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Chapter 12
THE WEIRDNESS STARTED as soon as Rick Fisher’s dusty Chevy rolled to a stop outsideLeadville race headquarters and two guys in white wizard capes stepped out.

“Hey!” Ken Chlouber called as he came outside to greet them. “The speed demons are here!” Kenstuck out his hand and tried to remember the phonetics for “welcome” that the Spanish teacherover at the high school had taught him.

“Uh … Bee en benny—,” he began.

One of the guys in the capes smiled and put out his hand. Suddenly, Fisher shoved his bodybetween them.

“No!” Fisher said. “You must not touch them in a controlling way, or you’ll pay. In their culturethat’s considered criminal assault.”

What the—Ken could feel the blood swelling in his head. You want to see some criminal assault,buddy? Try grabbing my arm again. Fisher sure as hell never had a handshake problem when hewas begging Ken to find his guys free housing. So what, now he’s got a winner and a pocketful ofRockport sponsorship money and everyone’s supposed to treat them like royalty? Ken was readyto drive a steel toe up Fisher’s tail, but then he thought of something that made him exhale, relax,and chalk it up to nerves.

Annie must really be making him edgy, Ken thought. Especially the way the media is playing thisthing.

The news stories had shifted dramatically since Ann confirmed that she’d be at Leadville. Insteadof asking whether the Tarahumara would win, they were now wondering whether Rick Fisher’steam would be humiliated—again. “The Tarahumara consider it shameful to lose to a woman,”

article after article repeated. It was an irresistible story: the shy science teacher heading bravelyinto the Rockies to battle the macho Mexican tribesmen and anyone else, male or female, who gotbetween her and the tape in one of the sport’s premier events.

Of course, there was one way Fisher could ease the media pressure on Team Tarahumara: he couldshut up. No one had ever mentioned Tarahumara machismo until Fisher began telling reportersabout it. “They don’t lose to women,” he said. “And they don’t plan to start now.” It was afascinating revelation—especially to the Tarahumara, who wouldn’t have known what he wastalking about.

The Tarahumara are actually an extraordinarily egalitarian society; men are gentle and respectfulto women, and are commonly seen toting infants around on the small of their backs, just like theirwives. Men and women race separately, that’s true, but mostly for logistical reasons: moms with apassel of younguns to look after aren’t free to spend two days traipsing across the canyons.

They’ve got to stay close to home, so their races tend to be short (by Tarahumara standards,“short” clocks in at forty to sixty miles). Women are still respected as crackerjack runners, andoften serve as the cho’ kéame—a combination team captain and chief bookie—when the men race.

Compared with NFL-revering American guys, Tarahumara men are Lilith Fair fans.

Fisher had already been embarrassed once when his entire team had crapped out. Now, thanks tohis own mistake, he found himself in the spotlight of a nationally televised Battle of the Sexes that,quite likely, he was going to lose. Ann’s best time at Leadville two years before was only thirtyminutes behind Victoriano’s 20:03, and she’d improved phenomenally since then. Look at WesternStates; she’d gotten ninety minutes faster in the space of just one year. There was no telling whatshe’d do when she came roaring into Leadville with a score to settle.

Plus, Ann was holding all the aces: Victoriano and Cerrildo weren’t coming back this year (theyhad corn to plant and had no time for another fun run), so Fisher had lost his two best racers.

Ann had won Leadville twice before, so unlike whatever newcomers Fisher had drafted, she hadthe huge advantage of knowing every bewildering twist in the trail. Miss one marker at Leadville,and you could wander in the dark for miles before getting back on course.

Ann also acclimated effortlessly to high altitude, and knew better than anyone alive how to analyzeand attack the logistical problems of a one-hundred-mile footrace. At its essence, an ultra is abinary equation made up of hundreds of yes/no questions: Eat now or wait? Bomb down this hill,or throttle back and save the quads for the flats? Find out what is itching in your sock, or push on?

Extreme distance magnifies every problem (a blister becomes a blood-soaked sock, a declinedPowerBar becomes a woozy inability to follow trail markers), so all it takes is one wrong answerto ruin a race. But not for honor-student Ann; when it came to ultras, she always aced her quizzes.

In short: thumbs up to the Tarahumara for being amazing amateurs, but this time, they weremeeting the top pro in the business (literally; Ann was now a hired gun backed by Nike money).

The Tarahumara had their brief, shining moment as Leadville champions; now they were comingback as underdogs.

Which explained the guys in the wizard capes.

Desperate to replace his two missing veterans, Fisher had ............
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