‘Moo’vin’ and groovin’: Cowman returns to Tahoe
Leave it to Cowman to find the positive in a negative situation. Like the cancellation of Saturday’s 35th Annual Western States Endurance Run.
“Well, nature has control of many things; we’re just users of the Earth,” the 64-year-old ultrarunner said after learning of the race’s fate, which was officially sealed late Wednesday when organizers called it off due to unhealthy air quality. “(The competitors) can always make the best of it, maybe take a jog on part of the trail and give thanks for life.”
That outlook pretty well sums up the disposition of this one-of-a-kind athlete, who never views a partially filled glass as half empty. Matching his enthusiasm for life in general, his allegiance to the Tahoe area and its race scene has never waned.
Cowman A-Moo-Ha ” aka Ken Shirk ” flew in from Kona, Hawaii, last week to participate in a few local races ” the Ride and Tie, Western States and the Donner Lake Triathlon.
“I get a lot of energy from the positivity of the race,” said Cowman, who’s known for racing while wearing buffalo horns on his head during events such as the Hawaii Ironman Triathlon and the Boston Marathon. “The main reason I show up is to let people know it’s still important to me.”
Especially the 100-mile Western States Endurance Run, a race he has missed just once since its inception. Likewise, Cowman is still an important figure to race officials, who annually grant him an automatic berth to compete.
His special treatment stems from the earliest days of the event. A North Shore resident during the 1970s, Cowman is a pioneer, claiming bragging rights as the second human to ever complete the 100-mile Western States Trail from Squaw Valley to Auburn on foot. The year was 1976, two years after Gordy Ainsleigh ran alongside the horses during the Western States Trail Ride ” also called the Tevis Cup ” to see if he could complete the course on foot. He did. And the race was born.
After a failed attempt the following year by a second runner, Ron Kelley, Cowman finished the run in 1976 just 30 minutes tardy of the 24-hour mark, which remains the golden standard to this day.
Cowman, who stands a rangy 6-foot-3 and weighs in at 220 pounds, has finished the 100-mile run 13 times in his 33 attempts. More often than not, he said, he has missed a cutoff time at one of the checkpoints along the trail.
His explanation is consistent with his theory about running.
“It doesn’t pay for me, as a big person, to try to beat all the light people,” Cowman said. “Rather than trying to run fast and beat those guys, I’ll run a slower, less competitive race.
“I might be slow on time, but I’m more competitive in a different way ” I’ll run many more years than them. I’ve learned in my life to pace myself. I want to live as long as I can because I enjoy this life I have.”