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The Western States 100

'On Saturday 23rd June, some of the best ultrarunners in the world lined up in Squaw Valley, California, for the start of the Western States 100. Those who finished, will have climbed more than 17,000 feet, descended more than 22,000 feet, with at least some moments on relatively flat ground as they ran, walked, or crawled in the summer heat over the course of 100.2 miles to Auburn, California. It all started as a horse race, but in 1974 a guy named Gordy Ainsleigh decided to see if he could run with the animals. Below is an excerpt of his account.

As I jogged onto the wooden suspension bridge that crosses the beautiful North Middle Fork of the American River, I saw a group of riders downstream struggling desperately with a grey horse that had collapsed and was lying limply in the water. I backtracked and went down the steep trail to the water to help them drag the horse into the shallows where it wouldn't drown. My body was failing me, my legs were going into spasms and giving out. But we got the horse as far into the shallows as we could. I staggered and clawed my way back up to the bridge-crossing and started up the long, slow, humid, and steepest climb into Devil's Thumb. As I climbed, I continued to dwell on what I had just seen. That horse was obviously dying and would never leave the canyon alive. 

I later found out that, even with the rescue efforts of a gutsy veterinarian who ran in on foot, the grey horse died early the next morning in the bottom of the canyon. 

My mind kept dwelling on the grey horse as I climbed, and my brain was so sluggish that I was halfway up the canyon before I suddenly realized what the implications of that horse dying meant for my prospects of survival. In spite of the hellish heat of the day, I felt a chill go through my heart and guts. If the horses were dying out here today, then the much less genetically appropriate human was definitely at risk of dying. Up to that point, the question had always been whether I would make it or not, but I had never thought—and nobody had ever mentioned—that I might die out there on the trail from trying.'


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