Pioneering ultrarunner Ruth Anderson leads Bruce von Borstel
and Hazel Phillips around the track at the Redwood Empire 24
Hour Run. Anderson went 110 miles and set 5 single age records
along the way. (Photo: Mark Miller)
Ruth Anderson Passes at 86
by Hollis Lenderking
USATF Pacific Mountain, Ultra, Trail Running (MUT) Committee Co-Chair
Please send any additional information or possible corrections to Hollis.
The Pacific Association has lost a giant, and America’s ultrarunning community has lost its elder stateswoman.
Ruth started running when many others did–in the wake of Frank Shorter’s Gold Medal performance at the 1972 Munich Olympics–but very few of them were then women in their 40’s, and still fewer would soon seek to command any greater distance than the marathon afforded. From her 1973 marathon debut as a 44-year-old (in 3:52) through the rest of that decade and well into the next, she ran mainly the that distance–ultimately whittling her PR to 3:04 at Avenue of the Giants–but it was in pushing herself beyond that well-established crucible and into the unknown that she would make her greatest mark and leave a legacy to inspire a generation of runners galvanized by the magnet of “more.”
At age 46 in the nation’s bicentennial year, she ran her first ultra, the AAU 50K Championship in Sacramento, finishing second female in 4:17. The following winter she would win the Pacific Association’s 50-mile championship in 7:35, the forerunner of today’s Ultra Grand Prix fixture, the Jed Smith Ultra Classic [then only a 50-mile point-to-point race]. But the prime of Ruth’s running life was still ahead of her when, at 48, she not only registered her fastest marathon finish but also ran what was then the world’s second fastest 100-mile time for a woman of any age, in 16:50:47.
In 1979 at age 50, the long-time Oakland resident became the first American woman to finish the then-premier international fixture in the sport, the London-to-Brighton 54.3-mile road race, with her third-place 7:46:16. A year later she would be crowned America’s overall female 50-mile champion with her 7:10:56 victory at Chicago Lakefront.
In the 1980’s as trail ultras boomed in popularity and competitiveness, Ruth ran more of them, and fewer roads, as she approached 60 years of age. Her first Western States 100-mile finish, in 28:11, was in 1983, then the oldest female finisher (53) in the race’s first decade. One road ultra she was sure to run was her namesake 100K at Lake Merced in San Francisco, established 1986 [still a mid-April fixture on the Ultra Grand Prix, with additional distances of 50K and 50 miles]. She finished the inaugural event in 10:54:59. That was just one month after she had set four American track records (W55) that stand to this day, highlighted by her 24.6K for 2 hours. In the same year she served as a founder of USATF’s original Ultrarunning Subcommittee, forerunner of today’s MUT Council, in anticipation of the inaugural 100K World Championship the following year (the first official world ultrarunning championship). She has been a tireless volunteer and advocate for the sport ever since, from co-founding the Pacific Association’s Ultra program in 1990, to managing Team USA at the 100K Worlds, to working at the Western States 100-mile finish line and Escarpment Aid Station.
Honors followed accordingly. In 1996 Ruth was elected to the inaugural class of USATF’s National Masters Hall of Fame. The MUT Council would make her the namesake of its annual award for the Female Road Ultrarunner of the Year, displayed at USATF’s Hall of Fame at The Armory in New York City (next to the Ted Corbitt Award for the male counterpart). In 2014, in recognition of her contributions at the regional as well as national and global level, she was inducted into the Pacific Association’s own Hall of Fame.
Quite an athlete. Quite a woman. Quite an immeasurable life.