Sport: All the Guts, None of the Glory

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Dispatches, June 1997

Sport: All the Guts, None of the Glory

Tim Twietmeyer has won the Western States 100 Mile Run four times. Nuf said? Apparently not.
By Brad Wetzler

What draws a person to ultramarathoning is anyone's guess. The 4 a.m. starts? The 100-mile courses over steep, boulder-strewn terrain? That wretched moment sometime around mile 75 when the stomach shuts down but the brain keeps sending Gatorade? What makes a person great at the sport is, however, much clearer: One must have a passion for consistent, even boring behavior.

"You've got to like being the tortoise," explains 38-year-old Tim Twietmeyer, a research-and-development manager for Hewlett-Packard in Roseville, California. Twietmeyer can be considered an expert on the subject. Arguably the world's finest ultrarunner, on the 28th of this month he'll be defending his title at the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run, attempting to become the first five-time winner of the event that's regarded as the sport's Wimbledon. "If you try to be the hare for even a few miles, you're dead."

For The Record

A Good Campsite Is Harder to Find
If the trail you're hiking this summer suddenly intersects an unexpected four-lane, blame that new government topo map you bought before heading out. In response to federal budget cuts, the U.S. Geological Survey has begun implementing a new mapmaking policy in which "revised" topos are printed without the areas they cover having been resurveyed — an approach that critics claim has resulted in maps lacking the detail that backcountry users rely on. USGS cartographer Frank Beck counters by saying that the agency's maps are more than adequate, adding that he believes the fuss will die down once people get used to them. "Just because a new road goes in," insists Beck, "that doesn't mean the old contour lines become completely useless."

Let the Litigation Begin
It takes something fairly extraordinary to rock environmentalists back on their heels, but the Supreme Court came close last March with a unanimous decision to allow business interests — and not just greens — to sue the government under the Endangered Species Act. The landmark case, you may recall, involved Oregon ranchers who claimed officials "overenforced" the Act in 1992 when they suspended water delivery to area ranches to protect two species of fish (see "How Green Was My Valley," Dispatches, February). In the wake of the verdict, environmentalists like Sierra Club lobbyist Melinda Pierce could only offer measured sound bites. "The environmental community applauds increased access to the court," Pierce said, "but we expect a flood of suits alleging overenforcement." Such fear is probably not off base: The ink had barely dried on the court's ruling when the Columbia River Alliance, a group of water users, power companies, and barge owners, filed suit charging overenforcement in the way dams are operated to protect salmon.

This substance-over-style philosophy has obviously served him well on the trail, but it may also be a factor in why Twietmeyer — or Tweet, as he is known to fellow runners — is hardly a household name. He has no sponsorship (unlike most elite runners, he still has to buy his own shoes) and works a 40-hour week to finance both his family and his running habit. Meanwhile, the sports world has heard plenty about the plucky Tarahumara Indian ultrarunners from Chihuahua, Mexico — who've never won at Western States — and perennial women's division champion Ann Trason. Still, Twietmeyer insists that the lack of monetary reward and public recognition doesn't bother him; he says he's perfectly happy ferrying his three children around in a nondescript Ford minivan and takes his satisfaction from dominating races, not racers. "If somebody passes you out there, there's no point in getting mad," Twietmeyer says. "The trail is your real opponent."

That's easy for him to say, but if you're racing against him, the last thing you want to see is Twietmeyer's six-foot-three, 175-pound frame lurching behind you in the dark of midnight. Though his physique may be a disadvantage in climbing big hills — most ultrarunners are far shorter and slighter — Twietmeyer's sturdy build has not only helped him stay injury-free throughout his career, but allows him to pull off descents with a long-striding, go-for-broke style altogether unheard-of in ultramarathoning. "He's not dominant in any one area," says longtime rival Carl Andersen, his assessment seeming to apply as much to Twietmeyer's steady-as-she-goes nature as it does to his running prowess, "but he's solid in all of them."

Twietmeyer doesn't disagree, but surprisingly he maintains that his real advantage lies in his athletically advanced age. "Being 38, I don't have to worry about overtraining," he says. "I've got too many obligations and not nearly enough time." As a result, he runs "only five or six miles" at noon and then sometimes goes for another "short run" before dinner. But on weekends things are a little different: That's when Twietmeyer logs the distance that more often than not pays off in June, challenging himself with 35- to 50-mile runs on the vaunted American River Canyon section of the Western States trail. "I put on some hard driving rock-and-roll, like Lynyrd Skynyrd," he says, momentarily slipping out of character, "and more or less put myself through hell."

Photograph by Erik Butler

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