It seemed an odd time for Tim Twietmeyer to have a woman on his mind. But there he was, seven miles from the finish of a hellish 100-mile trek through the Sierra Nevada, asking, "Where is she?"
As he loped into the Highway 49 checkpoint at mile marker 93 of the Western States Endurance Run at about 9 p.m. on June 25, Twietmeyer was running well and running scared. Having started, along with 381 other kindred lunatics, at 5 o'clock that morning, Twietmeyer had taken the lead after the 62-mile mark. A software engineer from Auburn, Calif., he had spent the next 30 miles alternately looking ahead—for rattlers, cougars and bears, all of which have surprised runners on race day—and over his shoulder. Between gulps of water Twietmeyer inquired again, "How close is she?"
His concern was well-founded. Lurking somewhere on the trail behind him was Ann Trason, a gutsy divining rod of a woman who six weeks earlier had won the Silver State 50 in Nevada over 107 other runners. When the 5'4", 105-pound Trason crossed the tape there, she was literally foaming at the mouth. In addition to holding six women's ultramarathon world records, Trason, 33, has won five races outright, including the '89 TAC 24-hour national championship. While other women have won mixed ultramarathon national titles, none have had Trason's success. When she is at her best, ultramarathon's gender gap becomes the distance between her and the men eating her dust.
In the Western States she had no such bold kick. Twietmeyer, 35, crossed the finish line at the Placer High football stadium in Auburn in 16:51:01. Striding in strongly in 17:37:51, Trason lopped 38 minutes from her own course record to finish 3� hours ahead of the next-fastest woman and second overall. It was Trason's sixth straight year as the Western States' top female finisher, inducing Earl Towner, who had tried to stay with her only to drop out at the 62-mile mark, to say, "That chick is bionic!"
Several serious injuries have proved otherwise. After a sensational scholastic track career in Pacific Grove, Calif., Trason blew out a knee as a freshman at the University of New Mexico and did not compete in college. She had already begun to tire of the sport, anyway. "Times were sooooo important," she says.
After transferring to Cal and graduating in 1983 with a degree in biochemistry, she tried bicycling but got hit from behind by a car and injured her right elbow. In 1985 she read about a race in Sacramento called the American River 50 and asked a salesman in an athletic-shoe store what to expect. Be ready to do a lot of walking, he told her.
In retrospect Trason sees the point he was making; she had no ultra experience and only six weeks to train. Still, she was insulted and entered the race with a chip on her shoulder and, fortunately, a water bottle; some kind soul handed her one in the race's early stages. A good thing, too, because the temperature on the course that day reached 100�. Astonishingly, Trason won. "Afterward, everyone was walking around smiling," she says, recalling the feeling of camaraderie and goodwill among the racers at the finish. "I was like, Why are these people so happy?"
Along with an uncanny pain threshold, Trason harbors a wide contrary streak: Despite entreaties from her friends, she refused to enter another ultra for two years. In 1987 she ran the first 50 miles of the Western States, her first 100-mile race, before a bum knee forced her out. In those 50 miles she had an epiphany. She fell in love with the Western States trail. "I consider ultra pure sport," she says. "It's you against the trail."
Blazed first by Paiute and Washoe Indians, then by gold miners, the Western States trail is a supremely worthy opponent. Plenty of racers leave their breakfast along the first 4.7 miles of the course, from Squaw Valley at 6,200 feet to Emigrant Pass at 8,700 feet. At mile 78, runners must ford the wide, frigid and waist-deep Rucky-Chucky rapids. These ordeals bookend the trail's trademark open-air torture chambers—a series of heat-trapping, brain-baking canyons that begin at the 40-mile mark. In 1986, when ABC had the television rights to the race, reporter Jimmy Cefalo decided he would run from the floor of Deadwood Canyon to Devils Thumb, a near-vertical climb of 1,700 feet crammed into 1.8 miles. On the air Cefalo gasped, "The only word to describe what I just did: gruesome."
"He'd run one sixtieth of the course, and it took him 45 minutes to catch his breath," recalls race director Norm Klein, tickled to this day by the memory.