Did you know that the Western States 100-mile trail run, one of the world’s most famous ultramarathons, was formerly a horse race? Known as the Western States Trail Ride (and also the Tevis Cup), it had been more of a torture fest for the horses than the riders until 1974, when a rider with a lame horse approached the race director 10 minutes before the start and said, “Well, I guess I’ll head out now.” As he later recounted in a story for Marathon & Beyond, rider Gordon Ainsleigh wrote: “As the daylight of Aug. 3 dawned and the morning wore on, I shared the trail with my favorite people and their magnificent beasts. I ran with exuberance and vigor, occasionally racing with the horses, happy to be alive and still part of it all (even though horselessly).”
Ainsleigh’s joyous description of running on the trail was not in sync with a running boom, but in recent years trail running has become the ultimate escape for runners weary of civilization and hungry for fresh adventures. With Xterra trail races to mountain ultra events to mud-run style obstacle courses, there’s no shortage of opportunity for modern day runners to take their sport off road.
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