Name: Natalie Sandoval
Hometown: Dallas, TX
Current Residence: Phoenix, AZ
Occupation: Behavior Specialist
Natalie is an NAU graduate and educator in the Phoenix area. She burst onto the trail scene in 2022 with help from her coach, James Bonnett, notching top 10 finishes at Black Canyon 100k (6th F), Broken Arrow 52k (8th F), Speedgoat 50k (9th F), and just missing the podium with a 4th place finish at the iconic JFK 50 Mile! Learn more about this badass runner below:
1. You’ve been a speedster on the roads and trails for a while, but you truly leveled up in 2022! What factors contributed to your top 10 performances at races with world class competition?
Hey, thanks! I’d say 2022 was my first year of focused racing, meaning that it was the first time I actually pulled out a calendar and planned a schedule from January to December. Being intentional with my training has really helped me stay focused on my goals. I also learned to embrace the pain cave this year which has been humbling, for sure, but has made me a stronger and more resilient athlete!
2. It’s not a coincidence that some of Arizona’s best trail/ultra runners are coached (or have been coached) by your current coach, James Bonnett. Why does his approach work so well for you?
James cares about me as a whole person and that is the biggest reason our partnership works so well. He plans around my life and makes adjustments when things come up. He understands that birthday parties and family trips have their place and he respects that time as much as my training.
James also has a quality over quantity approach to mileage that has been very beneficial for me. We supplement running with lower impact training on the bike. This keeps my aerobic fitness high without the fatigue of so many running miles, helping me feel fresh for race day and healthy throughout the season.
3. What is your mindset in the moments leading up to a big race and during the event? How do you adapt when the race plan falls apart?
During training, I tend to hyper focus on my goal race and cater nearly all of my runs and workouts to that course. For example, before JFK 50 Mile, I ran nearly all on pavement in preparation for the 30+ miles on tow path and roads during that race. When Speedgoat 50k was my focus, I spent most days on steep, technical climbs and went up to Flagstaff on weekends for altitude training.
By the time race day comes around, having confidence in my preparation helps a lot with my nerves. When things go sideways (which they do often no matter how well you train), I try to stay calm and keep in mind all of the time, effort and sacrifice that went into my training block. I recount the long run I did in the pouring rain or the tempo session where all my splits felt impossible. These moments that challenged me serve as motivation on race day to dig deep and get to the finish line, no matter what hardship I experience along the way.
4. Are there any experiences from your time in the education system that have helped make you a better trail runner?
100%! Teaching requires key skills like time management, discipline, problem solving, and perseverance that are all very relatable to ultra running. It’s no surprise that some of the biggest legends in our sport such as Courtney Dauwalter, Harvey Lewis, and YiOu Wang, all started with careers in education.
5. What’s the story behind your race day braids? Do they really help you run faster?!
I was preparing for an especially humid race a few summers ago and needed a hairstyle that would protect my mane from the elements and keep it out of my face. My friend Lakeisha Smith, who is also a talented hair stylist, offered dutch braids as a solution. I ended up winning that race and had one of those “everything just clicked” kind of days on the trail. They’ve been my good luck charm ever since!
6. Outside of running, what are some other hobbies/passions of yours that others may not be aware of?
The truth is that making running my main priority does limit my time to pursue other hobbies. Between working full time, training, and being a dog mom to my GSP Samson, there’s hardly any downtime most days. One thing that’s been really cool about racing, though, has been the opportunity to explore new places around the country. My favorite way to spend a day when I travel is to find a local coffee shop and take a walk around town with a latte and no set plans.
7. What are your “A races” for 2023? Any thoughts of moving up to the 100+ mile distance?
While some of my plans are still in the works, James and I have decided to build up to my first 100 mile effort, Run Rabbit Run 100 Mile, in September of this year. In the meantime, I definitely have my eyes on other upcoming races to keep me sharp, test my limits and build mountain fitness like never before. Stay tuned!