In the late 1970’s the pioneering American trio of Sandy Kiddy, Marcy Schwam, and Sue Ellen Trapp dominated global women’s ultra distance racing, setting and re-setting all world records from 50km through 48 hours. The first non-American to rise to their level was Leslie Watson of Scotland, and she did it in grand fashion, winning the 1980 London-to-Brighton 54+ mile ultra (the first year women were permitted to run officially in what was then generally regarded as the de facto “world championship” of ultrarunning). But for the first half of that race Watson had to chase down an unheralded American woman. Watson eventually caught the upstart and went on to win, but the American hung on for second place. Her en-route 50 mile split was under 7 hours, making her the 4th fastest American ever for what was then the most popular ultra distance. Her name was Donna Hudson, and despite a spectacular subsequent world-class racing career she would continue to be mostly unknown within the American ultrarunning community. She is still virtually unremembered today in American ultra lore.
Donna Hudson may have been an unknown in the world’s premiere road ultramarathon, but she had preceded that run with a win in her first ultra, the Forest Park 40 miler in Queens, NY in June 1980, and then another victory in the U.S. National 50km Championship in Brattleboro, VT in mid-September of the same year, only two weeks before London-to-Brighton. Originally from West Nyack, NY, for the first half of the 80’s Hudson limited her ultra career mostly to the New York metropolitan area. She would eventually be undefeated in her 5 appearances at the Forest Park 40 Miler, with a best of 5:09:33. And throughout the decade of the 80’s she went undefeated in another dozen ultras in the New York metropolitan area ranging in distance between 50km and 70km. She also extended her range by winning the 1982 Crocheron Park 12 Hour race with 75.6 miles.
But prior to June 1983 none of Hudson’s ultra performances gave any indication of what she would accomplish in the U.S. National 100 Mile Championship at Shea Stadium in Queens, NY that year. After completing 100 laps of the 1-mile course that meandered around the field and through the parking lot, unassuming Donna Hudson suddenly (and very unexpectedly: her stated goal was to break 18 hours) found herself the new holder of the 100 mile world record. She had run 15:31:57, breaking Sandy Kiddy’s world mark by almost 10 minutes. This performance was ranked #2 for the year by Ultrarunning Magazine, behind only the new 50km world record of Janis Klecker (who would later go on to win the U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon).
That 100 mile world record run got Hudson an entry into the 1984 New York 6-Day Race. By this time a new British woman was on her way to becoming world #1. Eleanor Adams took control from the start and set a new world record of 462.1 miles. But dogging her heels for the first two days and setting an American 48-hour record (169 miles) along the way was Donna Hudson. She faltered in the second half but found her niche in the sport. For the next four years, apart from a single 50 mile race (which she won), the shortest ultra distance that Donna Hudson would race was over 300 miles.
In the mid-80’s, Australia was now the hotbed of the new rage of multi-day racing, and Eleanor Adams and Donna Hudson waged almost a half-decade of epic battles on the roads and tracks down under. In fact, for the second half of her ultra career, the New York City waitress limited almost all of her ultra efforts to that country half a globe away. Adams, eventually ranked by Ultramarathon World as #1 female Ultrarunner of the 21st Century, never lost to the American. But Hudson kept chasing her, and was the one runner Adams feared most in her multi-day races. In two consecutive years she finished second to Adams, averaging 73 and then 75 miles per day, in the 1,000km Sydney-to-Melbourne road race. Three times she finished second to Adams in the Colac 6-day track race, each time increasing her own American 48-Hour Best en route (eventually up to 189.4 miles). In 1984 at Colac, 4 months after her disappointment at New York, she amassed 481.6 miles to break Lorna Richey’s American 6-day Best by 24 miles, garnering Ultrarunning Magazine’s #1 ranking for the year. In 1987 she finished her ultra career with another runnerup finish to Adams with another American Record 487.9 miles at Colac. This one was ranked #2 for that year, behind only a newcomer to the American ultra scene, one Ann Trason. Even today, over a quarter century later, it still ranks as the #2 all-time American women’s 6-day performance.
We welcome Donna Hudson into the American Ultrarunning Hall of Fame.