Mountain maven: Ultrarunner Rory Bosio, a Tahoe native, might just be the best female athlete you’ve never heard of
Special to the Sun
TAHOE CITY, Calif. — Rory Bosio never set out to demolish a record in the world’s most prestigious ultramarathon. She never sought stardom or sponsorships or obsessed about achieving accolades.
She simply loved running and a good adventure. The rest was the unintended result.
“When I first started doing ultras, it was something I was passionate about, but I wasn’t expecting to make a living or anything. I figured I’d do a 100-miler once and I’d be done — kind of a bucket-list thing,” she said.
Bosio had far too much fun to be one-and-done.
Now 31, the North Lake Tahoe native stormed onto the ultrarunning scene at age 25 when she placed fourth among women in the historic Western States Endurance Run from Squaw Valley to Auburn — the oldest 100-mile trail race in the world.
She finished fifth the next year, 2011, and second the next, recording the fourth-fastest women’s time in event history.
“I was (surprised), absolutely,” Paul Sweeney, a longtime Truckee ultrarunner, said of Bosio’s early results. “Her first two or three years were like some of the best times ever. Very few women in the history of the race have ran it faster than her. But it seemed like when Rory burst onto the scene, she didn’t really get the recognition right away. It was like no one really noticed.”
That was soon to change.
Carving a niche
After her 2011 Western States finish, Bosio was approached by The North Face, which offered her a coveted spot on its elite team of outdoor and adventure athletes. She did not disappoint her new sponsor.
Among other top results in various trail runs, Bosio went on to win the 2013 Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc in Chamonix, France, which is revered as one of the largest and most difficult ultramarathons in the world — 103 miles of high alpine terrain, with 13 mountain passes and 31,000 feet of vertical gain.
But it was the fashion in which she won it that impressed her peers most. Not only did Bosio outdistance the world-class field, she pulverized the previous women’s record by more than two hours. Her time, 22 hours, 37 minutes, 26 seconds, was good enough for seventh overall in a field of 2,200 athletes.
“She won the most prestigious race in the world. She is like a gold medal holder,” Truckee’s Betsy Nye, an esteemed ultrarunner herself, said after the performance.
Bosio then defended her title the following year by an hour-and-a-half margin over the second-place woman, growing her already expansive fan base in Europe.
“The Mont-Blanc is huge, and in Europe they’re kind of fanatical … so I think she’s more of a rock star over there probably than she is here,” said Sweeney.
All that popularity and success created an opportunity for a different kind of adventure — television.
Bosio spent 10 months in 2015 filming for a reality documentary series called “Boundless,” which premiered this spring on the Esquire Network. In the third season of the series, Bosio and three other established endurance athletes — Hunter McIntyre, Simon Donato and Paul “Turbo” Trebilcock — travel across seven countries and three continents competing in extreme endurance races.
“Every month we’d do one endurance-type event. We did some really crazy things,” said Bosio, describing events ranging from a 100-mile ultrarun across the planet’s driest desert (the Atacama Extreme Chile, which Bosio won), to the MTB Race Culture Velo in the French Alps (billed as the world’s toughest mountain bike race), to the three-day Arctic Circle Race across Greenland (billed as the world’s toughest cross-country ski race).
The athletes also competed in a couple of adventure races, a “crazy triathlon thing” in Scotland, Bosio said, the Otillo swim-run championships in Sweden, and the Spartan Race World Championships, which, coincidentally, took place on Bosio’s home turf at Squaw Valley.
“It was really cool. It was a real eye-opening experience. I really love traveling, and it was such a great opportunity to travel the world and see so many different cultures and try so many different things,” Bosio said. “Some of those races were really, really, really challenging, especially the mountain bike race in France. That was brutal.”
Bosio learned from some of the best.
While she ran cross-country and track at North Tahoe High School under legendary coach Warren Mills, she grew up in Tahoe City next door to Laura Vaughan — now Laura DesLauriers — who was a standout racer in Tahoe’s still nascent ultrarunning community. Bosio’s mother also was an endurance athlete, as was her uncle, JP Prince.
“Rory’s always been athletic. She comes from a very athletic family,” DesLauriers said. “And she was just the nicest kid. She always had a smile on her face.”
Although Bosio enjoyed running from an early age, she said she was “good, but wasn’t great” on her middle school and high school teams.
“I was usually No. 2 on the team,” she said. “There was this girl named Heather Sandeman who was a freak of nature, just one of those natural athletes who could not train and go out and win state as a freshman.”
Mills concurred: “Rory was a hard worker. She was a solid No. 2. But there was no way to predict that she would continue to become the world-class runner that she is. That’s crazy.”
When not running cross-country in high school, Bosio said she’d tag along with DesLauriers on her training runs. DesLauriers was an accomplished ultrarunner, competing in the Western States Endurance Runs four times and racing the Wasatch Front 100 Mile Endurance Run in Utah on 14 occasions, winning five of them.
“She was doing ultrarunning before it got really big,” Bosio said of DesLauriers, who also won the Hardrock 100 in Colorado. “It was just something she did. And she had a full-time job and was a mom, so she really inspired me. That’s kind of where I first got some knowledge about ultrarunning. She actually paced me in my first two Western States.”
After graduating from high school in 2002, Bosio earned a degree from University of California, Davis, before taking some time off and then returning to attend nursing school.
She raced her first ultramarathon, the Silver State 50K in Reno, in 2007. She knew right away that it would not be her last.
“I thought it was going to be miserable, and I actually just fell in love with it,” she said.
Bosio’s next race was 50 miles. The next was 100 — Western States in 2010, when she placed fourth against a deep and talented field.
“It was hard, obviously,” Bosio said of her first Western States, “but I really loved the community of ultrarunning, the people, just everything about it. And I found that the 100-mile races suited me better than the shorter distances. I’m better at maintaining a slow pace for a long period of time, but I’m not very fast. So the 100-milers work well for me.
“There’s something about, no matter how destroyed you are by the end of a 100-mile race, it’s just this sense of exhaustion mixed with accomplishment. It’s just such an amazing feeling. Even though you are so tired, you forget about all the low points and the pain. You just remember all the good stuff and how fun it was. I just live for it.”
As DesLauriers noted, however, Bosio’s success does not stem from a fierce competitiveness or desire to crush her competition. Rather, it comes from her love for running and the overall experience.
“I think with Rory, she’s more seeking adventure than claim and fame,” DesLauriers said. “She doesn’t go after things to win them; she goes after them because she thinks, ‘Oh, that sounds really cool.’ Some people who do well in these things are very gloaty. But what warms my heart with Rory is that when she does these adventures, she looks at them truly as adventures.
“Her heart is pure. She’s not looking to one-up somebody else. She’s out there to enjoy the experience, and that’s what I’m truly proud of — not the numbers. I’m just glad that that’s where she finds her joy.”
2016 and beyond
Without the obligation of filming for the documentary series, “Boundless,” Bosio has a full slate of ultramarathons planned for the coming season.
After racing the 100-kilometer Canyons Endurance Run in the American River Canyon in May, she ran the 75-mile Lavaredo Ultra Trail in Cortina, Italy, in late June. Bosio plans to run the Ultra Trail Du Mont Blanc again in late August before capping her season with the 100-mile Ultra-Trail Mt. Fuji in Japan in September.
If the third season of “Boundless” receives passing ratings, she and her co-stars will likely begin filming again in October, Bosio said. After that, she’ll pursue the next adventure that comes her way.
“I just want to keep doing ultraraces as long as I’m still having fun,” said Bosio, who now resides at the west end of Donner Lake, where she has easy access to paddleboarding, skiing and, of course, running trails. “Once I get sick of racing, maybe I’ll transition into doing some bigger expedition-type things. But I still have the bug in me to do races. So I structure my year around that still. It’s become such an integral part of my life that I want to stay involved in the sport, whether I’m racing or just involved with it for many years to come.”