There was a time, not even all that long ago, when women weren’t allowed to run marathons. Some people (read: men afraid of being defeated by a woman) got the asinine notion that women had bodies that were ‘too fragile’ to run that kind of distance and it could permanently damage their muscles or reproductive organs. Silly? Of course. Stupid? Yes, that too. Times have changed, to say the least. Not only do women of all ages and fitness levels run marathons for fun, but there is a growing number of women who have taken on the ultrarunning world are doing more than just surviving – they are kicking ass – male and female alike.
Ultrarunning women should never be talked about without mention of Ann Trason. This woman was entering – and winning – ultras long before most people even knew they existed. Trason regular beat out the entire field in whatever race she entered. She’s won the female division of the largest and most prestigious ultramarathon in the U.S., the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run, ten times, and she was only beat by one man in two of those races. As if that’s not enough, two of those ten wins were also within a week of also winning the well-known Commrades 56-mile run in South Africa.
Trason’s name become widely recognized outside of the ultrarunning world in 2009, when she was featured in a chapter of Christopher McDougall’s bestselling book Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen, when she raced in the Leadville Trail 100-Miler. Although McDougall certainly characterized Trason as confident to the point of perhaps being arrogant (and, whether that’s true or not, if she hasn’t earned the right to be, who the heck has?!), Trason’s fortitude, grit, and focus while running was expertly portrayed and impossible for readers to miss. The world was finally introduced to a female hero who was truly walking among us virtually unknown to most. Ann Trason is, without competition, the godmother of female ultrarunning.
Now 52, Reed astonished the running world when she became the first woman to win the Badwater Ultramarathon, which runs through Death Valley, Arizona in temperatures averaging 120 degree, in 2002. She wasn’t just the first female finisher. She was the first overall finisher. To hit the point home a little farther, it should be noted that famous ultramarathoner Dean Karnazes was also racing that year – and he lost to this tiny 100-pound mother of five. Proving it was no fluke, Reed defended her title the following year.
Also in 2003, Reed set the women’s record for the USATF 24-hour track run with 138.96 miles. That record still stands today, 10 years later. She’s also completed a 300-mile run without sleep, and is the current American record holder in six-day marathons, completing 490 miles. Oh, and she’s completed twenty Ironman triathlons. Twenty! In all honesty, the list goes on for quite some time, but does it really need to? If any women out there are looking for a badass to idolize, look no further.
Although Shelton’s been an impressive powerhouse in ultrarunning for a while now, she was also introduced to the world through the book Born to Run. In the book, McDougall played up Shelton’s youth (she was still 21 in the book), pretty looks and ability to drink more than most men. McDougall frequently described Shelton’s ability to outrun most of those men she out drank 12 hours earlier. Although Shelton has admitted that she isn’t exactly thrilled with the doll-faced badass title she was given, she also doesn’t deny it.
However Shelton may prefer to be described, she is certainly one of the top female ultrarunners in the world today. She still holds the record for the fastest 100-miler run by a female on trails. Ever.
Only turning 30 this year and entering the decade most women hit their running peak, Shelton has already won multiple well-known 50 and 100-mile races with no coach, no pacers, and, really, no racing strategy. Now that she’s declared she’s matured and is ready to approach running more seriously, all we can do it wait and see what amazing feats she will accomplish. If anyone has it in her to run down Trason and Reed’s records, it’s Shelton.