As a high school athlete, Tim Twietmeyer participated in just about every sport that was available to him so he was busy and active all year long. He’s an accomplished mountain biker, road cyclist, swimmer and almost-scratch golfer. But when school ended, the regimen of daily practices died down and Tim felt like he was running out of things to do to keep busy and fit. That’s when running came into the mix. And he didn’t start slow and build from there. Tim began by training for his first marathon in his 20s and never looked back; now he’s a Western States 100 five-time champion. Tim ran the Salmon Falls 50k Endurance Run last year with his son saying it’s a challenging course, just the way he likes it. He continues to push himself adding new goals to his “bucket list.” The Auburn resident and Engineering Manager at Hewlett Packard talks about the joys and challenges of ultra running and the steep terrain he sees in his future.
Q: What made you interested in endurance running?
A: I was just getting into shorter running, like less than ten miles, and then watched a 24-hour track event that took place just across the street from where I was working in the summer of 1978. I was fascinated by the personalities and a bit of the absurdity of running that far. Never being very fast, longer and slower just seemed to be something that fit my running style. I’m glad I chose that as I’ve never developed any speed but I learned to go slow for long periods of time.
Q: Were you hooked right away or did it grow on you?
A: I was hooked after I watched my first ultrarun. It was that 24-hour track run in Woodside, CA, and some of the ultrarunning greats were there-- Don Choi, Ruth Andersen, Dick Collins and several more. What hooked me was the accommodating nature of the runners and that none of them thought that running for 24-hours was any big deal. I spent hours watching them circle the track and watching how they paced themselves, what they were eating and how they decided to take breaks. The next year, in -between my junior and senior years of college, I was on that same track running my first ultra. The next year I ran my first 100-miler on that same track and then in 1981 ran my first Western States. I was all-in at that point.
Q: Do you have a set training regimen when you are preparing for a race?
A: Nope, I’ve never had a rigid training schedule. When I was in my prime, during my thirties, I was working full-time and helping raise a family of three young boys. Where there was time I ran, in the morning or at night or at lunch during work. When I was training for something big like a 100-miler I’d take one day of the weekend or a vacation day during the week and run eight or ten hours by myself. With that kind of workout, I then took some zero-days and tried to bolster the DTI – Domestic Tranquility Index. When you spend an entire day on the trail the DTI tends to go negative for a while.
Q: How about race day rituals?
A: I had no fixed race day rituals. The night before a big race (>50 miles) my mom would cook some homemade spaghetti and meatballs and added some brownies for dessert. I never had to worry about what was for dinner the night before. Once into the race my main focus was continually asking myself if I was running too fast and whether I was eating and drinking enough. When you’re competing for fifteen or twenty hours, nutrition and hydration play a much bigger role than in shorter events.
Q: Winning five Western States 100 is a huge accomplishment. What was going through your head the first time you crossed that finish line?
A: Winning Western States was not something I thought about. I’d been second and third and fourth in the previous years so I was slowly losing ground in the field. In 1992, everything just clicked. I had a really good run and was able to be the first one to the finish line. It was a bit surreal as I’d moved to Auburn so I was now a local kid and it had been a long time since an Auburn resident had won the race. It certainly was exciting as there aren’t too many things more stressful than leading a 100-miler for 30-miles trying to make sure nobody catches you.
Q: Is there a difference in how you run and pace yourself for a 50K, 50 miler or 100 miler?
A: In a 100-miler, there’s a whole lot more walking. Since you’re competing for much longer and you have to ensure that you never run out of gas, you have to be more cautious, particularly in the early miles when things can come rather easy. In 100-milers I’d often ask myself in the early miles if I could run this same grade if it was after mile 70. If the answer was no, then I’d break into a run-walk strategy. I never wanted to let any hill take too much out of the engine such that when I got to more advantageous terrain, like a long downhill, I could make up time and put miles behind me at a fast pace.
Q: Now that you’ve been an ultra runner for more than 30 years, do you think you have changed the way you approach a race?
A: Yeah, I’m back to just racing for the sheer joy of running. That’s the way I started and I’ve come full-circle. I might have a target time in mind based on the training that I’ve done or the aches and pains I’m trying to ignore. In my thirties and forties, I had high expectations as the engine was still very capable of competing at the top. It’s actually nice getting back into the middle of the pack and sharing the trail with the more ‘normal’ people. With the sport growing extremely fast I’m having fun meeting new people and making new friends.
Q: You are a champion that has logged thousands of miles in many high profile races. What’s next?
A: I have a few ‘bucket list’ items I’m trying to get to like hiking/running the John Muir Trail again. I did it in 1992 so 2017 will be a nice 25-year anniversary to celebrate out there. I’d also like to do the Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim and ride my bike across the US. I really don’t have any races on my list as my main training now is with my dog, a 3-year-old Vizsla named Jett. He’s slowly getting me back into shape.