A few months after the 1988 running schedule ended, we heard of a bid available for a national championship of 24-hours. Our organization possessed the necessary qualifications to host such a race, and considering the success of the 1000 Mile IAU Championship the previous May and June, the Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team was awarded the 1989 TAC USA national 24-Hour Championship. A warm up to that event would be the USA 100-Mile National Championship, which we also acquired for 1989, which turned out to be an amazing race. The winner in that event set a national record that, in hindsight lasted nearly 25 years. We hoped the 24-Hour a few months later would be as successful and as interesting. We had no idea what was in store!
With the fantastic results of the 1000-mile race of the year before, and the amazing competition of the 100 Mile Championship just five months earlier, expectations were high for the US championship 24-Hour. The event was held on September 16-17, 1989 at Flushing Meadows Park, with runners from 17 states primed to test their abilities for a full day. We had organized runner accommodations and elite housing for the top participants, as well as coordinated traditional national championship protocols with USA TAC officials, some who came for the start and others for the finale and awards ceremony.
The field included some of the best 100 mile and 24-hour athletes of that time, many who held course and national records for various distances, as well trail champions coming back to the road for a race. Scott DeMaree ,38, from Colorado Springs, CO, was one of the fastest men in the field, having won both trail and track races. He won an indoor 24-hour race with 140 miles, the most ever undercover. Tom Possert, 26, Brownsville, Indiana was the winner of the Alaska Challenge (over 140 miles) earlier in the year, as well as a 13:44 100-mile racer, finishing third overall in the national championship. Ray Krolewicz, 33, Pontiac, South Carolina, had run 100 miles in early 1988 in 13:58, and even amassed 514 miles in the Sri Chinmoy 700 Mile race in 1987. Floridian Sue Ellen Trapp, 43, was in the field as an age-group record holder for 100 km, 100 miles and 24-hours. Don Jewell, two-time winner of our 24-hour race, with a best of 145 miles, was ready at the line.
Perhaps the most decorated runner was Ann Trason, the lithe, fast, scientist and lab technician, sub-2:40 marathoner turned Ultra Queen. Ann had set course records at American River (50 miles), Western States (100 miles) and had won a world-class 100km race in world record time (7:30:49). She was coming to her first national championship 24-hour event not only as a favorite for the ladies title, but as a player in the overall competition. She held the fastest time for 100 miles by a lady- 14:29:01.
When the horn sounded to start the race, the 47 athletes moved forward at 8:00am under the watchful gaze of other athletes, helpers, and of course, the ‘runner-legend’ Ted Corbitt, and our own Sri Chinmoy, who had offered a most important moment of silent meditation. A pack of six runners took it out fast, led by Ray Krolewicz’ burst, but the most obvious front-runner was Ann Trason. The early morning chill gave way to late morning warmth, much like a typical California day.
Cloudy skies gave way to a rain shower just after Ann Trason went through the 50-mile split (6:19:35). The closest challenger to the lead was Don Fries, 42, from Doylestown,PA (6:37:43) and Ray K (6:39:48). The other two favorites Scott DeMaree and Tom Possert were 15 minutes back, eager to see if the speed of Trason was a ‘crash and burn’ effort. Ann held her form through 100 km (7:57:05), a full 40 minutes ahead of Fries, and an hour ahead Ray K. By this time DeMaree and Possert pulled ahead of Krolewicz, and set their sights on the overall leader. Ann Trason stopped briefly after 75 miles, changing clothes and searching for energy to maintain speed towards the 100-mile mark looming ahead. She was on record pace then, with a shot at sub-14:00 if her pace stayed firm. With intense determination and the inspired help from her boyfriend-soon to be husband Carl, she crested the 100-mile mark in a new absolute women’s world best of 13:55:02, the first female to go under the 14-hour barrier. She also set a women’s world best for 12-hours- 88 miles.
After a break Ann Trason continued on to the 200km mark (19:22:05), which was another world best. Here the weather turned sour- for the next three hours heavy thundershowers and deluges flooded the course in places and chilled her and the other runners for nearly three hours. She had intestinal issues, had dry heaves, and showed dehydration symptoms. After wrestling with her own discomforts she continued on, hoping to hold off the furious attempts by Scott DeMaree and Tom Possert to catch her. Sue Ellen Trapp had caught fire the last several hours of the race, moving from 10th overall up to fourth, after having set an age-group 40-44 best of 16:04:21 for 100 miles.
The last two or three hours were dry and rain free, and as is typical in a 24-hour, everyone still standing picked it up and ran faster. The energy of the remaining runners probably helped Ann Trason. She was focused on getting to the line for the most miles, and no one could stop her.
When the horn sounded and the athletes slumped beyond the finish line, in their own tracks of toil and tears, the unthinkable had taken place. Ann Trason, the premier female ultra-runner, had won the Sri Chinmoy/ USA TAC National Championship 24-Hour with 143 miles 139 meters, setting new American women’s marks for 24-hours, new world women’s marks for 100 miles, 200 km, and 12 hours, and besting one of the fastest and strongest fields of male runners in the history of 24 hour races. Scott DeMaree outsprinted Tom Possert by 710 meters in the final seconds, as both men went past 139 miles. Sue Ellen Trapp cruised to fourth place with 136 miles 1385 meters to claim a new masters record. In all, 20 runners crested 100 miles in a tough competition with much pressure and attention throughout the running community, not to mention the heavy rains at times.
It was our last foray into hosting national championships in New York. Yet the ultra world, not only in the USA but Europe, Canada, and Australia was showing the world in general that athletes were not only discovering new potential, but showing us that racing for a day or more was now becoming a viable sport, with great athletes from both genders. Ann Trason limped to the award ceremony. She had won everyone’s heart.