Ray Scannell: Western States Legend

AJW profiles Ray Scannell, who was a strong force in American ultrarunning during the 1980s and 1990s.

By on January 30, 2015 | Comments

AJWs TaproomLast week, much to my surprise, I received a handwritten note from Ray Scannell. It turns out he tracked me down via original Grand Slammer Tom Green and the letter eventually found its way to my remote Virginia cabin.

In the note, Ray congratulated me on my 10th Western States finish and sent me fond regards. I must say, of all the accolades I have received since that extraordinary day in June last year, this one is my proudest.

Note from Ray Scannell to AJW

I remember first hearing about Ray when I entered the sport in 1993. Originally from New England, Ray relocated to Northern California after falling in love with the Western States Trail and the Western States Endurance Run. In addition to finding his way onto the cover of UltraRunning magazine as a top-five finisher, Ray also was a pied piper of running throughout the 1980s and 1990s.

His old friend, Ken Crouse, shared with me his fondest memory of Ray:

In late 1997 I was chosen to run WS1998. I didn’t fully appreciate at the time what the journey would entail–I was clearly in over my head, but didn’t yet appreciate the fact. Ignorance is bliss I guess. However a few weeks later Wayne Miles told me that if I would commit to Saturday mornings with he and a few friends, they’d help me establish the base that I’d need to continue training as they moved up the hill to more serious stuff post-AR50. Not knowing anyone I agreed and several of those Saturdays we’d find ourselves showing up at Ray and [his wife] Joan’s house in Pollock Pines shortly before 8 a.m. to run whatever Ray wanted to run that day. He’d already have done a loop around Jenkinson Lake around 3-4 a.m. and then settled in to journal and have coffee until our arrival. I seemed to understand the basic concept–those runs were “Ray Rules”, not because it was demanded, it was that kind of respect–we’d run whatever and anywhere Ray wanted to run. Come prepared, Don’t ask how far or what time we’d be back–just go with it and enjoy. (Ray later explained to me the concept of “the journey” whether it be a training run or the finish line of a big event, its all just part of the journey, nothing to get too up or down about, just be at peace.) Some runs would be in the backcountry, others chugging up Mormon Emigrant to the top of Iron Mountain (above the snow-plowed sections) and when the road was clear we went up to Kirkwood and run up under the chairlifts and over to Caples and back to Highway 88 where we’d have a late lunch of chili and Guinness in a roadhouse/bar. I’ll always treasure those runs with Ray.

Bill Davis is perhaps Ray’s deepest running friend, a status that was cemented with the UltraRunning magazine cover photo which was snapped as they crossed the line together to finish their 10th, sub-24-hour Western States in 1999. Ray told me by phone, “Those were the most emotional steps I have ever taken. Nothing like it, nothing.”

Ray Scannell and Bill Davis 1999 Western States 100

In the years since, Ray, Joan, Bill, and their group of friends have joined Carol Hewitt every year at Michigan Bluff for Western States. Health issues and life changes have conspired to make running a little different these days but the passion for the journey remains as strong as ever.

Therefore, for me, Ray’s congratulatory note was deeply resonant. It gives me great pride to be one small part of this kinetic chain binding us together and carrying on the culture and tradition of something that is at once so simple and transcendent. Here’s to you, Ray!

Bottoms up!

Great Raft Brewing Southern Drawl American Pale LagerAJW’s Beer of the Week

This week’s Beer of the Week comes from Great Raft Brewing in Shreveport, Louisiana. Their Southern Drawl American Pale Lager is a really drinkable, tasty lager that goes well with anything.

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • Ray Scannell stories, let’s hear them! Did you run a race with Ray, or ever go on a training run with him?
  • What about that kinetic chain that AJW mentions? Do you have any stories like AJW’s, which connects the past of our sport to the present?
Andy Jones-Wilkins

Andy Jones-Wilkins is an educator by day and has been the author of AJW’s Taproom at iRunFar for over 11 years. A veteran of over 190 ultramarathons, including 38 100-mile races, Andy has run some of the most well-known ultras in the United States. Of particular note are his 10 finishes at the Western States 100, which included 7 times finishing in the top 10. Andy lives with his wife, Shelly, and Josey, the dog, and is the proud parent of three sons, Carson, Logan, and Tully.