Nathan Whiting, who ran in the historic 24 Hour Race in 1989 (and completed 107 miles), puts Ann Trason’s victory in context with the prevailing views of the running community during the 1980s.
Whiting, Nathan. “From the Big Apple: Women Who Win." September 1989. Reprinted with permission from the author.
"In January of 1981 Sue Ellen Trapp won a 100 kilometer race in Miami with a time of 8:05:26, beating the first man by over 50 minutes and setting a new American women’s record. Her record was soon broken, but the event was memorable. Those of us who heard took notice. Women were relatively new to distance running, but were asserting themselves. Feminists in New York, who I passed on this information to, were excited and proud. A myth of male dominance was being threatened. We had known that elite women had times capable of winning some local races...From time to time women have continued to win races, but two recent, local events have definitely proven women can reach men’s level.
This year’s TAC 24 Hour National Championship, sponsored by Sri Chinmoy, certainly couldn’t be said to have a weak field. Four men who had gone over 140 miles were present, plus two other sub 14 hour 100 milers. Add three of four more 130+ mile 24 hour runners and you have a formidable crowd. Yet, on a day of uneven weather featuring many kinds of rain, Ann Trason won by four miles. It wasn’t many hours before none were able to challenge her fluid, unyielding motion. Her statement was only beginning. We assume male athletes beat females. Women are told they are weaker. Don’t compete. America’s salary structure and other institutions depend on this belief. Imagine a woman hitting 50 home runs in the major leagues or gaining 100 to yards to lead an NFL team to a big win. This is the order of Ann Trason’s achievement.
What is a hero? A fast, well trained center fielder makes a diving catch in a World Series. He is paid $2 million to do this. Boys remember the catch into old age. A TV camera shows his face close up in slow motion register pain as he strikes the ground, then a brief grimace before he rises jubilantly with the ball. A telephoto lens captures a wide receiver reaching a ball the moment he is hit. We are impressed. At 13 hours, 55 minutes Ann set the women’s world record for 100 miles, an exhausting effort of great efficiency and concentration. We would have understood her entering intensive care for some rest. She kept going. She still had a national championship to win. For the remaining 10 hours she averaged 4.3 miles an hour to reach 143 miles. If you don’t think that’s a lot you have never run a 24 hour race. With 9 hours to go she gasped in a whisper, as if by a wind blown though her, ‘it’s hard’. The echo seemed to cover all of New York City ‘please stop’. She defeated it. Imagine the outfielder sliding across the turf for 10 hours. What camera angle, what trick of slow-motion or sensitive fast-motion could possibly reveal her glory of pain and courage torn apart and reassembled too tightly around exhausted, nauseous gut? None has been invented. We had thunderstorms for three hours that forced half the field including Ray Krolewicz, muscular veteran of over 70 100 mile runs, to shelter. She continued like a light ghost. The world could not feel her weight, but each of her steps pushed the world’s entire mass. I do not wish to repeat how much ultra running needs better publicity but Ann Trason’s run must not be kept a secret.
What were Scott DeMaree and Tom Possert, the top two men doing? Making a hopeless charge? Feeling bitter and humiliated? Of course not. They are very civilized men in a very civilized sport. They ran and walked lyrically together the last few hours, now and then looking over their shoulders to avoid being overtaken by Sue Ellen Trapp. Now 43, modest, smiling into the endless unknown of a hard night, her thin, long legs matched their thin, long legs to finish a strong, close 4th.
Photo: "It was a hard race, well fought...Scott DeMaree (2nd from left), the new Men's USA/TAC 24 Hour Champion, and 2nd place men's winner Tom Possert (r) finally get to sit! Photo: Adarini.
The other race I won’t forget is Christine Avin’s victory in the Joe Kleinerman 12 hour Run, over a year ago in July. At least four of the men had run over 80 miles in 12 hours, but steamy, 96 degrees heat made that distance unlikely for anyone. Chris Avin, while one of the best local ultra women, was not the elite, world class runner Ann Trason is. She was not even the woman’s favorite; that honor going to the faster Christine Gibbons. What was impressive was that she was closely challenged by a strong male and able to beat him. As the morning temperature rose Chris took care of herself, painting on water with sponges, drinking, and keeping a light, even pace. She quietly took the lead. (12 hour races tend to be quiet and dignified.) Only Frank DeLeo (America’s 5th fastest 100 miler in 1988) was able to keep close. By the last hour they were together, taking a rest before the struggle to the finish perhaps, but also testing each other, looking for the advantage. Chris did not decide that this is a man, he has more muscle, he has some right to win. She simply picked her lighter knees up a little higher and outsprinted him, winning by 40 yards, a mere 100 yards from 80 miles. Chris Gibbons finished 5th. I suppose in a city where a million women compete every day in the male dominated offices, her victory was merely another event in the struggle of modern life, or perhaps the men who rule on legends didn’t think it was important. At least it went unnoticed. It is also unforgettable. Frank DeLeo was criticized for letting a woman beat him. No other man was within 9 miles of him. I think he ran as hard as he could. It is a new year.
In these two races women comprised between an 8th and an 11th of the field, which is typical of the sport. I don’t know what would happen if women became interested in long distances in large numbers. I have noticed well trained women do better in hard weather, surviving cold with wise clothing (and a little body fat?), overcoming heat with patience (and less body mass?). I do know I am very humbled by these achievements. It is the best thing that can happen to me.”
Photo: Sue Ellen Trapp (l), Neil Weygandt (c), and Ann Trason (r). Photo: Adarini.