Michael Aish Steps UpThe former collegiate standout and Olympian will test his ultra mettle at Colorado’s Leadville 100 this Saturday
Photo courtesy of Leadville Silver Rush 50
Michael Aish typically expects to be at or near the front of almost any race he enters—and with good reason. The former Division II All-American from powerhouse Western State Colorado University in Gunnison, Colorado, boasts personal bests of 13:22 in the 5K and 27:46 in 10K, and has twice represented New Zealand in the Olympics.
Despite fast track success, Aish has a healthy respect for the 100-mile distance, which he will attempt for the first time this weekend (August 18-19) at the Leadville Trail 100 in Leadville, Colorado.
“When I mention I’m running Leadville, friends seem to think I’m going to break a course record and win easily,” he says. “But ultrarunning is a whole different sport.”
Aish, 36, has tinkered with his training routine, logging runs of three-plus hours twice a week near his home outside Denver in preparation for the new challenge. Depending on how he fares at Leadville, he may lay to rest—or further fuel—the debate over how talented road and track athletes would rank among elite ultrarunners in the nation’s most grueling and competitive 100-milers.
He received some positive feedback on his preparations in July, when he won Leadville’s Silver Rush 50 Mile in 6:54:34 on a course extended by 1.25 miles (Gunnison, Colorado, ultrarunner and two-time Leadville 100 winner Duncan Callahan holds the original course record of 6:50:55, set in 2010). We caught up with Aish to discuss his decision to jump up in distance, his training methods and his goals for the race.
What is your running background, and how did you end up in the United States?
I started running at about age 16 with a group of older runners that schooled me along. I enjoyed the sport for the purpose of just being out there, just running. I grew up in a farming community, New Plymouth [in Taranaki, on New Zealand’s west coast], so I was always in the fields or on the trails anyway.
One thing led to another, and I finished high school, and didn’t really have anything going on. I ended up accepting a scholarship to run in the States. At the time, my running was going OK. I had five or six Division I offers and one Division II. That was Western State, and they had the best art program, which was what I was looking for. I ended up going there and loving the place, and my body seemed to work well with the altitude.
What was your running like after college?
I landed a contract with Nike. I ran officially with them for several years before I retired. I qualified for the 10K in the Sydney Olympics, and competed in the 5K in Athens in 2004. For the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, I qualified in both the 10K and the marathon, but New Zealand didn’t send a marathon team that year, so I just decided not to go altogether.
After my contract ended with Nike, I had a job at a local running store, and phased out of running, especially this last year. The focus was moving on with life, getting a job and being able to pay my bills.