Katie Asmuth glows amid injuries, recovery
(Katie Asmuth celebrates after finishing the 2023 Western States in fourth place. Photo by Mark B. Griffith.)
By Henry Howard
Katie Asmuth has spent the past few years in a cycle. Success at Western States. Subsequent injury. Surgery. Healing and recovery.
Rinse. Repeat. All the while exuding positivity.
After a fifth place finish at Western States in 2021, she was eager to improve upon her time in 2022. Unfortunately, that’s when the roller coaster began. In 2022, she finished in ninth place with a broken navicular bone in her right foot. The navicular bone is on the medial aspect of the foot, next to the cuboid bone, anterior to the head of the talus and posterior to the cuneiform bones.
“I don’t think of myself as an injured runner. It was a big deal to break a bone in 2022 and have to have surgery,” she says. “I spent 10 ½ weeks non-weight bearing; I was on a scooter and crutches. Then I had a very conservative journey back to running after months on the bike and elliptical.”
After more than seven months of running pain-free, she raced two 50Ks and Western States this past June, finishing in fourth place and taking more than an hour off her 2021 Western States PR.
But then, the rollercoaster of emotions hit. “I had a little ache to my right foot 10 days after Western States this year,” she recalls. “I was super bummed because Western States this year was the best race of my life, hands down. I was the happiest, I performed the best. I was ready to tackle CCC after that. I felt stoked on my fitness and felt like the sky was the limit.”
That little pain she felt on a run spawned a set of questions. What is this thing? Why are you there?
“I've been running fine, I forgot about you,” she tells her foot. “I moved on, can’t you?”
One tiny stubborn bone
Asmuth didn’t take any chances, getting a CAT scan that night. The diagnosis was clear and familiar.
“They came back to me with an ortho boot and crutches. I was like, ‘You've got to be kidding me. I just raced Western States and had the best day ever with no pain.’”
It was the exact same injury. Her navicular fracture had never healed — a stable chronic nonunion.
“After the initial diagnosis of my fracture last year, I did everything right. I was cleared to start running after a clear CT,” she remembers. “But they must have missed it on the CT, because the fracture was never completely healed. It may be that my surgeon recommended a typical return to run protocol — not one for trail and ultra runners. Our feet move differently than in road runners. I was confident in my foot after surgery. It was stable with a pin. I had no pain, and I kept training, I felt great and didn’t think there was a problem.”
Additional tests backed that up: she had a normal DEXA scan and there were no signs of RED-S or energy deficiency. “My bones are all fine except this one tiny little bone. Of course it’s frustrating! But that’s the reality, and the only option is to keep moving forward.”
When we did the interview, Asmuth had not returned to running but was spinning on the stationary bike as part of her approach to rehab which she described as “conservative therapy.” She knew surgery was possible but was hoping that the bone would heal and running would soon return to the picture.
Surgery once again
When we did the interview, Asmuth had not returned to running but was spinning as part of her approach to rehab which she described as “conservative therapy.” She knew surgery was possible but was hoping that the bone would heal and running would soon return to the picture.
A few days later she posted an update on Instagram, which read in part:
“3 surgeons confirmed that conservative therapy should be sufficient. It was stable with pin from surgery last year. “I start Shockwave therapy, PRP, Exogen Ultrasound bone stimulator daily — and of course the ortho boot for over 15 weeks. I’ve been training hard on the bike and LOTS of PT.
“To find out now — The distal bone is healed, but proximal bone is very happy being smooth and rounded. Not healing 😩
“So — giddy up! 🤠
“Surgery bound again. Date TBD — but want it asap! “Back to the ol’ serenity prayer — ‘to accept the things I cannot change’… Acceptance is key to healing. Believe me — I’m SO ready to be done with this. I know I did everything right — and just the way the cards were dealt. “I also know there is a far greater suffering going on in the world. And that my little navicular bone will eventually heal. “I’m safe. I’m loved. And truly living my dream otherwise. I have it pretty damn good!”
So good in fact that she has returned to running, at least until the surgery takes place. And continues to be pain-free.
That healing feeling
As Asmuth heals once again, she is focused once again on Western States. Even though it’s a cruel twist of fate that a race she absolutely loves — and performs well at — has directly led to the same serious injury in back-to-back years.
“I have Western States to thank for really keeping me motivated and energized and wanting to come back to be as competitive as I can,” she says. “This year I was pretty nervous because I didn’t want to go through this again. I had no pain during the race at all, it was the best day ever. Honestly, if I didn't have the day I wanted, I could be in a much different place emotionally right now. But I did have the best day and I have those memories to draw inspiration from.”
It's part of being a runner. We relish the highs and deal with the lows.
“There are these big moments that can happen if you just keep shooting your shot, move forward and adapt. This year I was able to return for a strong performance after surgery, I know I can get back to racing strong again. I'm very process-oriented versus goal-oriented. I was lucky to have an incredible race at Western States this year. I'll never forget that race.”
Asmuth is driven by that day. Will she be able to top it? Curiosity drives her. To find out what is possible.
“That was a very special day especially because I had a broken foot while doing it but didn't know it,” she recalls. “Nothing was holding me back. I was so thankful to be back to that start line. I thought I was back to being whole and injury-free at that point. I hadn't had pain for over seven months so I attacked it. Every time I think about Western States, I get all choked up thinking about how amazing the community is and the deep respect I have for the other women I was racing. It was a historic day in itself. I just feel really lucky to have been there.”
Coach David Roche’s positivity
I first interviewed and wrote about Asmuth after her successful debut at Western States in 2021 when she finished in fifth place. I was struck by her relentless positivity, beaming smile and all-around good vibes.
Even with a navicular bone that refuses to heal, Asmuth’s outlook shines brightly. Her natural positivity gets a boost from her team, especially her coach and mine, David Roche.
“He's the first person I texted,” she beams. “He's a huge part of my team. Obviously, I have my PTs and my surgeon and chiro. But David Roche and Megan, really, they're like the cheerleaders that never stop cheering. I think people may have a misunderstanding that he's happy all the time. We've shared a lot of tears together, and they know how hard it is to get that diagnosis that the bone is not healing.”
But as the Roches emphasize, it’s all about the journey.
“Sports teach us that it's not just about the activity itself” she points out. “It's all the other stuff and how you are able to manage it. Really, the lessons learned from running and in life are very complimentary. David Roche is an amazing supporter who reminds me of human fragility and impermanence. This is just a short time in life. I will be back on the trails soon. He reminds me to be open to the lessons that I'm learning along the way, accepting the unknown, and riding the highs and lows. I’m not holding on to anything too tightly and trying to be present.”
‘Just keep moving forward’
Suffering from injuries is unfortunately common for runners. But Asmuth seems to have the market cornered on a small yet debilitating injury. What advice does she have for runners who may be facing injuries?
“It's hard,” she says. “When you're healthy, you know how good it is and then it gets taken away. I have the privilege of knowing what I’m missing. Most people don’t know how life changing flying down single track can be. I understand I have a true passion for something that excites me, and it also drives me to be able to get back there. If you have a long-term injury, you have to remember those moments of your life doing what you love. Just keep moving forward and staying engaged in your sport, see your sport in a different way.”
For example, she ticks off some ways to keep that engagement.
“The sport of trail and ultra running is more than just the act itself. You can be involved in the sport in many other ways. I really love being involved in media. I love cheering on my friends or helping crew. I love being involved in Mammoth Trail Fest. The community transcends just running.”
And even when she can’t run, she cross-trains.
“I get deep into the pain cave when I'm training on the bike,” she says. “I'm training hard not to be a good cyclist, I want to get back on the trails. It might be a while until that happens, but that's OK. I've accepted that. Acceptance is the first part in healing process.”
Teaching through intention
Asmuth is sending an inspirational message to the ultra running, and running, community as a whole. But more importantly, it’s a teaching moment for her own kids about overcoming hardships and dealing with them positively.
“As a mom, I have lived life a lot through the eyes of my kids,” she says. “I think a lot of parents do that. Running and racing has allowed me to make memories for me, not just doing something for the sake of the kids. When I'm injured, I want them to see that I'm still living and making memories for myself. When we went rock climbing, I got on the wall. I needed to use a lot of upper body strength climbing with an ortho boot on, but I can, so I will.”
She sets out to challenge herself, not to purposefully be a role model.
“I just want them to know that I'm being intentional about my life, to make sure that I can continue to be me and do things that bring me joy,” she explains. “ They see what I'm going through, but I don't want them to be scared of endurance sports or training hard. I try to focus on staying positive.”
Asmuth plays soccer with Noa, age 8, and Liam, who is 6. With her foot injury, she can’t kick the ball with her right foot so she plays with just her left.
“I don't really sit with them as much and talk about the lessons learned in my life, but I want them to know that life goes on even when there's hardship,” she says. “Keep a flexible mindset and focus on what I can do instead of what I can’t do.”
The highs and the lows
Life, just like running, has its highs and lows.
“Life is rich and layered, it's complicated, it's messy. And so is running,” she says. “I feel like there's a lot of overlap. Seems my day to day mentality is like one long ultra. I'm going to have the highs and going to have the lows, and I'm going to keep moving forward, keep perspective and a positive outlook.”
As we ended our conversation, Asmuth reflected on the interview being the first time she’d been able to talk through what she is going through.
“Thank you for letting me have the opportunity to tell my story because I haven't wanted to be that public about it,” she concludes. “I want more people to get on trails. I want to encourage moms to use trails as an outlet. But that’s hard to do when you are injured! I don't want to give the impression that if you run ultras then you will get injured. I hope I’m an advocate about moving outside in beautiful places, and not focus on an injury narrative. Thank you for letting me tell my story a bit. It’s been nice to talk about the journey and the lessons learned. One thing is certain — there is always more learning to come!”
Name: Katie Asmuth
Hometown: Mammoth Lakes, Calif (originally from Ojai, Calif.)
Number of years running: Competitively running ultras for eight years.
How many miles a week do you typically run: Around 60 to 80.
Point of pride: “My boys! Noa (8) and Liam (6).”
Favorite race distance: 100K and 100 miles.
Favorite pre-race or training food/drink: “Gnarly Tropical Fuel2O, variety of gels including SIS, Precision Hydration, Spring Energy (from The Feed).”
Favorite piece of gear: Saucony Rift (must try if you haven’t!).
Who inspires you: My mom.
Favorite or inspirational song to run to: “Anything Lindsey Sterling, flowing down single track.”
Favorite or inspirational mantra/phrase: “The quality of your life comes down to the thoughts you think on a regular basis.” — Kerwin Roe.And, “never take one step for granted.
Where can other runners connect or follow you:
• Instagram: Kt_runshappy. “I love this community and happy to connect!”