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Western States pioneers are still running strong

By: Kylea Scott, Journal correspondent
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The Western States 100-mile Endurance Run began in 1974, when Gordon Ainsleigh attempted and succeeded to complete the course on foot. About half-way through the race, Ainsleigh said he decided he would quit. His friend, Diane Marquard, was racing her horse on the trail. When Ainsleigh told her he wanted to quit, she fed him salt tablets and water. In about 30 minutes, he was ready to continue, he said. According to Ainsleigh, it was 107 degrees that day, and he was extremely overheated. ?I owe that finish to Diane,? he said. The 39th annual Western States 100-Miles Endurance Run begins this Saturday, June 23 at 5 a.m. The run is scheduled to take place along the Western States Trail starting in Squaw Valley and ending in Auburn, totaling 100 miles. Ainsleigh and Ken Shirk AKA ?Cowman A-Moo-Ha,? have both been racing the WS100 since the mid-1970?s, and they are both entered in this year?s race. Shirk completed the race in 1976, just two year?s after Ainsleigh. Shirk finished the race in 24.5 hours. ?I could?ve done it faster, if I knew the track better,? he said. On his first attempt, Ainsleigh finished the race in 23 hours and 47 minutes, he said. Shirk is well known for wearing his bull-horn helmet at the start of each race. The Cowman image was born when he decided to go streaking through Tahoe City wearing nothing but the helmet, according to Shirk. ?I like doing creative things,? he said. Shirk now lives on the Big Island of Hawaii. He is the only man from Hawaii participating in this event, and he is proud to be representing Hawaiians, according to Shirk. Ainsleigh is proud to feel responsible for the popularity increase of trail ultra running. ?When I first started this, it was considered horrendously abnormal. Now there are so many people that want to do it,? Ainsleigh said. Shirk and Ainsliegh have ran together several times. ?We were very similar in size and speed. We were so similar in ability that our paces would put us together,? Ainsleigh said. ?One year,? Shirk recalled, ?we ran together and finished together, but the last few years, Gordy?s been stronger. We start together but he pulls ahead.? Shirk?s advice to first time participants in the WS100 is to know the trail, and to do as much research as possible. ?Your life is more important than trying to finish the race, be patient, know yourself, and your limits,? he said. Ainsleigh?s advice is to walk the up-hill sections. ?You should always feel like you?re loafing a little. If you feel like you?re not loafing, you?re probably going too fast,? he said.