Kings Beach runner sets fastest known unsupported time on Tahoe Rim Trail
July 3, 2015
At 165 miles around the largest alpine lake in North America, the Tahoe Rim Trail has attracted fit, record-seeking athletes since it opened in 2001 — and even before.
They include some of the biggest names in endurance sports, both locally and from across the globe. They put their bodies and minds to the test for the scenery, the challenge and, perhaps most of all, the speed records and accompanying bragging rights.
It's part of a growing trend among hardcore trail-runners and through-hikers, to stake claim as the fastest person ever to tackle an established route. There's even an acronym, FKT (fastest known time), and a website that documents such feats.
"I just thought it would be exciting to do it," said Truckee ultrarunner Betsy Nye, who completed the entire Tahoe Rim Trail in 55 hours and 22 minutes in 2001. "It's become quite popular now, a lot more than it used to be. People weren't really doing stuff like that yet back then. Now they're running the PCT (Pacific Crest Trail) and the AT (Appalachian Trail). They're just getting faster and faster."
Mike Tebbutt is the latest to etch his name in the unofficial Tahoe Rim Trail record book.
After three failed attempts to eclipse the record, the 44-year-old Kings Beach resident set a new unsupported fastest know time last week. Tebbutt, who started and ended at the Brockway Summit trailhead — the nearest point to his home — ran and hiked the Tahoe Rim Trail in 54 hours and 17 minutes.
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"It was definitely a monkey on my back, and I wanted it off really bad," said Tebbutt, who broke JB Benna's unsupported record of 58 hours and 43 minutes, set in 2013. "It certainly was not easy."
The overall fastest known time on the Tahoe Rim Trail, which includes support from a crew that supplies food, water and other essentials, stands at 38 hours and 32 minutes, set by Spanish ultrarunning phenom Kilian Jornet in September 2009. Last summer, South Lake Tahoe ultrarunner Amber Monforte set the fastest known supported time among women, in 49 hours and 17 minutes. Nye's then-record in 2001 also was supported.
Many have taken a shot at both the supported and unsupported record over the years, starting with Reno ultrarunners Robert Sobsey, Rolland Martin and Joe Braninburg, who reportedly completed the route in 66 hours and 20 minutes in September 2000 — a year before the trail's grand opening.
All these numbers are housed on a website, fastestknowntime.proboards.com. The site is updated regularly by its creator, Peter Bakwin, who posted Tebbutt's time just a few days after he achieved it.
It had been a long time coming for Tebbutt, who's had his eye on setting the fastest known time since he and friend Sam Skrocke skied a high route around Lake Tahoe without a bivy in March 2007. They completed the trek in just under 61 hours.
Tebbutt attempted to break the unsupported record three times after that but cut it short on each occasion — once due to rain, once due to snow and once because he said he was not prepared. He also started but did not finish the inaugural Tahoe 200-Mile Endurance Run last September.
He nailed it on his fourth attempt.
"Everything went super smooth," said Tebbutt, who traveled counterclockwise around the lake. "I was pretty even-keeled the whole way."
Tebbutt left in the wee hours of Thursday, June 25, to beat the heat. With the cool temperatures of night on his side, he went out hard — as fast as 5 mph — until reaching the Rubicon Trail midday. He slowed his rate considerably along the West Shore during the heat of the day and took his first substantial break at Echo Lakes, where he napped and rested for about a half-hour.
After running and walking through the night, Tebbutt took another half-hour nap the next day between Kingsbury Grade and Spooner Summit. Aside from those two breaks, Tebbutt said he plopped down for many one- to five-minute power naps — a strategy he learned during his Tahoe 200 attempt last summer. He estimates he slept an hour and a half total.
"I learned in the Tahoe 200 that getting a little bit of sleep early on, and kind of resetting things, works really well for me. I learned so much from that. It gave me huge confidence," Tebbutt said. "And if didn't fall asleep right away, I would just get up and keep going, because it's amazing how quickly all those minutes add up."
With little shade and few water sources, the East Shore between Kingsbury Grade and Mount Rose was the toughest stretch, Tebbutt said. It was the only portion of trail where he carried his maximum water capacity, of 160 ounces.
"That was my low point without a doubt. If I ever go back and do it again, I'm going to keep that in mind. I won't go out in that kind of heat again," he said. "It was debilitating."
Tebbutt carried more than enough food. He planned for 300 calories an hour for 50 hours — his target time — but instead found that he could not consume more than 200 calories an hour. Most of his food was in the form of gels and bars, although he also toted a big salami and cheese sandwich that he sliced up and rationed for the second half of the trip.
"You definitely couldn't just do that alone because it was too heavy and too much," he said of the sandwich. "That's where gels are good, because they go down super easy."
Fatigued and sleep-deprived, Tebbutt pressed on after a second full night, determined to top Benna's fastest known unsupported time. He reached his original starting point on Brockway Summit to the applause of about 10 friends and family members, who greeted him with food, protein smoothies and beer.
Tebbutt said it wasn't until he returned home that he "hit the wall." But it was nothing that a couple-hour nap couldn't fix.
"I'm recovering well. I'm just fatigued," said Tebbutt, who somehow avoided getting a single blister.
Tebbutt has time to recover before his next endurance endeavor. He said the only race he's signed up for this summer is the inaugural Castle Peak 100K, which will be held Aug. 29 and hosted by the Donner Party Mountain Runners club.