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Unforgettable Moments in Ultrarunning: 1994 Leadville 100 Mile

How the Tarahumara and Ann Trason changed the sport of ultrarunning at the 1994 Leadville 100 Mile.

By on April 22, 2022 | Leave a reply

AJW's Taproom[Author’s Note: This is the second in a five-part series on unforgettable moments in ultrarunning history. Read our introductory article on this series for a description of what, to me, makes a moment unforgettable. You can also read about the first story we covered, the first Grand Slammer.]

In the chilly, predawn air of an August morning in 1994, Ann Trason, from California, inched up to the front of the starting line of the Leadville 100 Mile along with seven Taramuhara from the Copper Canyons of Mexico. What unfolded over the next 18 hours was one of the most unforgettable events in ultrarunning history.

Trason came into Leadville in 1994 on perhaps the sport’s greatest hot streak. In May she had outsprinted Joe Schlereth over the last quarter mile to take the outright win of the Silver State 50 Mile in a time of 7:29 which is, to this day, still the women’s course record. A month later she had won her sixth-consecutive Western States 100 in then-course-record time — a record bettered by Ellie Greenwood in 2012 — while finishing second overall to legendary Western States runner Tim Twietmeyer. She arrived in Leadville with her sights set clearly on the overall win.

While Trason is perhaps best known for her exploits at Western States, prior to 1994 she had run Leadville twice in 1988 and 1990, winning the women’s race both times. But 1994 was different. She was at the top of her game and at the top of her sport. But what she faced at Leadville in 1994 was a different ballgame.

Tarahumara runner and Ann Trason - 1994 Leadville 100 Mile - feature

A Tarahumara runner (left) and his pacer (right) pass Ann Trason (center) during the 1994 Leadville 100 Mile. We believe the Tarahumara runner is Juan Herrera. Image is a screenshot from the film, “The Leadville Trail 100…Steel Resolve,” Youtube.com/watch?v=FibE562JUnM

Beginning in 1992, American promoters Kitty Williams and Rick Fisher recruited a team of runners from the Copper Canyons in Mexico to run ultramarathons in the U.S. These Tarahumara, known as “the running people,” garnered significant attention when they first arrived in 1992. However, cultural differences as well as other challenges prevented any of them from enjoying the success they hoped for.

But, when they returned in 1993, they were much better prepared and two of them, Victoriano Churro and Cerrildo Chacarito, finished in the top two spots of Leadville. In 1994, Fisher and Williams brought seven Taramuhara to the race with the hope of improving further on those 1993 results.

Cover of Native Peoples magazine

The cover of Native Peoples magazine in the spring of 1994, showing the Tarahumara runners during the 1993 Leadville 100 Mile. We believe Victoriano Churro is in the back and Cerrildo Chacarito is in the front.

Long before the advent of cell phones and social media, the 1994 Leadville attracted significant attention. A large film crew working on a feature-length HBO documentary as well as a Tour de France-style helicopter film team were all on hand to document the Tarahumara and Ann Trason in their journey “Across the Sky.”

From the starting gun, Leadville local Johnny Sandoval burst to the lead. By mile 30, he had a 30-minute lead on the chase group of five Tarahumara and Trason. The chase pack caught Sandoval at the base of Hope Pass and the trio of Juan Herrera, Martimano Cervantez, and Ann Trason took turns in the lead.

By the summit, Ann had put a gap on the others and descended down to Winfield, the 50-mile turnaround of this out-and-back race, in first place. She held onto her lead through the turnaround which she reached in under nine hours, a pace far ahead of what any woman had run at Leadville.

Herrera put a gap on Cervantez and pulled to within a few minutes of Trason by the time they returned to Turquoise Lake with just a half marathon left to run at which time Herrera put in a charge, passed a frustrated Trason, and went on to win in 17:30, a then-course record — Matt Carpenter set the current course record in 2005.

Thirty-six minutes later, Trason came in second overall in a course-record time of 18:06 that still stands today. Only one woman since then, Clare Gallagher in the 2016 Leadville, has finished within an hour of Trason’s incredible time.

When the dust settled on the 1994 Leadville and the spectacle of the Tarahumara combined with the otherworldly performance of Ann Trason truly set in, it was clear to those who were there that day that something extraordinary had happened. It was, by all accounts, truly unforgettable!

Bottoms up!

AJW’s Beer of the Week

Fieldwork Brewing Company Hills & ValleysThis week’s Beer of the Week comes from Fieldwork Brewing Company in Ann Trason’s adopted hometown of Berkeley, California. Known for its “honest beer making,” Fieldwork’s Hills & Valleys American Pilsner is a crisp, refreshing pilsner that partners well with a hot summer day in the Western States canyons or sitting on the Berkeley Waterfront. If you find yourself in the San Francisco Bay Area, be sure to stop by Fieldwork. You will not be disappointed!

Call for Comments

  • Did you spectate the 1994 Leadville 100 Mile or any other ultramarathon in the 1990s at which the Tarahumara competed?
  • What other moments do you think changed the sport of ultrarunning?
Andy Jones-Wilkins

finished in the top 10 men at the Western States 100 7-straight times. He's sponsored by Patagonia and Drymax socks and is iRunFar's editorialist.