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How it All Began

In 1955, the late Wendell T. Robie with five horsemen rode the Western States Trail from the post office in Tahoe City to Auburn, proving that horses could cover 100 miles in one day. Through the energy and vision of Robie, the Western States Trail Foundation was established, along with the Western States Trail Ride, also known as the Tevis Cup.

Wendell Robie during an early Tevis Ride

In 1972, a group of 20 U.S. Army infantrymen attempted to hike the trail nonstop, starting one day ahead of the Tevis Cup ride on July 28. The members of the 6th Battalion of the 67th Air Defense Artillery Regiment at Ft. Riley, Kansas, were guided by local horseman Jim Larimer. Seven of the soldiers completed the distance on foot in under 48 hours and were recognized for completing what the Aug. 3, 1972 Auburn Journal reported was the first “Auburn Endurance March.” The seven soldiers were: Larry Hall, Michael Paduano, Gregory Belgarde, Kenneth Kruzel, David Lenau, Jon Johanson and Mike Savage.

In 1974, with the inspiration and encouragement of Drucilla Barner, the first woman to win the Tevis Cup and Secretary of the WSTF, Tevis veteran Gordy Ainsleigh joined the horses of the Western States Trail Ride to see if he could complete the course on foot, running the majority of the way. Twenty-hours and forty-two minutes later Gordy arrived in Auburn, proving that a runner could indeed run the entire trail within the 24-hour time limit of the Tevis Cup.

In 1975, a second runner, Ron Kelley, attempted to the same feat, only to withdraw within about three miles of the finish with ample time remaining.

In 1976, Ken “Cowman” Shirk completed the distance, though just about 30 minutes over the 24-hour mark.

In 1977, 14 men from four states participated in the 1st official Western States Endurance Run, which was held in conjunction with the Tevis Cup Ride. Runners were monitored by Dr. Bob Lind at the three veterinary stops set up for the horses, and although the race organization transported the entrants gear, runners were responsible for producing all of their own supplies, except water. Three runners finished the course: Andy Gonzales, age 22, in the record-breaking time of 22:57, and Peter Mattei and Ralph Paffenbarger, ages 53 and 54, who tied in 28:36 (and the 30-hour award was born!).

In the fall of 1977, the Board of Directors for the Western States Endurance Run was formed as part of the Western States Trail Foundation. It was made up primarily of the handful of runners and riders who had helped monitor the progress of the 14 pioneers earlier that summer. The Run organization later became its own entity and is now known as the Western States Endurance Run Foundation.

1978 heralded a dramatic increase in both interest and participation in the Western States Run. Culminating a year-long effort by the inspired Gang of Four (Phil Gardner, Mo Livermore, Shannon Weil, and Curt Sproul) to create an independent event, the race took place in June, a month earlier than the Tevis Cup Ride. The event mushroomed to include 21 aid stations and six medical checks, thanks to an ever-growing corps of loyal volunteers and the support of the Placer County Sheriff ‘s Communications Reserve and the Search and Rescue Unit. 63 adventurers ran the race, and the first woman, Pat Smythe, finished in 29:34.

No Hands bridge circa 1970

In 1979, 143 runners from 21 states and three foreign countries attempted the course. Since then, interest in the Run has continued to grow – with demand far exceeding the 369 entrants allowed each year.  Today, athletes from across the nation and around the globe arrive in Olympic Valley on the last weekend in June to share in what for many is a once-in-a-lifetime experience of running Western States.