The New Era - All about Sweet Home since 1929

By Scott Swanson
Of The New Era 

SHHS alum making rapid strides in world of trail running


August 18, 2015

AMANDA BASHAM runs the Cayuga Trail 50-Miler race in Ithaca, N.Y. on May 31, where she placed first overall among the female competitors.

This Saturday, Aug. 22, Amanda Basham plans to run a 50-mile race through the forests of Squamish, British Columbia.

A few weeks later, on Sept. 16-17, she’s scheduled to compete in the Run Rabbit Run at an average of 9,000 feet above sea level starting in Steamboat Springs, Colo., which will include elevation changes of 20,000-plus feet over a distance of 100 miles.

Basham isn’t just aiming to finish. She expects to place highly in both, if not win.

Ten years ago, Basham, 25, never imagined the path she’s on now.

During that span she has gone from a youngster who had no interest in running anything beyond a short sprint to a professional ultra-marathon trail runner. Her story is one of a series of small happenstances, little breaks and other circumstances that led her to become one of the top competitors in her sport.

In 2005 Basham was a freshman at Sweet Home High School, a volleyball player and sprinter on the track team.

“I pretty much did track starting in the seventh grade, just because I liked being busy and I’ve always liked sports,” she said “I’m very social. I tried to do as little running as possible and just hang out in the field and talk. That was the gist of my running career.”

Assistant Coach Aaron Cloud saw something, though, and talked her into trying the 300 hurdles. That move paid off.

“I actually did pretty good,” she said. She qualified for the state meet her junior year and, even though she didn’t medal, she was inspired.

“It was impressive to me that I even got to state,” Basham said. “I started liking running a lot more once I did that. I started running on my own, a few miles.”

She wasn’t enjoying volleyball, she said, and one spring day during her junior year she ate lunch on the lawn outside track and cross-country coach Billy Snow’s office.

Snow said Basham told him she was interested in cross-country, so he told her to get things cleared with then-volleyball coach Debbie Danielson.

“We talked a little bit, but somewhere along the line she decided that herself,” he said. “I told her, ‘Here’s what you have to do during the summer. You have to get your miles in.’ It was really her initiative.”

Basham recalled that she had “no idea” what she was doing.

“I used Puma walking shoes. I didn’t own a watch. I didn’t care. I just liked running.

Snow said he didn’t see Basham until fall.

“Her mom called and asked what she had to do to sign up. I told her and there she was, on Day 1.”

Basham had done the work, all summer, and she was ready to go –inexperienced, but in shape.

She ran that entire cross-country season in those Puma shoes.

“I still have them,” Basham said last week. “They mean a lot to me, although they were not something I should be running long distance in.”

In her first race, on the beach at Newport, she finished 14th in a field of 55 girls.

“Dallin Holden,” a member of the boys team that year, “told me after that race, ‘You’re going to win district.’ He told me that after every meet the rest of the season.”

In her second race, on the tough Camp Tadmor course, She finished third behind Philomath’s Yessie Alvarado, the pre-season league favorite.

“I remember up at Tadmor, Yessie barely beat Amanda,” Snow said. “Amanda and I got to talking. She said she felt pretty good, like she could have gone faster.

“I said, ‘That means you can run with anybody.’ She never lost to (Alvarado) again. She just had to learn that, ‘Hey , I can do it.’”

Basham still had to learn some basics, though.

At the final race of the season before the district championship, the Country Fair Classic at Elmira, She didn’t wear socks under her spikes, and her feet were a mass of bloody blisters at the finish line.

“She told me, ‘That’s what I did in track,’ Snow said. “Well, this is different.”

Basham’s first and only win was the one that counted – the 2007 Valco district championship, in which she led the Sweet Home girls to their first team title in recent memory – and started a run of six state qualifications for the Husky girls over the next eight years. Two of the girls on that 2007 team, Basham and then-freshman Olivia Johnson, went on to run in college.

“I have a picture of me crossing the finish line,” Basham said. “That was the moment that changed my life. That was definitely the moment that I knew that was my thing.”

She spent the next two years at Pacific University, running cross-country and, as a freshman, track, for the Boxers.

But with a full class load and working full-time, she did not progress, she said.

“I didn’t get worse, but I didn’t improve. It was very different at the collegiate level. I was at the bottom of the totem pole.”

Even so, she finished seventh in a field of 14 as a freshman at the Northwest Conference Championships in the 3000 Steeplechase.

Basham finished her college degree in exercise and sports science at Oregon State University in 2012, but her running career was on hold. She tried to walk on with the Beavers, but Head Coach Kelly Sullivan wouldn’t let her.

“Having Kelly turn me down was a good thing, when I look back on it,” she said. “That’s when I started getting into half-marathons and longer stuff. I was kind of burned out doing training for the shorter stuff. I’d just go out and run miles and miles.”

She decided to try running a marathon and and finished second in her age group in the 2012 Eugene Marathon, in 3:21, which qualified her for the granddaddy of U.S. road racing, the Boston Marathon.

Meanwhile, in 2013, she started working for Nike’s Social Media Department as a Running and Women’s Training Expert, helping clients get conditioned for the competitions they’re aiming for.

That encouraged her as well.

“Once I did Eugene, I kept going. I just kind of did the road thing.”

She ran Boston in 2013, the year the race was marred by the terrorist bombing attack, then returned the next two years. In April she finished in 2:54.33.

But along the way, she discovered trail running, partly because she was continuing to struggle with the knee soreness she’d experienced way back in junior high, a result of long miles on hard pavement.

“I started running trails because I was trying to come back from injury,” Basham said. “One of my friends who was local to Portland told me to run trails to get better. I started running in Forest Park purely to get back on the road.

“I just loved it. I didn’t want to run on the road at all. I could do it and not get hurt because there was less pounding.

“My obsession started basically after the first week I did trails.”

She “immediately” signed up for the McDonald 50K (31 miles) outside of Corvallis, and placed eighth (5:39:57) in May of 2014. Flush from that accomplishment, she signed up for the Mt. Hood 50 (miler) in July 2014, and finished second in 8:01:30.

“Right after that I decided I thought I could be pretty good at it, she said.

She approached Pat Werhane, manager of the Nike Trail Team.

“I figured he would laugh at me, but he didn’t,” she said. “I asked him what I would need to do to get on the team. He gave me a list of races and I signed up for a few races he told me to do.”

Starting this year, Basham began to turn heads, finishing fourth in the Flagline Trailcrest 50K in Bend in September 2014 (4:33:56), which also happened to be a USATF championship race. She then placed ninth in the North Face Endurance Challenge 50-miler in San Francisco (8:26:55) last December.

“I ran a lot of that race in third, but I crashed because my nutrition was terrible,” she said.

One of the challenges of long-distance running of any kind is taking enough energy and hydrating enough all the way to the finish line. Basham said she relies heavily on energy “goo” packets and, later in ultra races, eats baked potatoes that are offered at aid stations. She also “chugs” water and electrolyte drinks at those stops, so she doesn’t have to carry more than a small water pack with her.

Another challenge is managing fatigue on courses that often involve elevation changes of thousands of feet, on rough trails, often at high altitudes that can range from 6,000 to 14,000 feet, though her New York race was at a much lower elevation.

“It takes a lot more strategizing,” she said. “You don’t just lace up your shoes and go an even pace. A lot of runners will say “I want to run a 3:30 road marathon. That’s an 8-mile pace. But you’re not going to be able to do that if you are going to run a trail marathon.”

Instead, she “power climbs” the uphill portions to preserve her quadriceps, which can take a beating in trail races, and saves the speed portions for the downhills.

“Even if you can’t run up a climb, you want to be going as fast as possible,” she said. “New runners, trying to run on a trail, don’t consider that. People don’t want to say they walked part of their road run, but it’s totally appropriate to do that on a trail. You have to realize what climbs are not runnable. You want to save your legs so you can run when you hit the downhills.”

Clearly, this kind of competition requires a different level of training from typical road marathon preparation.

Basham has spent weeks running at high altitude in Colorado, aided by the fact that she can work on-line out of her office in Beaverton. She spent approximately five weeks training there before she ran in New York.

At home in the Portland area, she goes to Mt. Hood and the Columbia Gorge, doing long runs of up to 30 miles on weekends, sometimes back to back, for weekly totals of up to 105 miles. She said her weekday runs are usually about 10 to 15 miles.

“I get some really good running there,” she said. “You’re not going to get much altitude, but there’s some serious running in the Gorge.”

She also lifts weights on her own and she trains under Coach Chris Vargo, a fellow Nike team member, whom she hired last year.

“Running is one of those things that takes time and lot of work,” Basham said. “Someone might have the capability of being a pro runner but you’re not going to do it in a month. A year of Chris coaching me was a big part of it. A huge part of it was going to Colorado to train.”

The North Face race got her a spot on the Nike team, which means she gets support, including gear and travel fees. Basham noted that she’s “at the bottom” of the team, which includes 23 men and women.

She notched her first win five weeks after Boston this year, after training in Colorado, at the Cayuga Trail 50 Miler in Ithaca, N.Y., which was the USATF 50-mile championship, on May 31, finishing in 8:11:20. Then she placed second in the Leadville Trail Marathon in Leadville, Colo. On June 29 (4:47:28), which essentially was intended to be a training run at the time, and fourth on July 25 in the Speedgoat 50K at Snowbird Resort in Utah (7:21:11).

Those finishes put her in the money in a sport that is growing by leaps and bounds – no pun intended.

“Trail running has really grown up in the last year,” she said. “It’s become so popular in a short amount of time. Even when I started two years ago, it was not much of a thing.

AMANDA BASHAM stands on the podium after placing first in her division, and second overall, in the Leadville Trail Marathon, on June 20.

“I think a lot of it is that elite road runners are realizing that their speed on the trail is phenomenal, that they can win everything. Recreational runners are realizing that they can run and not get hurt. I think that’s why it’s popular.”

For Basham, though, it comes down to what she likes best about the sport.

“I just went out and ran. I did what I could. I always tried to do everything as good as I could. But it helped to have no expectations.

“Running is so mental. You have full control over how well you can do.”


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