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.

2015 Race Recap

2015 Western States 100, June 27-28, 2015

Krar repeats, Boulet makes smashing debut … but Swanson steals the show 371 starters and 254 finishers – 68.5%

Rob Krar defended the men’s title with one of the most memorable runs on record, finishing in 14:48:59 after breaking the race open with a dramatic move from Michigan Bluff. Krar was only two minutes behind Timothy Olson’s course record on a day when temperatures were warm from the start and reached well into the 90s at the river crossing. Magdalena Boulet, 41, of Oakland, Calif., and a 2008 U.S. Olympic marathoner, rebounded from a wrong turn not long after the Robinson Flat aid station to win the women’s race in her WS 100 debut in 19:05. And yet, it was the Run’s final moments that captured the attention of all. First, with a little less than four minutes to spare before the 30-hour cutoff, the Run’s youngest female finisher, Katie Trent, 22, of Reno, Nev., finished. Youth had been served, but age had yet to be fully recognized. Gunhild Swanson, 70, of Spokane Valley, Wash., was vying to become the first over-70 female to ever finish the race. Swanson, who was joined over the final mile by several friends and supporters, including Krar, who had run stride-for-stride with Swanson in his flip-flops once Swanson had cleared the final Robie Point aid station, entered the track with a little less than two minutes to spare. The sun-baked Placer High crowd then rose to its feet as Swanson had less than 50 meters to go. With the fevered cheering of the crowd reaching an absolute, chaotic and magical crescendo, Swanson determinedly rushed across the finish line in the history-making, age-defying time of 29:59:54, which then sent the crowd into utter pandemonium. The race’s 254th and final finisher had not only made race history, she had stolen the show in what observer called, “our finest hour … ever.”

Full Results

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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.
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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

2015 Ultra-Trail World Tour Press Conference

MEDIA ALERT

CONTACT: John Trent, media relations, (775) 842-4871, president@wser.org

WESTERN STATES 100, ULTRA-TRAIL WORLD TOUR, TO HOLD PRESS CONFERENCE, FRIDAY, JUNE 26

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AUBURN, Calif. – Media are invited to attend a joint press conference, sponsored by the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run and representatives of the Ultra-Trail World Tour (UTWT) on Friday, June, 26 in Squaw Valley, Calif.

The event will begin at 2:30 p.m. and will be held at the Squaw Valley Conference Center.

Several of the world’s finest ultra runners, along with representatives from the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run, UTWT, and WS 100 Presenting Sponsor Montrail will be on hand to discuss this year’s Western States 100-Miler, the UTWT, and the future of the UTWT — series of 11 races held throughout the world with rankings for runners of all abilities who finish the races. Topher Gaylord, President of Mountain Hardwear, Inc., and a longtime WS veteran who has been one of the sport’s thought leaders for more than two decades, will lead the proceedings.

Western States is the only North American stop for the UTWT.

WHAT: Press conference, “State of the Sport,” sponsored by WS 100 and UTWT.

WHERE: Squaw Valley Conference Center, Squaw Valley, Calif.

WHEN: 2:30 p.m., Friday, June 26.