Legends of the Trail - Page 5
Western states pioneer Gordy Ainsleigh near his Meadow Vista, California home. Photo by Carl Costas
Oddball Inventor Of 100-MIle trail races
The dude who first raced 100 miles through hill, dale, heat and canyon is about as offbeat as that original run. If you’re familiar with the Western States 100- Mile Endurance Run (WS 100), you’ve likely glimpsed the race’s first participant, the near-naked, hair-flying, devilish-grinned, 200-pound, perpetually flirting Gordy Ainsleigh.
It’s now an oft-told story: in the summer of 1974, Ainsleigh ran The Tevis Cup, a 100- mile horse race across the Sierra Nevada of California, without a horse. He completed the distance in less than 24 hours, proving that 100-mile races were possible on foot, a concept that has wildly evolved. In 2012, 95 100-mile races took place in just the United States, including the 39th WS 100. Ainsleigh blames a woman for his decision to run The evis Cup. “The year before, I gave my girlfriend the horse I’d previously used to race the Cup. I thought she and I would be together forever and that I’d still be able to race with the horse.” That woman eventually left him with the horse in tow. It was about the same time that The Tevis Cup’s administration asked Ainsleigh if he wanted to run the race as a pedestrian, “They noticed my previous strategy when racing with a horse to run with it instead of riding it for portions of the race.” The stars aligned for the strange man’s August 3, 1974, 100-mile, on-foot foray.
And, when Ainsleigh talks about the hardest part of that first 100-mile run, he says a woman saved him. “My friend Diane [Marquard] was at Devil’s Thumb. I was in pain, and I’d just seen someone’s horse dying from overexertion in such heat. I thought I was headed for the same fate, but she gave me salt, water and a leg massage until I got turned on nough to forget about dying.” ainsleigh is so emotionally attached the WS 100 that he starts it every year, no matter if he thinks he can finish it. “i treasure the epic-ness of this race. it’s far; it’s hot; and, now, it’s highly competitive. i can’t wait to stand at the starting line. But when i’m there these days, i feel equal parts excitement and dread. I’m old, and it’s been a while since i fin- ished under 24 hours. Thirty hours is a stretch. But i don’t stand on the sidelines well.I’m a doer.”
WS 100 race Director craig Thornley grew up near the course. Despite always knowing who ainsleigh was, Thornley, who was named rD in January 2012, only recently got to know him personally. “He’s got a spirit tHat is tangible wHen you see it. He beats to the rhythm
of us own drum. he’s an enigma.”
Ainsleigh has strong opinions on the future of this now-hyper- popular race, which had almost 2300 applicants enter its 2013 lottery. “I want everyone to be able to run it, if they want to,” he says, although he has no decision- making power. “The course needs to change just a little, so we avoid the wilderness area that limits the race’s number of entrants. if you want to come out here and suffer and ponder death and find life, you should be able to.”
Ainsleigh still keeps ladies and the race in close relationship, too. at modern WS 100s, he’s typically paced and crewed by a bevy of beautiful women. “They’re very motivating, you agree? My wife doesn’t seem to mind.” he laughs and continues, “The older i get the more I need those pretty women to run with. I didn’t expect to live to be this old and i’m a little men- tally unprepared for it. i’m pretty good at keeping myself healthy. I don’t eat white-flour products or sugar, and i do drink a little wine.”
The 65-year-old does enjoy a vibrant life beyond the race. he’s passionate about his chiropractic practice, natural health, climbing and politics. For instance, his scantily clad approach to spending time outdoors is based on reason, “I once co-published a paper about the health benefits of some sun exposure. i try to get a little sun every day.” On climbing, he says, “I love it. But this year I hurt my foot while climbing, and I haven’t been able to run much. Pisses me off, one hobby getting in the way of another.” We have a feeling, though, that we’ll see him at the starting line in June.
— Early-to-mid 1960s > Ainsleigh runs on the Colfax High School track team in California, where he sets a then-school record in the two-mile race.
— 1971 >. Ainsleigh finishes The Tevis Cup, a 100-mile horse race, for the first time, on horseback in 19:37.
— 1974 > At age 27, Ainsleigh completes The Tevis Cup on foot in 23:42.
— 2007 > Ainsleigh finishes the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run (WS 100) for the 22nd time, his most recent official finish, in 29:30.
— 2010 > Ainsleigh finishes the WS 100 but misses the 30-hour cutoff by minutes.