Three Outstanding Female Faces of Ultrarunning

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.


Ann Trason

Ann Tra­son
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.


Pam ReedPam Reed
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.


Jenn SheltonJenn Shel­ton
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.