Ann Trason And The 1995 Western States 100

AJW's TaproomIf you hang around ultrarunners for any period of time, you will quickly learn that we love our debates. What’s the toughest race you’ve run? The hottest? The most gnarly? The prettiest? Who’s better, East Coast or West Coast? Who’s more legit, road runners or trail runners? What’s the most unreachable course record in history? In truth, these debates are endless.

However, if you hang around a little longer and ask a few more questions of these debaters, you’ll realize that there are some things upon which we all agree. And, I dare say, toward the top of that list are the answers to these two questions:

  • What year saw the toughest-ever conditions at the Western States 100?
  • Who is the greatest female ultrarunner of all time?

So, in that context, I decided to put those two together and ask Ann Trason about what it was like to run the 1995 Western States.

Before we delve into that story, here are some details from the race that year:

  • The winter of 1994 and 1995 saw a very large snowpack in California’s Sierra Nevada.
  • The high temperature in Auburn, California on race day was 104 degrees Fahrenheit, the highest reading in race history.
  • Due to snow, the course was altered to eliminate the high country Robinson Flat aid station and runners were rerouted onto a lengthy section of plowed, paved road.
  • For the of two times in race history, the absolute cutoff was extended from 30 to 32 hours. The adjusted cutoff allowed an additional 28 runners to complete the course for a finishing rate of 53%. Had race organizers adhered to the traditional 30-hour cutoff, the race would have seen an all-time low finishers’ rate of 46%.
  • 1995 saw the fewest-ever sub-24 hour finishers, 36, and the highest median finishing time, 28:15. (By comparison, the race’s ‘easiest’ year, 2012, saw a median finishers’ time of 24:48.)

Ann Trason, age 34, came into the 1995 race as the most accomplished female Western States runner of all time. Coming off a course-record run of 17:37 in 1994 as well as six-consecutive wins, Ann was not only the class of the women’s field but also a strong contender for the overall win. Her third-place overall finish in 1992 and her second-place overall finish in 1994 indicated that her form was such that an overall win was a distinct possibility. And Ann herself was very clear, “I was racing for the overall win that year and every year. It’s just what I did back then.”

However, life on the Western States Trail was not always so rosy for Ann. In her first two attempts at the distance, in 1987 and 1988, she was forced to drop out due to dehydration, stomach issues, and exhaustion. Reflecting on those drops in a conversation last week, Ann asserted, “Those two DNFs were the best things to ever happen to me. Not just in running, but in life. They simply proved to me that I had to fail in order to succeed.”

Ann has long had an almost mystical relationship with the Western States Trail. From the moment she set foot on the historic route from Squaw Valley to Auburn, she felt a bond, “I always believed that the trail would take care of me. That in that place I could be the best version of myself, even if I failed.”

Going into 1995, however, she was not planning to fail.

After the starting gun, on the climb out of Squaw Valley, within minutes, she took note of the sweat pouring off her brow. Knowing that 24 miles of icy, hardpacked snow lay ahead, Ann had to calibrate her effort and navigate a course that was, in many places, almost impossible to follow. A pair of Tarahumara runners stuck right to Ann’s heels and those of legendary 25-time Western States finisher Tim Twietmeyer through much of the snowpacked high country and by the time the group reached the pavement of Mosquito Ridge Road, the race was on.

“Running down the road was like running through a tunnel of snow as the snowbanks on the side were over 10 feet high. I just remember feeling like this may be my entire career in one day.”

Eventually, the snowbound high country gave way to the oppressive, record heat of Western States’s notorious canyons. During this infamous stretch through the middle miles of the course, Tim went off the front in a slight lead and Ann got some distance on the Tarahumara chasers. Ann felt a strong sense of anxiety through this section and noted, “I’ve always believed that a person’s true colors come out under stress and I was hoping my true colors would be good enough.”

At the river crossing (mile 78), which was serviced by boats due to the extraordinarily high water, Ann came into the aid station five minutes behind Tim and slightly ahead of the Tarahumara. However, within minutes, Gabe Bautista, the lead Tarahumara, blasted through the aid station and into the raft, overtaking Ann. Herb Tanzer, the grizzled Western States veteran who was working the Rucky Chucky aid station at the time, looked at Ann in that moment and screamed, “Don’t let him get in the raft without you!” And with that, Ann ran to the edge of the river and jumped in with Bautista.

“I was pissed. Why were they in such a rush!?” She quipped, years later with a smile. “I knew the climb to Green Gate was going to be a bitch and when we got to the other side, I just jumped out of the boat and started hammering. I vowed not to look back from that point on.”

After cresting the hill and making quick work of the Green Gate aid station, Ann moved well through the relatively smooth terrain on the way to Auburn Lake Trails. Knowing this section as well as she did, she knew that it was a place to make up time as it was one of the most runnable sections of the course. And, sure enough, when she rolled into the aid station at mile 85, Tim was still there, regrouping and refueling. On the way out of there, Ann and Tim worked together for a spell to put some more time into Bautista and by the time they reached the Quarry Road at mile 91, the lead felt comfortable.

On the lung-busting climb from the road to the Highway 49 crossing at mile 93.5, Tim pushed hard and opened a small gap on Ann, which ultimately allowed him to pull away for the win in 18:34:58. Ann fought a valiant fight and for the second time in three years finished Western States second overall, this time a mere five minutes and three seconds out of first place. To this day, her time is the closest a woman has ever been to an overall win at Western States and is also one of the top five closest overall finishes in race history.

After her incredible run in 1995, Ann went on to win Western States an extraordinary seven more times to give her a career total of 14 wins in 14 finishes. But alas, she would never get as close to the overall win as she was in 1995. Looking back on it today, Ann has no regrets. She continues to cherish the memory of her time on the Western States Trail and looks forward to returning to the race as a coach and volunteer for years to come. With a tone of nostalgia she notes, “The Western States Trail is in my blood, and will always be.”

Bottoms up!

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This week’s Beer of the Week comes from the FiftyFifty Brewing Company in Truckee, California. Their DysFUNctional Pale Ale provides a unique take on this classic American variety. Hoppy but also sweet, DysFUNctional Pale Ale is a truly fun beer to drink, which, of course, it should be!

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

Do you remember Ann Trason’s performance at the 1995 Western States 100? And do you remember the historic fire-and-ice conditions of the 1995 WS100? If so, leave a comment to share your memories. Thanks!

Ann Trason - 1994 Western States 100

Ann Trason at the 1994 Western States 100, a year before the record snow and heat of the 1995 race. Photo: Western States 100

There are 26 comments

  1. Earl Towner

    Yes, Ann bolted up the road toward green gate while Bautista spoke with his pacer who I believe was joining him there. As they started up Ann was out of site and they took the wrong road at the Y near the river. After the race they protested that the course was poorly marked and they were off course for 10-15 minutes. They were the only ones who got off course there so nothing came of it. Bautista finished third less than seven minutes behind Trason.

  2. Pete Broomhall

    There was a solid snow pack in 94-95 but lets be clear it was not the biggest ever even at that time. fun read otherwise.

    1. AJW

      Sorry about that Pete. I based that comment on the story of that year as told on the Western States website which says “largest snowfall ever recorded”

  3. Bartman

    Always find your stories and articles motivating, informative and almost humorous (at least for a runner). Ever considered a book Andy with a compilation of your great stories? Thanks for a great read about one of the very greatest runners ever.

  4. Shannon Weil

    Watching the 1995 WS100 unfold down at the River Crossing was one of the most exciting moments of my 33 years with the race.
    Ann was truly incredible that day…as well as many others.

  5. Twiet

    One interesting note from 95 was that by the time Ann and I were on the Quarry Road, we’d both dropped our pacers (long story) and were running in the dark without our flashlights on. No one wanted anyone that was chasing them to know where they were. Since the pacers were now behind the runners and had no reason to not use their light, it was rather disappointing when anyone caught one of the pacers as they were thinking that they’d be catching #1 or #2. The heat that year was ridiculous. There were times that it paid to walk and rest on a downhill just so you didn’t get cooked. Thanks for the story AJ-Dub, those are some great memories.

      1. Anonymous

        AJW: Yes, you should do a story on Tim. The longevity and decades of excellence are legendary. 25 sub-24s, 5 wins, and something like 15 top-5s. Will NEVER be topped.

    1. Gary Ritchie

      Don’t know if you remember, Twiet, but I saw you as you were just coming out of the El Dorado canyon and asked how bad the heat was; Your reply. ‘You have no idea’. Like many of us who labored through the canyons on hot days, that year was unbelievable. I will say that you recovered nicely to get the win.

  6. ccat

    Ann is just amazing, well before I ran longer distances I was always enthralled with stories of her running when I ran across an article here and there back in the day. I also really like these recaps of legendary races. I’d love to know how the 2017 WS stacks up, it seems as if it wasn’t much ‘easier’ especially since runners were not re-routed after a 700+” winter with no cut off extension, not saying that should have happened but curious. I also heard canyon temps were 110-115 degrees, it sure felt like it midday. Just wondering as I have not really heard much about it except from those that ran.

  7. Bill Ramsey

    Great article and spot on! One correction. The article states, “For the first and only time in race history, the absolute cutoff was extended from 30 to 32 hours.” Not so, 1998, another big snow year, also resulted in extending the cutoff from 30 to 32 hours. Love the photo of Ann, taken in 1994 when she set the women’s record of 17:37. Amazing.

  8. Paul

    I worked the ALT aid station that year. It’s my recollection that Twietmeyer bolted from the aid station the moment that he heard cheers for Ann. I think his pacer (Kurt Fox?) was still in the aid station when Twietmeyer took off. That was an intense competition between two of the best ever.

    It got hot very early the next morning. The extra two hours were no bargain.

  9. Andy M

    For those of us who were *not* in the WS orbit in 1995, your narration is super and puts us right in the action. No offense to your regular musings — which are spot on — but these historical pieces (with interviews) are a super addition to the iRF lineup. Keep ’em coming, AJW!

    1. Andy M

      BTW – I hear Ann is now “touring” the country running an ultra in every state. The legend is “coming to a theater near you” very soon!!

  10. Brad Rogers

    Amazing. Simply Amazing. And thank you Ann.

    I’ve covered the course twice with a finish in 2012 with a finish in 26:02 and again in 2016 with a dismal 28:59 finish.

    However!!! I want to call Ann out for being such a wonderful, supportive, inspiring volunteer at this years running of the Canyons 100K. She is truly a personable, giving and caring person that loves to help each person along their journey. She’s simply an amazing woman.

    1. Elizabeth

      I read that Ann Trason is running the 48 hour portion of N.J. Trail Series, 3 Days At the Fair, in Augusta, N.J. next week.
      Exciting!

    1. Andrew S.

      Thanks Meghan… I just wanted to mention I think you meant to say, “For the first of two times,” but are missing the first. Sorry to be that guy… just trying to help. Love what you guys do.

  11. TimI

    Great writing. In the text you say “you’ll realize that there are some things upon which we all agree.” Besides the two you mentioned, what are some other non debatables? I’ll start

    Matt Carpenter could have won a lot of ultras had he run more of them

  12. syl pascale

    Ann may be the best runner period to have run WS, in her prime she was in another realm. 1994 – 2nd overall, 1995 – 2nd overall, 1996 – 3rd overall after winning Comrades a couple weeks earlier, 1997 – 8th overall after winning Comrades a couple weeks earlier in a battle with Maria Bak. She would have probably finished 2nd again in 1996 if not for running Comrades.

  13. Xavier

    More info on the Tarahumara running WS and ultras from those times would be awesome. They were and continue to be amazing athletes who race and travel with minimal financial and gear support.

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