Without Gordy Ainsleigh, none of us would be here.
The 2011 GORE-TEX™ TransRockies Run, like all long-distance trail events, owes its existence to the towering, spectacularly bearded presence of a man named Gordy Ainsleigh, who strolled to the starting line this morning as part of the two-man Team California Old Goats, partnering with five-time participant Doug Malewicki.
I was introduced to him last night at the pre-race meeting, and to a trail runner, getting introduced to Ainsleigh is like a hoopster shaking hands with Mr. Naismith. Pale-eyed, strapping and mischievous, Ainsleigh is used to the reaction of people like me, who stammer, “GORDY Ainsleigh? You’re…that Gordy Ainsleigh?”
For those unfamiliar with the founding mythology of ultra-running, it was in 1974 that Ainsleigh found himself in a pickle in the days leading up to the race that would become the Western States 100. At that time, it was an endurance horseback race called the Tevis Cup. Who, after all, could imagine running the 100 miles from Squaw Valley to Auburn? But Gordy’s horse had pulled up lame the year before, and as a hardy runner intimately familiar with the local trails, he figured he could cover the course on foot. After a bit of debate with race officials, he did just that, beating many of the four-footed competitors, defying contemporary understanding of human physiology, and creating a new sport.
Gordy heard of the Gore-Tex TransRockies Run through Michelle Barton, Doug’s daughter and top-ranked SoCal ultra runner. “She’s been after me to do this race,” said Ainsleigh. “And when Doug said he would take care of the entry fee, well, Michelle is pretty hard to resist.”
The Barton/Malewicki clan is ably supported by Ink‘n Burn, the progressive apparel maker that caters to the ultra crowd, and for this race, they conjured up a striking blue screen-printed jersey for the Legend bearing a gigantic visage of…Gordy Ainsleigh. To hammer the point home, the text above his face reads, simply, “Gordy.”
At 64, Ainsleigh looks as if he could outrun half the field without breaking a sweat. And in Malewicki, insanely fit at 72, he’s found a lively and competitive partner. Doug, like Michelle, has run every iteration of the race, and is looking fitter than ever.
Living just outside of Auburn, the finish of the Western States, Ainsleigh is more than an elder statesman of the sport: he is its founder, its conscience, and its living, competitive history.
To have him here, at the fifth annual GORE-TEX™ TransRockies Run, is a treat.