance and prevents me from becoming consumed with either aspect of my life.
What do you consider your strengths? Weaknesses?
One of my greatest weaknesses is my inability to switch gears during a race. I often cannot respond to other individuals’ surges because I lack another gear. Also, I tend to start races too fast and become complacent in the middle of the race.
My greatest strength might be my determination. My determination and work ethic allow me to pursue goals and dreams that may seem unattainable at first. I believe that with enough work, no goal seems too far-fetched nor does any obstacle become too great.
What is your fondest running memory?
My favorite collegiate memory was running at Nationals. My coach and parents were there and some of my teammates surprised me right before the race. I can remember my coach cheering wildly when I had only 800 meters left. I suppose it is even dearer because it was a PR.
My favorite marathon memories are finishing my first marathon (which was Twin Cities last fall) and hearing USA chanted during the Boston Marathon.
If you could run with any Minnesotan, past or present, who would it be?
There are quite a few I would love to run with, but Carrie Tolfeson is at the top of the list. I have always looked up to her and her running ability. I was fortunate to speak with her when I ran at the Phoenix RnR marathon and found that she not only is a great competitor but wonderful person as well.
Finally, what do you know now that you wish you’d known when you first started running?
I wish I would have known that I compete much better when I just go out and have fun. Instead, I have it set in my mind that I need to be sick to my stomach with nerves in order to be truly focused enough for a race. My history would show, however, that I compete better when I just relax and give it the best I’ve got that day. Luckily, the length of the marathon relieves some of my pre-race anxiety, because I feel like there is plenty of time to adjust to challenges I meet along the course.