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In Memoriam: Ruth Anne Bortz

Ruth Anne Bortz was more than just a runner, though her age-group accomplishments made her one of the country’s finest competitors throughout the final three decades of her life. She was a mother of four, grandmother of nine, and wife to Dr. Walter “Wally” Bortz for 62 years.

And, as was evident for more than 30 years, she and Walter were the drivers – the graceful symbols of aging gracefully – behind the oldest female and male finisher awards presented each year following completion of the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run.

Ruth Anne, 84, with Wally presented the oldest finishers’ awards three weeks ago at Western States’ annual ceremony. She passed away on July 14 at her Portola Valley, Calif., home.

Ruth Anne, Wally, and Gunhild Swanson at the finish of WS.

Ruth Anne, Wally, and Gunhild Swanson at the finish of WS.

She was remembered by longtime Western States board members Mo Livermore and Tony Rossmann as a kind and gentle woman who, despite her 5-foot-2, 100-pound frame, was also a strong, determined runner.

Her Western States legacy, both Rossmann and Livermore agreed, was the pioneering path Ruth Anne blazed, both as a competitor and as inspiration for runners of all ages who run Western States.

“Ruth Anne was an extraordinary presence throughout her life,” Livermore said, noting that Bortz’s 1986 finish at age 56 in the time of 24:34 was one of the Run’s age group highlights. At the time, Bortz became only one of a handful of women over the age of 50 to ever finish the Run. “Ruth Anne’s buckle at Western States meant a great deal to her; the awards, which she and Wally have provided to the oldest finishers over three decades and have served as inspiration to the larger running community, seemed to mean even more. The Bortzes’ loyalty to the WSER has been constant, and the event has been enriched by their enthusiasm.”

Added Rossmann: “Ruth Anne embodies the Western States spirit to us all, and especially to me, who was privileged to train with her in that magical spring and summer of 1986, camping out in Foresthill before the first official Western States official training camps and runs. Although she ended her 1986 campaign as one of the then-oldest women to finish our race, and darned close to the sub-24-hour mark, she was still a young college kid at heart. Her vibrant spirit enriched her marriage to Wally, and enriched us all. We are grateful that Wally will continue to present their awards in the years ahead.”

Ruth Anne excelled at an early age. She grew up in Boston and was a star athlete and president of student government at the Brimmer and May Schools. She was a 1952 graduate of Mt. Holyoke College, marrying Walter Borz in 1953.

The two had met at summer school at Harvard.

Walter Bortz, a world-renowned physician whose research and writing has appeared in all of the major health and medical journals as well as the mainstream media and whose professional mantra has been to dare all to live past 100, wrote in a Huffington Post essay published on July 18 of the couple’s meeting: “We met during college days, summer 1949. I after my second year at Williams, and she after her first year at Mt. Holyoke. We met at Harvard Summer School, romanced, and were affiliated for the next 65 years. Such an experience is for few to experience.”

Added Livermore: “Theirs was a great, lifelong love affair.”

Bortz recalled that his wife, after raising the couple’s children, became enamored with running during the first significant boom of popularity for the sport in the late 1970s. Ruth Anne was 48 years old, and running, her husband recalled warmly, “became the bastion of her life.”

Ruth Anne and Wally ran races all across the globe over the next 30-plus years. Ruth Anne was a first-place age-group finisher at age 60 at the Boston Marathon, and again at age 70, and was the second at age 80.

She was a two-time finisher of Western States; her first finish came in 1984 when she ran 28:11.

In his Huffington Post essay, Wally wrote candidly about Ruth Anne’s ascendancy in the world of running.

“I had begun running as a grief reaction to dad’s death several years before,” he wrote. “She did not really accept my running, and figured that at my age it was not decent to be running around the neighborhood in my underpants. She felt it was inappropriate for a distinguished gray-haired physician to be so much on display. But she became infected with the running bug, and my little, sweet, retiring wife became committed. ‘You can’t do that!’ ‘WATCH!’”

After the couple’s son, Walter III, had finished Western States, it was only a matter of time, the elder Bortz said, before his wife found her way to the starting line at Squaw Valley as well.

“In a flash, it seems, Ruth Anne and we were gathered at the starting line, under the chairlift at Squaw Valley ready to run to Auburn, 100 miles over the mountains,” Wally Bortz wrote. “‘You can’t do that.’ ‘Watch.’ In 1986, at the age of 56 she completed the 100 miles in 24 hours and 34 minutes – truly unreal for my tiny Boston-born bride. Her feats were widely celebrated in the major women’s magazines and every local news outlet – Ruth Anne Bortz, famous long distance runner. MY WIFE.”

In a recent conversation, Wally recalled to friends how much he enjoyed watching his wife run. He said she had the most “lovely” stride – a little knock-kneed, “almost like a fawn” but also determined and efficient.

“Watching her run was one of the great pleasures of my life,” he said. “She was so damn good at it. And she made it look so easy. It was truly lovely to watch her run, to listen to her talk about her training, to help her prepare for her next race. Finishing Western States was one of those milestones that was remarkable – remarkable for Ruth Anne, remarkable for our family, and remarkable for me, too, to see my wife do something that few people in the world can do. From age 48 on, she was the star athlete in our family – and she deserved every accolade she got.”

Bortz added in his essay: “She made her mark, and in so doing gave vivid evidence of the human potential, my mantra.”

Ruth Anne is survived by her husband, Walter; by her daughters Danna Breen of Portola Valley and Gretchen Lieff of Montecito, California; sons Edward Bortz of Portland, Oregon, and Walter Bortz of Ukiah, California; her sister Joan Bryson of Weston, Massachusetts; and nine grandchildren. In lieu of a memorial, Wally Bortz plans to assemble Ruth Anne’s friends and admirers for a group run near their Portola Valley home.

WSER Sponsor Profile: Julbo Eyewear

A favorite of the running community, Julbo Eyewear is synonymous with mountain running. We caught up with runner, climber and CEO of Julbo USA, Nick Yardley in the days leading up to this year’s race.

Julbo has been a sponsor of the WSER for years. Why keep coming back? What about the race compels the brand to be involved?

2015 will be our 3rd year sponsoring the WSER and it started for us after I ran the race in 2012 (finished in 22:56), When I crossed that finish line I just knew that Julbo needed to be part of this wonderful event moving forward; it was one of the most profound and rewarding days of my life. As the granddaddy of all Ultras in the US, the WSER draws an incredibly talented field of top athletes and has a bigger atmosphere than other races. It remains THE race that those new or old to the sport aspire to completing.

The event itself has a wonderful feel, mixing history, welcoming volunteers, great organization, positive energy and terrific scenery. Even the toughest soul will feel the emotion welling up some time over the weekend and the need to shed a tear.

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Nick Yardley at WSER in 2012

You went from mountaineer to ultra runner, talk about the similarities in mountain culture that push each scene and how that culture is present at WSER.

While it may be hard for many who have never climbed to believe, at the core of both sports there is an incredible connection and similarity. The type of climbing I love most is alpine climbing, moving fast and light over mountainous terrain, often for many hours or even days at a time, seeking the zone where mind and body work as one and all else has no meaning.

Ultra running is really the same thing, it’s a beautifully simple sport and the goal is to move light and efficiently through wild terrain in search of that zen spot. As I had less and less time to climb, I needed another outlet. I knew I could suffer for a long time if needed so ultra running seemed like a great opportunity to explore and I’m still at a loss for words at all the wonderful experience and incredible folks the sport has brought me into contact with.

Who are the heavy hitting Julbo athletes taking on WSER? Any race favorites?

Well all the Julbo athletes are my favorites! We are extremely lucky to have some of the very finest athletes in the sport wearing our glasses, I’m going to be rooting hard and loud for every single one and see them all as real contenders.

The well-known names to look out for though are Rob Krar, Stephanie Howe, Ian Sharman, Gina Lucrezi, Dylan Bowman, Denise Bourassa, and Mike Wardian.

Julbo pushes the technical aspect of product. Anything this year that’s tailor made for the WSER?

It looks like it’s going to be a mother of a hot race this year, sun protection is going to be really key to success. Runners are going to be wanting well vented glasses with lenses that they can wear slogging up the escarpment at the start of the race and down the through the heat of the canyons where you’re constantly popping in and out of the shade I think the Zebra lens is likely to be the model most popular in the Venturi frame – but I do know some folks will be cruising in their vintage Megeve’s and getting style points.

Anything to add?

As a running community we’re lucky to have such a great event to aspire to. We all owe a debt of gratitude to Craig Thornley (RD) the board and all the volunteers that make it possible.
Julbo_2012

Jerry Gordon 1937-2015

Jerry Gordon, Michigan Bluff aid station captain, passes away at age 78

Jerry Gordon, for 25 years the aid station captain at Michigan Bluff, passed away on June 21. He was 78.

For many, Jerry will be remembered for the wit, wisdom and warmth he provided at the Michigan Bluff aid station from 1983-2007.

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Jerry and Norma Gordon

John Medinger, Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run Board of Trustees member and past president, recalled on Monday Jerry’s smile and sense of humor whenever the two men crossed paths.

“We were always very jocular with each other,” Medinger said. “For the several years I was president of Western States, I would usually go to Michigan Bluff during the race. Jerry would invariably come up to me and say, ‘I hope you’re not here to tell me what to do. This is my aid station. I’m in charge here.’ And I would always respond, ‘Don’t kid yourself, Jerry. Norma (Jerry’s wife) is in charge here.’”

Medinger added: “There would be laughter all around, much clapping on shoulders. It was so predictable that I’d see him sometimes on training runs from the Bluff and ask him if he was in charge today and, if so, was it ok if I ran to Last Chance and back? … Jerry was simply a great guy. He loved Western States, everything about it, everyone involved in it.”

Outpouring of sentiment regarding Jerry’s passing was heartfelt on social media, as dozens of his friends and acquaintances – many of them from past Western States – recalled how his presence at Michigan Bluff made a profound difference for them.

Fourteen-time Western States women’s champion Ann Trason wrote:

“Sadly, Jerry Gordon (Aid Station Co-captain) of Michigan Bluff Aid Station for over 25 years, passed away today. He was born May 28th, 1937. Proud father, Grandfather and great Grandfather, husband of Norma Gordon and wonderful friend to so many runners of the Western States Run and Trail. Built his home himself, at Michigan Bluff, over 25 years ago. … You will be missed Jerry, and thank you for your support the 16 years I passed through Michigan Bluff during the race and for those last 10 years, you were my neighbor.”

Craig Thornley, race director of Western States who, along with a group of runners from Oregon and northern California trained and vacationed at Michigan Bluff for many years, remembered the painstaking attention to detail that Jerry brought to his duties at Michigan Bluf: “One story I remember him telling us was that he had figured out the perfect soup for the aid station was ‘Campbell’s Chicken and Stars’ because the noodles were small enough that runners could actually drink the soup from a cup. The longer noodles required a spoon or were otherwise too difficult to drink. Jerry was a big joke-teller, too. He was a great guy. We are really going to miss seeing him at Michigan Bluff on race day. For many of the runners who go out on training weekends in the winter and spring and pass through Michigan Bluff, I know the experience without seeing Jerry there will never quite be the same again. He helped all runners, all the time. He always loved talking to the people who were out on the Trail.”

Details regarding a memorial service and other next of kin are still forthcoming. Trason said she will have a card for Norma and Jerry’s family for all members of the WS community to sign at Squaw Valley this week, available at the UltraRunning tent. She will also have a card at Michigan Bluff for all to sign at Michigan Bluff on race day.

Jerry Gordon at Michigan Bluff

ARC Granite Chief Fundraising Update

Dear Western States stakeholder,

It has been a few months since our last update regarding the Granite Chief fundraising campaign that Western States embarked upon last fall with the Western States Trail Foundation (“The Tevis Cup”) and the American River Conservancy.

Here is the latest news:

Western States has successfully met its fundraising goal of $50,000. Your contributions, matched by the Western States trustees from our reserves created for purposes just as this most vital one, produces a total Run community support exceeding $100,000. Thanks to all of you for the generosity and interest you’ve shown in this effort. Your support is yet another example of the wonderful community and truly remarkable spirit that envelops all aspects of the WS 100.

According to the American River Conservancy, about $7.5 million of the overall fundraising goal of nearly $11 million needed for the Granite Chief acquisition has been achieved. The project’s deadline (escrow closure with the present owner) has been extended until July 31, which will allow ARC to complete the effort toward its fundraising goal. The ARC is now partnering with the Northern Sierra Partnership, of Palo Alto, Calif., and the Nature Conservancy, to advance the project, which we hope to achieve by the end of July.

On behalf of the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run Board of Trustees, thank you again for your generosity in helping move this important initiative forward. We will of course continue to keep you advised of further developments.

Sincerely,

John Trent
President
Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run Board of Trustees

2014 Runner Survey Results

Here are the results of the independent WSER Runner Survey from the June 28-29, 2014 race, conducted by ultralive.net.

All runners have to go through check-in the day before the race in Squaw Valley and we positioned the survey team at the end of the process: right after the “mug” shot and right in front of the entrance to the Western States store. Participation was very good (93% of starters) and we were able to correlate the data to finish times to make the analysis even more interesting.

Survey Questions

The runners were asked the following questions:

  • Number of 100’s started
  • Number of 100’s completed
  • Number of WSER started
  • Number of WSER completed
  • Number of years running ultras
  • Crew and Crew Size
  • Will they use a pacer?
  • Did they attend the Memorial weekend training camp
  • Shoe/Sock brand
  • Lighting system and brand
  • Hydration system

For 2014 edition of the WSER, there were 376 official starters, 296 finishers (78.7%) in under 30 hours with 129 finishing (34.3%) under 24 hours for the coveted Silver Buckle.

The survey had 352 participants (93% of the entrants) including nearly all of the elite runners. Of the survey participants 276 finished (78.4%) and 116 finished in under 24 hours (32.9%).

Finish Hour

For sub 24 hour finishers, 37 out of 116 (31.8%) finished in the 23rd hour of the race to get a silver buckle. In the last two hours of the race, there were 75 (27.2%) finishers. The busiest times on the track are between 4-5 AM and 9-11 AM on Sunday morning.  The graphs show the distribution of finishers by hour (14 hours to 29 hours). The first graph shows the average number of years running ultras compared to finishing time. The data implies that the number of years of experience does not correlate to a faster or slower finish time. The second graph shows the number of runners utilizing a crew or pacer compared to finishing time. Basically everyone uses a crew and pacer and the numbers correlate directly with the number of finishes in a given hour.  Of the survey participants, 22 finished without a crew (7.9%) and 27 finished without a pacer (9.7%). And 10 (3.6%) hardcore participants finished without a crew and pacer.

survey_2014_finish_years

survey_2014_finish_crew_pacer

 

Shoes

Hoka was the dominant shoe for all finishers regardless of the group. Of note, Brooks was a strong second when you look at all finishers but not a big contender for the sub 24 group. Pearl Izumi was in the top 3 for both groups of finishers.

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survey_2014_shoes_24

Socks

Injinji was the clear choice for both the overall and sub 24 groups. Drymax was second in both groups as well. Nearly half the finishers wore these two types of socks.

survey_2014_socks

survey_2014_socks_24

Training Style

Either you don’t need a coach to finish WSER or there is a huge untapped market out there for the coaches. You decide. With or without a coach your chances of a sub-24 and finishing are about the same.

survey_2014_training

survey_2014_training_24

Lighting

Petzl is the clear leader with Black Diamond a strong second. Almost everyone uses some kind of headlamp and about a quarter of the finishers use both a handheld and headlamp.

The first 9 finishers of the race didn’t need a headlamp as it wasn’t dark enough yet. M10 was the first “headlamp” finish.

The winner, Rob Krar, didn’t even pack a headlamp. Go big or go home.

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survey_2014_lighting_24

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Hydration

Bottles are the predominant mode of hydration in the race. Nearly three-quarters of finishers (overall and sub 24) use a bottle. It seems that the hydration belt is definitely out of favor these days when you have such a large selection of hand held bottles and/or hydration packs to choose from for carrying liquids.

survey_2014_hydration

survey_2014_hydration_24

Data Accuracy

  • 376 Runners Started the 2014 Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run
  • Ultralive.net Team surveyed a majority of those runners through the registration process at Squaw
  • 12 responses were removed due to data capture error (6 bib numbers had two rows of data with different responses, attributed to misreading Excel line number line instead of bib number)
  • Final survey reflects N = 352 athletes though individual questions may vary if athlete did not answer or know answer
  • Most graphs reflect data from the group of athletes who completed the race (276 in the survey finished)

 

Credits

Many thanks to the ultralive.net survey team: Kara Teklinski, Monique Winkler and Dana Katz.

Final statistics compiled by Kara Teklinski and Ted Knudsen.