Saturday, December 8, 2007

An Interview With Tahoe Rim Trail Speed Record Holder Tim Twietmeyer

When I was getting some alternate directions to a closed trailhead the other day at Tahoe Dave’s in Tahoe City, I explained to the friendly folks there that I wanted to run the entire trail in one go next summer. The girl behind the counter replied that her boyfriend had gone out and hiked the entire trail in eleven days straight and that was considered super fast! Well, you should have seen the stunned look on her face when I told her that Tim Twietmeyer had run the entire trail non-stop in just under 46 hours (45:58)!

To ultrarunners, you don’t need to explain who Tim Twietmeyer is. Tim is an endurance legend; he has completed the Western States 100 mile race an unprecedented 25 times (all sub-24; first place five times; current master’s course record holder). Tim is also the first runner to complete the Tahoe Rim Trail in less than two days. All this fame has not gone to his head though, Tim, who is a development manager at Hewlett Packard, is also a great guy and he is always happy to share tons of useful information about his running adventures.

I first met Tim at a trail and ultrarunning presentation that he hosted at Fleet Feet in Sacramento this spring. I asked him a few questions about his TRT thru-run. Personally, I had thought about running the entire TRT in one go for years and of course it would be great to try to set a speed record in the process. That record had been around 55 hours for several years, which seemed fairly soft. However, Tim had come in and methodically knocked about seven hours of the overall time. After the presentation I drove home both inspired and impressed.

Always interested in how people plan and accomplish a thru-run of the TRT, I contacted Tim to ask him if he would want to takes some time out of his busy schedule to answer some interview questions on my Run Lake Tahoe blog. He graciously accepted -- yet another confirmation of how great and supportive the ultrarunning community really is; legendary professionals taking the time to talk to the amateurs. You don’t find that in many other sports! The following is my recent interview with Tim about his record-breaking TRT thru-run in 2005.

About the TRT Speed Record

PL: When did you thru-run the entire TRT in one go?
TT: August 27-29, 2005

PL: What was your exact time?
TT: 45:58; I started on Saturday at 5am and finished at 2:58 on Monday morning.

About the Run

PL: Where did you start?
TT: I started at the bridge over the Truckee River in Tahoe City (in the 64-acres parking lot).
Tim at the Start in Tahoe City

PL: In which direction did you run?
TT: I ran clockwise

PL: Why did you pick that course (start and direction)?
TT: No particular reason other that it was the easiest access from where I was coming from (Auburn). It’s also the lowest point on the trail. One reason that I went this way was to get through the driest part of the course (east side of the lake) when I was fresh(er). There’s about a 20-mile stretch of the trail without any close natural water, so I figured it would be better to do that on the first day than on the second. Also, it looked like getting over Dick’s Pass on day two would be better than trying to get over Radio (Relay) Peak (10,338'). After doing it, it would be interesting to pick an easier stretch to run at night. The south shore was very difficult in the dark.
PL: Why did you pick August to run it (sounds pretty hot)?
TT: I was hoping to do it earlier in the year so that I’d have more light to run with, but it didn’t work out with WS100 and some other events I was involved with. It was also the best weekend for my crew.

PL: Which sections were the easiest?
TT: Two sections:
First was Brockway to Tahoe Meadows, most because that section is absolutely gorgeous and I ran into some Reno runners along that stretch.
The other was From Echo Lakes to Dick’s Pass. The terrain wasn’t particularly easy, but I got two milk shakes at Echo Lake and then got a chance to meet a lot of hikers that were headed out of the wilderness as they headed back to their trailhead on Sunday afternoon.
Tim Enjoys a Milkshake at Echo Lake

PL: Which sections were the toughest?
TT: There were two very difficult sections:
The first was from Kingsbury South to Big Meadow. That was all run in the dark, it has some of the highest altitude on the lake, and it was when I started to feel the mileage. It’s at about 75-100. It’s also when I started getting an extremely dry throat from the dry air and I was having trouble eating solid food.
The second tough section was from the Velma Lakes to Barker Pass. Much of that is in forest and it meanders in several different directions. It’s very difficult to get a bearing of where you are and it just seemed to take longer than I expected. If any part of the trail is longer than advertised, that was it. It was also getting late in the second day and there’s very little consistency to that part of the trail, just a lot of random up and down through what is mostly low lying or forested areas. It was at this part of the trail where my pacer (Mark Falcone) started getting tired of my crankiness.
About Crewing and Pacing

PL: Some sections are hard to get to and trailheads can be many miles apart. What was the biggest single stretch you had to cover?
TT: There were two difficult stretches for crewing:
The first was Tahoe Meadows to Spooner as there is no natural water in that section, so I had to pack it with me (full 100-ounce pack with two hand bottles). My crew hiked up the trail a bit to meet me. It’s about a 4.5-hour stretch and you have to carry all your own stuff. Not only that, it was during the hottest part of the first day (1:30 to 6).
The other difficult section was from Echo Lake to Barker Pass. It’s over 32 miles. Although it has water that we could pump for drinking, we had to carry all our food and being through the middle of the second day, it took us a long time to get through there (9.5 hours).
At the Finish with Pacer Mark

PL: How many pacers did you run with?
TT: I started by myself and ran the first 40 miles to Tahoe Meadows (Mount Rose) by myself. It was nice to run that early morning stuff by myself, as it was extremely peaceful. At Tahoe Meadows, I picked up my first pacer, who ran to Kingsbury south. My second pacer picked me up at Kingsbury south and ran with me to Echo Lakes. My third pacer went from Echo Lake back to Tahoe City.

PL: Did you use spots other than the regular trailheads to resupply? (That is, are there any places where a crew could get pretty close to meet you in the middle of a long section)?
TT: Yes, my crew met my on Martis Peak Road. It’s not a trailhead, but it is vehicle accessible. That was it for help between the roads other than my crew hiking up a bit from Spooner Lake.
Tim and Mark Leaving Echo Lake

PL: I noticed there is no cell phone coverage everywhere. How did you stay in contact with your crew/pacers?
TT: We didn’t. They just waited. We made a cell phone call from up on Dick’s Peak, but that was it. Cell phones could come in handy, but we had everything we needed in the crew car, and we weren’t in any big hurry, so we had time to stop, eat, and then continue.

About Night Running

PL: I guess you ran straight through for two nights. Did you sleep at all?
TT: Nope, no sleep at all. It would have been tough to stop, sleep, and then get going again. The best time to sleep would be during the day, as it’s warmer and you wouldn’t need to bring a sleeping bag. That’s also the best time to run, so we just kept pushing to finish without a prolonged rest.

Tim Leaving Tramway (Kingsbury South)

PL: Did you try to time it to be at specific sections for the night runs?
TT: Nope, the night running, particularly on the south shore was a lot slower than expected. That’s where I lost a lot of time. It took me 7 hours to run 23 miles. There’s a lot of uphill in that area, quite a bit of it is above 9000 feet, and it was some tough running in the dark

PL: What time did you start and end?
TT: What sort of nightlight/headlamp(s) did you use? I was using headlamps and a hand light. I had a Petzl Myo and an LED hand light. My pacers had the same lights.

About Trail Marking

PL: How well is the trail marked?
TT: I thought the trail was extremely well-marked. The only time I got confused was in the ski resort at Heavenly. It was dark and the single-track came off a road, but it was difficult to find the junction. It was nice we had a GPS with us to find that location. Other than that, we didn’t need the GPS. We didn’t take it with us from Echo Lakes, which was probably a mistake as there was a couple of times when we questioned where we were going, but it was more out of my dopiness from being up for 40 hours than it was that the trail wasn’t marked.

PL: Was it hard to find the trail in the dark?
TT: Mostly not. On the south shore we had no problem once out of the ski resort. On the approach to Tahoe City, there was one intersection that had us a bit confused, but we figured it out pretty quickly.

PL: Did you use a GPS system (if so, what kind?) during certain sections?
TT: I had a Garmin Legend with me during the first night, but didn’t use it other than to get out of Heavenly.

PL: I have been recording different sections of the TRT on my Garmin Forerunner and have glued some tracks together. Is there an official TRT GPS track that you can buy/download anywhere?
TT: There’s a downloadable route on the National Geographic TOPO sharing site. I picked up my route and some printed maps from TOPO, and then downloaded the routes to my Garmin.

About Trail Gear

PL: What type of hydration pack or other water supply did you use?
TT: I used a 100-ounce The North Face hydration pack on the longer, drier stretches and hand-bottles on the shorter stretches. In the Desolation Wilderness, we pumped water at Fontanellis Lake. That was the only time we used naturally available water. The rest was carried from trailhead to trailhead.

PL: What type of nightlights did you use?
TT: Petzl Myo 5 headlamp and Streamlight LED hand lights.

Tim Climbing the Trail At Brockway Summit
PL: What kind of clothes did you wear (Running clothes, extra layers, etc.)?
TT: I had some custom sleeveless shirts made for my crew and me by Fleet Feet. It was standard tech-fabric stuff. At night I had a long-sleeve and took arm warmers and tights. It was very cold the first night and into the morning.
PL: What kind of shoes did you wear?
TT: The North Face Ultra 103’s and Nike.
Did you use trekking poles?
TT: Yes, during the night on the south side of the lake I used trekking poles, but ditched them once it got light again.

PL: Was there anything else that you really needed?
TT: Not really. I had a good set of maps that I was using, including the TRT map available from Take it Outdoors.

PL: Did you bring music?
TT: Of course, I was running along for the first 40 miles, so I listened to music during that stretch.

About Nutrition

PL: I can’t imagine eating power gel for that long. What did you eat?
TT: Early on, I was eating real food like Clif Bars, PB&J sandwiches, and also liquid nutrition (Boost). Later I went to broth and Starbucks Mocha drinks in the bottle. Any chance I got, I had ice creams or a milk shake (Kingsbury, Echo Lake). That was the best energy.

Taking some S! Caps at Spooner Summit

PL: What did you drink?
TT: Water, Cytomax, Boost, chicken broth, and bottles of Starbucks Mocha. Most of my calories were from Boost as I had a hard time swallowing non-liquids after Kinsgsbury due to a very dry throat from the altitude and dry air.

About the Experience

PL: What was the most memorable moment of your race?
TT: The most scenic was the north shore from Brockway to Relay Peak. The most memorable part was running with my friends through the night and the next day and sharing the trail with them. We had some really good laughs out there, particularly when I kept falling down after about 150 miles. When you’ve been up for over 40 hours straight, you go from being ornery and cranky to laughing about ever 15 seconds.
Tim Leaving Brockway Summit

PL: Was there anything you would have done differently?
TT: I would’ve continued to suck on hard candy early in the loop as my throat got so dry it was difficult to eat solid food without gagging.

About Training

PL: How did you train for this event?
TT: I just used residuals from training for WS and two 100-mile bike rides I did with my local cycling friends. I also trained near my house on some steep uphills, practiced with my trekking poles and carrying a heaver pack.

PL: Was this the longest you had ever run before this run?
TT: 128 miles on the track in 1986

PL: Did you do anything different in training from let’s say training for a 100 miler?
TT: I trained with a hydration pack all the time and did a couple of trips to the trail to familiarize myself with the trailhead locations, particularly the start/finish and those that were easily accessible by car.
Icecream at Kingsbury!

PL: Can you give me any training suggestions?
TT: If I were to do it again, I’d go on one of my long weekend fastpacking trips in the Sierras, just to do some really long days of hiking and to get familiar with carrying a pack. If you plan to use trekking poles, practice, build up your arms and learn how to use them more efficiently.

PL: Apart from the physical training, were there other preparations you made (maps, reading, recon of the trail, mental preparation)?
TT: Yep, I scoured the site for information. I bought the maps, and read some of the TRT book, mostly for descriptions of difficulty and locations of trailhead locations and possible crew access other than at the road crossings. I also downloaded the trail from the National Geographic site to my Garmin Legend. I went on one trail recon trip to see how good the markings were. That wasn’t a problem; the trail was extremely well marked. The best resource is the Take it Outdoors map of the TRT. From that, you can easily assess strategy, crew access, and where it would be best to start and end.

About the TRT

PL: I recently read an article in a Tahoe Forest Conservation magazine about your involvement in sustaining the trails around the lake. Can you tell me how you are involved in trail and forest conservation?
TT: Mostly through the Western States Endurance Run Foundation. We have a partner organization (the Forest Foundation) that works with us to repair trail, understand forest management, and to help reforest areas that have been damaged by fire.
Tim At Snow Valley Peak

PL: How long have you been a member of the TRT organization?
TT: Just since before my run. I’d never been too familiar with it all before then.

PL: How can we get involved in caring for the trails, specifically the TRT?
TT: Go to the TRT web site and volunteer or make a donation. With much of the trail in wilderness areas (Desolation Wilderness, Mount Rose), those trails cannot be maintained with powered equipment, so it requires all handwork, which is very labor intensive. Go contribute on a trail work day. If you’re interested in the Western States Trail, there are trail projects going on almost year round. Just go to the web site and find the trail projects section. It’s a lot of fun. A half-day of work, then barbecue, and go home.

What’s Next?

PL: You seem to like these sorts of solo adventures. Do you have any other epic long runs planned for the future? What about Capitol to Capitol (C2C)?
TT: Yes, this summer. Carson City to Sacramento, probably over 4th of July.

PL: What about a PCT record attempt?
TT: Nope, takes too much time. Maybe in pieces when my kids get older.

PL: Are your boys planning to do anything like this with you?
TT: This year I’m sure they’ll be out there for C2C. I want to finish in Sacramento and have a cigar with Arnold.

PL: Final question: Is there anything else you would like to share about the TRT or about your TRT run?
TT: Go do it, even if you do it in sections or have to backpack the entire thing. Each section has its unique beauty. Even a night run/hike might be just the ticket to experience the grandeur of the lake and mountains. One suggestion would be to do Mount Rose to Brockway on a full moon. That would be spectacular.

At the Finish with Pacer Dave and Tim's Father

PL: Tim: Thank you so much for taking the time out of your busy schedule to share all this with us, Tim. You’re a true ambassador to the trails and ultrarunning! I wish you the best of luck with your future running adventures.


Mark Tanaka (Ultrailnakaman) said...

Always wondered what it was like for Tim to do such an amazing feat. (I think I'll have to settle for doing it in stretches over my lifetime.) Great interview both of you!

andyb said...

Great interview! I learned a lot about not only the TRT, but long distance running strategy. Thanks to you, Peter, for doing the interview and posting it. And thanks to Tim for his willingness to share his time and knowledge with us. Like you mentioned in your post, Peter, it's one of the greatest things about this community - the willingness of people to share their knowledge! Please keep it up.

anil said...

what a adventure. thanks to tim and peter for sharing this.

Goodluck Peter on your adventure next year. have a blast.


Michael Kanning said...

Excellent interview, Peter! It's awesome to hear from someone whose contribution to the sport of ultrarunning is paralleled only by people with names like Ann Trason and Ted Corbitt. Big thanks to Tim!

I hope your training for the big TRT record attempt is going well. I should be avaliable if you still wish to have me as a pacer. I wouldn't want to miss out on that, because I predict that you're going to destroy the record!


kate said...

Probably a dumb question- but why did he use trekking poles? don't know much about how they help...

Hao said...


awesome interview! thanks for sharing. hope all the training and prep work go well for you next year for trt. i'd love to pace/crew you for a stretch during your run. good luck with everything and look forward to see you in one of the races.



Peter Lubbers said...

Michael and Hao:
Of course, I would LOVE to have you guys as pacers for some of those sections! That is very exciting. I'll send you some details as we get closer.

The trekking poles can take some of the weight of your legs, they can help prevent you from tripping in the dark and can be a real help in climbing very steep sections, because you can use your arms to help you forward. You don't see them in use much in the US, but in Europe, more that 50% of the participants in (mountainous) trail races use them.

Dave - Atlanta Trails said...

Great interview, Peter!

Tim is one of my heroes.

Jean Pommier said...

Amazing, what a feat, Tim, and what a great interview, Peter!
Make me want to move closer to Lake Tahoe and your mountains...

Re the pole question, Kate, this is common practice in France as I experienced last summer, training on the UTMB course. The French magazine published a very informative and well-documented study on the benefits of using poles (bâtons), unfortunately in French... I can translate if there is sufficient demand/interest from the community in the US...


Peter Lubbers said...

Thanks for your comment. I'd be interested to learn more about the poles (evenjust a very brief summary), since I am personally just starting to try them out.

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