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Chapter 11
“I TOLD YOU!” Rick Fisher crowed.

He was right about something else, too: suddenly, everybody wanted a piece of the RunningPeople. Fisher promised that Team Tarahumara would be back next year, and that was the magicwand that transformed Leadville from a little-known gruelathon into a major media event. ESPNgrabbed broadcast rights; Wide World of Sports aired a Who-Are-These-Super-Jocks special;Molson beer signed on as a Leadville sponsor. Rockport Shoes even became official backers of theonly running team in the world that hated running shoes.

Reporters from The New York Times, Sports Illustrated, Le Monde, Runner’s World, you name it,kept calling Ken with the same question:

“Can anyone beat these guys?”

“Yep,” Ken replied. “Annie can.”

Ann Trason. The thirty-three-year-old community-college science teacher from California. If yousaid you could spot her in a crowd, you were either her husband or a liar. Ann was sort of short,sort of slender, sort of schlumpy, sort of invisible behind her mousy-brown bangs—sort of whatyou’d expect, basically, in a community-college science teacher. Until someone fired a gun.

Watching Ann bolt at the start of a race was like watching a mild-mannered reporter yank off hisglasses and sling on a crimson cape. Her chin came up, her hands curled into fists, her hair flowedaround her face like a jet stream, the bangs blowing back to reveal glinting brown cougar eyes. Instreet clothes, Ann is a pinch over five feet; in running shorts, she reconfigures to Brazilian modelproportions, all lean legs and ballerina-straight back and sun-browned belly hard enough to break abat.

Ann had run track in high school, but got sick to death of “ham-stering” around and around anartificial oval, as she put it, so she gave it up in college to become a biochemist (which pretty muchmakes the case for how tedious track was, if periodic tables were more spellbinding). For years,she ran only to keep from going nuts: when her brain got fried from studying, or after she’dgraduated and started a demanding research job in San Francisco, Ann would blow out the stresswith a quick patter around Golden Gate Park.

“I love to run just to feel the wind in my hair,” she’d say. She could care less about races; she wasjust hooked on the joy of bustin’ out of prison. It wasn’t long before she began defusing job stressin advance by jogging the nine miles to the lab each morning. And once she realized that her legswere fresh again by punch-out time, she began running back home again as well. Oh, and what theheck; as long as she was racking up eighteen miles a day during the workweek, it was no big dealto unwind on a lazy Saturday with twenty at a pop …… or twenty-five …… or thirty …One Saturday, Ann got up early and ran twenty miles. She relaxed over breakfast, then headedback out for twenty more. She had some plumbing chores around the house, so after finishing runNo. 2, she hauled out her toolbox and got to work. By the end of the day, she was pretty pleasedwith herself; she’d run forty miles and taken care of a messy job on her own. So as a reward, shetreated herself to another fifteen miles.

Fifty-five miles in one day. Her friends had to wonder, and worry. Did Ann have an eatingdisorder? An exercise obsession? Was she fleeing some subconscious Freudian demon by literallyrunning away? “My friends would tell me I’m not addicted to crack, I’m addicted to endorphins,”

Trason would say, and her comeback didn’t much put their minds at ease: she liked to tell themthat running huge miles in the mountains was “very romantic.”

Gotcha. Grueling, grimy, muddy, bloody, lonely trail-running equals moonlight and champagne.

But yeah, Ann insisted, running was romantic; and no, of course her friends didn’t get it becausethey’d never broken through. For them, running was a miserable two miles motivated solely bysize 6 jeans: get on the scale, get depressed, get your headphones on, and get it over with. But youcan’t muscle through a five-hour run that way; you have to relax into it, like easing your body intoa hot bath, until it no longer resists the shock and begins to enjoy it.

Relax enough, and your body becomes so familiar with the cradle-rocking rhythm that you almostforget you’re moving. And once you break through to that soft, half-levitating flow, that’s whenthe moonlight and champagne show up: “You have to be in tune with your body, and know whenyou can push it and when to back off,” Ann would explain. You have to listen closely to the soundof your own breathing; be aware of how much sweat is beading on your back; make sure to treatyourself to cool water and a salty snack and ask yourself, honestly and often, exactly how you feel.

What could be more sensual than paying exquisite attention to your own body? Sensual counted asromantic, right?

Just goofing around, Ann was logging more miles than many serious marathoners, so by 1985, shefigured it time to how she stacked up against some real runners. Maybe the L.A.

Marathon?Yaw(was) n;shemight(see) as well be back hamstering around behind the high school if she wasgoing to spend three hours circling city blocks. She wanted a race so wild and fun she’d get lost init, just the way she did with her mountain jaunts.

Now this looks interesting, she thought as she eyed an ad in a local sports magazine. Like WesternStates, the American River 50-Mile Endurance Run was a horseless horse race, a cross-countryramble over a course previously used for backcountry roughriders. It’s hot, hilly, and hazardous.

(“Poison oak flourishes along the trail,” racers are warned. “You may also encounter horses andrattlesnakes. It is recommended that you yield to both.”) Sidestep the fangs and hooves, andyou’ve still got a final punch in the face waiting before you finish: after forty-seven miles of trail-running, you hit a one-thousand-foot climb for the last three miles.

So, to recap: Ann’s first race would be a double marathon featuring snakebites and skin eruptionsunder a sizzling sun. Nope, no risk of boredom there.

And, no big surprise, Ann’s ultramarathon debut started miserably. The thermometer was hittingsauna levels, and she was too raw a rookie to realize that maybe carrying a water bottle on a 108degreeday might be a smart idea. She knew zip about pacing (was this thing going to take herseven hours? Ten? Thirteen?) and even less about trail-race tactics (those guys who walked uphilland flew past her on the descents were really starting to piss her off. Run like a man, goddammit!).

But once the jitters wore off, she relaxed into her cradle-rocking stride. Her head came up, thosebangs blew back, and she started feeling that jungle-cat confidence. By the thirty-mile mark,dozens of runners were wobbling in the damp heat, feeling as if they were trapped in the middle ofa freshly baked muffin. But despite being badly dehydrated, Ann only seemed to get stronger; sostrong, in fact, that she beat every other woman in the race and broke the female course record,finishing two back-to-back trail marathons in seven hours and nine minutes.

That shock victory was the beginning of a scorching streak. Ann went on to become the femalechampion of the Western States 100— the Super Bowl of trail-running—-fourteen times, a recordthat spans three decades and makes Lance Armstrong, with his piddlin’ little seven Tour de Francewins, look like a flash in the pan. And a pampered flash in the pan, at that: Lance never pedaled astroke without a team of experts at his elbow to monitor his caloric intake and transmitmicrosecond split analyses into his earbud, while Ann only had her husband, Carl, waiting in thewoods with a Timex and half a turkey sandwich.

And unlike Lance, who trained and peaked for a single event every year, Ann was a girl gone wildfor competition. During one stretch, she averaged an ultramarathon every other month for fouryears. Such a relentless battering should have wasted her, but Ann had the recovery powers of amutant superhero; she seemed to recharge on the move, getting stronger when she should havebeen wilting. She got faster with every month, and came within a flu shot of a perfect record: shewon twenty races over those four years, only dropping to second place the time she ran a sixtymilerwhen she should have been on the sofa with Kleenex and Cup-a-Soup.

Of course, there was a weak spot in her armor. There had to be. Except… no one could ever find it.

Ann was like a circus strongman who fights the toughest guy in any town: she won on roads andtrails … on smooth tracks and scrabbly mountains … in America, Europe, and Africa. Shesmashed world records at 50 miles, 100 kilometers, and 100 miles, and set ten more world bests onboth track and road. She qualified for the Olympic Marathon Trials, ran 6:44 a mile for 62 miles towin the World Ultra Title, and then won Western States and Leadville in the same month.

But one prize kept slipping out of her fingers: for years, Ann could never win a major ultraoutright. She’d beaten every man and woman in the field in plenty of smaller races, but when itcame to the top showdowns, at least one man had always beaten her by a few minutes.

No more. By 1994, she knew her time had come.


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