Legends of the Trail
Eight people who've been blazed new ground, from a 100-miler pioneer to the grand master of Pikes Peak to a modern-day phenom
Trason shows the steely focus that made her unbeatable. Photo by Patitucciphoto
A love of running
Ann Trason is the most successful female ultrarunner of all time. An alternative argument about the now-52-year-old is impossible: in the late 1980s, ’90s and first half of the 2000s, Trason racked up 14 wins at the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run (WS 100) and set gobs of ultramarathon course records. Many of these still stand, including her 1993 6:09:08 at California’s American River 50, her 1994 18:06:24 at Colorado’s Leadville Trail 100 and her 1997 22:27:00 at Utah’s Wasatch Front 100. A glimpse at her running history on Ultra Signup yields more evidence—there, 51 finishes are listed between 1985 and 2004 and 49 of them are wins.
Trason set standards that the women of ultrarunning are just now beginning to catch. Last summer, ultrarunner Ellie Greenwood finally broke Trason’s WS 100 record.
“Admittedly, it’s taking a while for women’s results to come close to Ann’s,” says Greenwood, “When people put Ann in a separate category, I think this is defeatist and unfair for her. She’s a female runner just like us and we should be trying to better her times and not saying, ‘But that was Ann Trason.’ Her records are proof of what we can achieve.”
Trason’s dominance is not surprising to those who know her well. UltraRunning magazine publisher, John Medinger, has been friends with Trason since 1987 and remembers her ethic: “Running was the principal focus of her life. She trained hard, and competed harder. She was, in one word, fierce.”
Medinger recounts, “At the Way Too cool 50K one year, Ann came upon fast ultrarunner Dave Scott not too far from the finish and asked him if he wanted to tie. Dave realized this was Ann’s polite way of saying, ‘Do you want to run in hard together or do you want me to beat you?’ The pair finished together.”
“The mental aspect of ultrarunning was important to her,” says journalist and trail runner Sarah Lavender Smith, who interviewed Trason in 1997 and 2008 and who became acquaintances with her through the east San Francisco Bay trail running scene. “I’ve heard her say multiple times that ultrarunning is a thinking person’s sport.”
Throughout her career—as early as college—Trason was plagued by injuries, including hamstring, knee and back issues. Lavender Smith says that Trason trained and raced with discomfort for many years.
Despite Trason’s once-full-time involvement in ultrarunning as a runner, race volunteer and race director of northern California’s Dick Collins Firetrails 50, she has since chosen to disappear from the scene. She declined to participate in an interview for this article, saying, “[I’m] not running, and it is hard to talk about it.”
Says Medinger, “Ann’s shy when it comes to talking about her running. it’s ironic because she’s incredibly engaging in interactions with friends. i never call her unless I have an hour to talk!” Medinger says Trason has turned her energies to road cycling as a hobby. “She rides double centuries, but just for fun.”
“Publicity or public praise has never been important to her. She ran because she loved it—the challenge, the competition, the adventure,” says Medinger.
— 1985 > Ann Trason runs, and wins, her first ultramarathon, California’s American River 50.
— 1989 >Trason wins the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run (WS 100) for the first of 14 times.
— 1994 > Trason sets both the (now-previous) WS 100 course record and the Leadville Trail 100 course record, finishing second overall in both races.
— 1996 > Trason wins both South Africa’s Comrades Marathon and the WS 100, which are less than two weeks apart.
— 1996 > Doctors discover that one of Trason’s hamstrings is 90-percent detached and surgically repair it.
— 1997 > Trason wins both the Comrades Marathon and the WS 100 again. Trason tells journalist Sarah Lavender Smith that, due to her recovering hamstring, she is only able to train for these races at about 80 percent of her usual volume.
— 2000 > Trason and her husband, Carl Andersen, take over directorship of Dick Collins Firetrails 50.
— 2004 > The last ultramarathon result for Trason is listed on Ultra Signup, a win at the California’s Sierra Nevada Endurance Run 52-Mile. She is 44.
— 2010 > Trason and Andersen relinquish RD-ship of the Firetrails 50.