Western States pioneer wants back on the trail

Community Portrait
By: Michael Kirby
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It’s been a long time coming but Andy Gonzales is on the comeback trail. In 1977, running in a borrowed pair waffle-soled Nikes, Gonzales was one of the pioneers of the Western States Endurance Run and first back-to-back winner. He’s not a household name in endurance circles, and you won’t find him mentioned with well-known WS 100 names like Ainsleigh, Twietmeyer, or Trason, but Gonzales holds his own special place in Western States folklore. A resident of Colfax since age 15, Gonzales, a 1973 Colfax High School grad, did little or no running in high school, opting instead for a place on the Falcon’s football team roster. It wasn’t until Gonzales joined the U.S. Navy after high school that he would make running a major part of his life. “A buddy on the ship invited me to go on a 10- mile run while in Italy and I just really enjoyed it,” said Gonzales. “I just loved long-distance running, and it became a passion.” Back stateside in 1976, Gonzales ran cross-country for Sierra College and his team took state honors that year. In 1977, while starting on a run down the Stevens Trail in Colfax, a canyon fire sidelined his plans. Choosing to run instead down Placer Hills Road to Meadow Vista, Gonzales had a chance meeting with friend Gordon Ainsleigh who invited him to participate in a run the next day, a newly founded 100-mile run from Squaw Valley to Auburn. Gonzales agreed to be at the start line at 5 the next morning. In 1977 the brave souls attempting this run still ran with the Tevis Cup, a horse ride started in 1955 on the 100-mile historic trail through the American River canyons ending in Auburn. In 1977 forget about special shoes or running clothes or information on running distances of this length. “I remember someone gave me a plastic bottle and I drank out of the stream,” Gonzales said. “There was little help on the trail and I got lost for about an hour that first year.” No special foods or energy drinks, no pacers, just runners, the trail and the newly found truth that a human could actually run 100 miles in less than 24 hours. The then 22-year-old Gonzales was the first of only three runners to finish the run out of a field of 16, and his time of 22.57 was unthinkable. In 1978 Gonzales was again at the start line in Squaw Valley, only the race was moved to June and newly named the Western States Endurance Run. With publicity, the run attracted 63 runners and aid stations were established to help with medical and nourishment needs. Gonzales again blazed the trail and finished in a time of 18:50, shaving nearly four hours off his 1977 time and setting a new course record. Fast-forward to today and you’ll find Gonzales intrigued by the idea of running the WS 100 again. Recently losing 57 pounds and looking to shed another 30, Gonzales believes he can revisit the Western States at age 54. “I’m training for the 2010 race and would like to try the run again,” said Gonzales. “You know what, I’m happy with what I did, even if I don’t run it again, and my dreams since then are about running on a long trail.”