The course is shot through with treacherous twists. This spring, Barbara Schoener, a 40-year-old mother of two and an avid ultramarathoner, was killed by a mountain lion during a recreational run on the trail. Some runners have been bitten by rattlesnakes, others airlifted to hospitals in states of renal shutdown and severe dehydration. Says Dr. Bob Lind, the race's medical adviser since its inception, "We've found that, over the course of the race, a 150-pound man will have to replace 50 pounds of fluids."
The weight of each runner is monitored at 11 of the race's 28 aid stations. Those who have lost more than 5% of their body weight are required to sit and drink fluids. Chicken soup is a favorite—"It's got lots of salt," says Lind. A 7% body-weight loss means you're out of the race. Of the 5,286 entrants to run the Western States, none has died as a result of participating in the race.
Bizarre climate swings are the norm. Last year's race featured snowdrifts at Emigrant Pass and temperatures in the canyons that reached 108�. The weather was cooler this year, but Trason started slowly. "For the first 40 miles I felt like the Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz," she said afterward. "I was tripping and kicking rocks."
At 40 miles she stopped kicking rocks and commenced kicking butt. Trason entered the canyons in ninth place and emerged from them, at mile 55, in third. Fifteen miles later she overtook Harry Johnson of Anchorage, who could not greet her, occupied as he was with vomiting on the side of the trail. "I told him to hang in there," said Trason, who was paced over the last 38 miles by her husband, Carl Andersen, 33, a banker and an ultramarathoner himself.
Many people have urged Trason—who lives in Kensington, Calif., and has worked as a lab technician, taught classes in microbiology at nearby Contra Costa College and plans to return to school for a degree in physical therapy—to enter marathons. Her personal best over 26.5 miles is a highly respectable 2:39, which she could lower substantially if she were to concentrate on that distance. "Ann could make a lot of money if she ran shorter races," says Helen Klein, who is Norm's wife and a close friend of Trason's. "But she just loves the trails."
The solidarity of these extremists was evident at 4:55 a.m. on race day, when Western States veteran Gordon Ainsleigh, 47, pulled out Shakespeare's Henry V and read to the assembled runners what is arguably the greatest pep talk in history, King Henry's oration to the troops before the battle of Agincourt. It was Ainsleigh who started this insanity back in 1974. Just before the annual Tevis Cup, a 100-mile horse race over what would become the Western States course, Ainsleigh's mount pulled up lame. Ainsleigh decided to run the course on foot. Drinking from streams and accepting food from strangers, he finished in less than 24 hours.
Twenty years later, there he was, reading Shakespeare in the predawn light. "We few, we happy few," read Ainsleigh, who would finish in 23:50:07. "We band of brothers."
The crowd cheered, the gun fired, and the throng began its ascent. Less than 18 hours later, all but one of the happy band of brothers had been bested by a sister.