Longevity in the Sport

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Let’s face it, ultrarunning is a really difficult activity. It requires a huge time and lifestyle commitment. But many people are attracted, like moths to flame, to the opportunity to do something epic. And often once they do a few ultras they realize there is a steep learning curve and they achieve faster, and faster, times. Soon, they are pulled into the drive to reach their highest potential by racing ultras – they are all-in.

It’s not just the elites but runners throughout the pack raising their own bars to previously-unimaginable levels. But that phase is not sustainable forever – in fact many believe there is a seven-year cycle of continuous improvements in ultra racing, before the peak is reached. For many, the peak is sharp, as injury, over-training or life get in the way. And after that, what’s next? Fortunately, in ultrarunning there is so, so much more.

A great example of this is Tim Twietmeyer who completed his first Western States 100 in 1981 at the age of 22. He earned a silver buckle in 22 hours and then did the same in 1982 and 1983. He did not get selected in the lottery in 1984 (yes, lottery craziness existed way back then too…), but then, beginning in 1985 he completed Western States for the next 22 years, every finish a silver buckle(!) Along the way he had 5 wins and 15 consecutive top-five finishes. I guess they hadn’t yet invented the seven-year rule.

“Retiring” from racing the race in 2006 was not an end for Twietmeyer. In fact, I’d wager a tidy sum that he has spent much more time and effort supporting the race and its participants over the years than he did while training and racing it 25 times. Since 1996 he has served as a Trustee of the Western States Endurance Foundation, and during his tenure as President the race grew in popularity and secured itself at the center of the sport.

He has done extensive trail work over the years – including 100s of hours after fires and major trail damage. And “Twiet” is pretty much everywhere on race day – from marking the course, helping runners in aid stations, sweeping portions of the course, and interviewing winners at the finish line.

In terms of his own ultrarunning, he has remained a steady participant well after his run at the top of the sport peaked in the 1990s. In fact he has completed every American River 50-miler since 1981 – that’s 37 consecutive – and he’s finished in the top-20 the last three years, including 15th place out of 413 finishers this year at age 58. Twietmeyer also set an FKT for the grueling 170-mile Tahoe Rim Trail in 2005 in 45 hours –
supported but notably “un-muled.”

Through it all, Tim has maintained a committed and happy family life with his wife Kathy and their three sons. He has also enjoyed a long and distinguished career with Hewlett-Packard. But what’s most notable about Tim is that he is an extremely humble, helpful and approachable person. Just say hello to him and ask him for some advice and you will see for yourself. I first met him when, as a stranger, I cornered him just before the 2009 Western States. It was going to be a super hot year and I was a little freaked out. He proceeded to outline a focused heat-management strategy that helped me immensely. The next day I was shocked when a volunteer named Tim Twietmeyer rushed to get me my drop bag and help me at the Red Star aid station.

There are truly countless other examples of long ultrarunning careers that extend well beyond their peak racing – but one of the most iconic is Twiet who just keeps pouring himself into the sport, and the race, that he loves.

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About Author

Karl Hoagland has been the Publisher of UltraRunning Magazine since June, 2013. Hoagland is a former investment banker and hotel entrepreneur, having worked at Goldman Sachs, Montgomery Securities and Larkspur Hotels & Restaurants after graduating from Brown University in 1987. Since running the Quad Dipsea in 2003 Hoagland has been obsessed with ultrarunning and everything about it, especially the community and new friendships he’s made. Karl especially likes to take on challenges and strive for improvement. Ultrarunning is the perfect platform for such endeavors, and his big goals are to encourage others and help the sport grow.

6 Comments

  1. Great article at truly a good time for me. My ultra career is officially ended due to a degenerated hip. I watched my times grow longer and my distances grow shorter over the past 6 years. I have it one last hurrah trying to bag a 100K; I called it a day at 20M, too much pain.
    The sport was part of my identity. The guy next door who could run 100M. I am now struggling to fill this missing piece of my life. I loved the challenge, even if it really sucked at times. I have yet to find a hip friendly endurance sport that I like. Biking??? No.
    Maybe open water swimming??
    So my question is; when it comes to an end, how do you fill back in with a substitute??

    • Rob – I’m sorry to hear about your hip issues. My advice is that you have nothing to “prove” in the sport if you have accomplished 100-milers and given it your all but now health issues preclude you from completing more ultras. I don’t think there is a similar “hip friendly” endurance sport that has the culture and community of ultrarunning, so you should stay involved – crewing or volunteering at a 100 can be just as engaging (and tiring!) as running one. Helping others achieve their ultra goals can be really satisfying – and it does feel like a team effort out there. Also, the body has an amazing ability to heal itself if given rest and recuperation – if your hip improves you could do long hikes/treks – they can be really challenging and also get you into nature’s most beautiful places, similar to ultrarunning. The John Muir Trail, TRT to name a couple of epic trails in CA – but they are all over this country. Lastly, maybe some other outdoor activities like Flyfishing, which is also really engaging but more solitary. Good luck on your adventure, it is just starting for you!

  2. A few years back, even though I had run a 200 miler, I was a little too slow/overweight to qualify for WSER! When I first met Twiet, he asked me when I was going to run the event! I told him that I probably never would because I’m too slow for it! He called BS and told me that if I wanted it bad enough and put the work in, I could definitely do it! Honestly, I kind of hated him for calling me out but he was right! I worked my butt off!! One of my proudest moments, after a couple years, was being able to tell Tim this story while having our picture taken with my finishers buckle!! Some day, I’ll get a silver buckle picture with him too, goshdarnit!

    One other cool thing about Twiet is that he makes it a point to run the course backwards in the final hours of WSER to cheer/encourage and even push the final runners! I’ve seen him do it for a few years now and imagine he’s been doing it for awhile! Besides his incredible career and longevity, I really admire him for giving back and supporting the back of the pack like this!!

    Definitely an amazing and goofball sport!! Folks like Tim, doing what they love, really make it awesome!

    All Day!
    ~Ken

  3. Delmar Fralick on

    I first met Twietmeyer in 1985 in un-organized training run from Green Gate to Auburn. The conversation was simple and straight forward as we ran sub 8:15 minute pace to Auburn. With his consecutive finishes at Western States and his 5 overall wins and his countless hours of volunteering at the American River 50 and the Sierra Nevada Endurance Run – Twietmeyer is a servant of the sport and humble and I have appreciated his friendship of 30 years.

  4. I remember Tim in the early 1990s when I was running with Dixie Madsen who was also a pioneer in those days. My first 50 miler was 1996 AR and I proudly wear the jacket still. Now, 21 years later at 62, I am so fortunate to still race, although stage races and 50ks as well as contribute to the sport by being on the board of the San Diego ultra running community with Scott Mills, another enduring runner as we know. I always say, ultra running, the either race, RD, crew and pace or be aid station, but you can be part of it well into your 70s. The love for the sport and other ultra buddies as what’s so magical about it. And let’s not forget the views, the solitude and feelings.

  5. Cathy Mason on

    I remember Tim on the WSER, California 100 & AR50 in 1981. He was the new kid. I have been running ultras since the seventies. Tim is an inspiration & has given back so much to our sport. I am still shuffling at 67 years old. Love it!

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