Tahoe Rim Trail record falls — again | SierraSun.com

Tahoe Rim Trail record falls — again

Sylas Wright
swright@sierrasun.com

They say records are made to be broken. But the record-setters usually have longer than two weeks to bask in their accomplishment.

Yet, that's about how long Mike Tebbutt had to enjoy his fastest known unsupported time around the Tahoe Rim Trail.

"Yeah, it was fun while it lasted, and still is," said Tebbutt, who was a good sport about his short-lived record.

Tebbutt, a 44-year-old Kings Beach resident, set out on June 25 to break JB Benna's fastest known unsupported time around the roughly 165-mile trail. He achieved his goal, breaking Benna's time of 58 hours and 43 minutes, set in 2013, with a new mark of 54 hours and 17 minutes.

The record was destined to fall — and in short order.

Fifteen days after Tebbutt's finish, 37-year-old Sean Ranney of Sacramento completed the scenic loop around Lake Tahoe in 51 hours and 45 minutes.

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"It had been in the back of my head for a couple of years. I signed up for the Tahoe 200 (ultramarathon) last year and bailed halfway through because I was lame," Ranney said, adding that he tried for the record last fall but aborted when he ran into snow in Desolation Wilderness. "So then I just all of the sudden went for it again, and it came together."

Unlike Tebbut, who started at the Brockway Summit trailhead in the middle of the night, Ranney departed from Spooner Summit on July 10 at 5 a.m. Both headed out in a counterclockwise direction.

Tebbut chose his starting point based on its close proximity to his home. Ranney left from Spooner Summit to split up the 42-mile waterless stretch above Tahoe's east shore. The only drawback, he said, was reaching the bony, more technical section of trail through Desolation Wilderness with more than 100 miles on his legs.

He almost called it quits before then.

Ranney said "things started getting twisty" in his stomach on his first night, somewhere between Tahoe City and Barker Pass. On top of his stomach issues, recent rains had drenched the overgrown vegetation along the trail, making it impossible to stay dry.

"I was soaking wet and was pretty cold and miserable. So that first night was tough," Ranney said. "I wanted to quit, but I was in Desolation by that time with no easy way out. If there had been a trail right there, I would have been gone."

Ranney pressed on, running a majority of the downhills and hiking the uphill stretches. By morning his stomach began to feel better and he was able to eat. It renewed his spirits.

The second night was rough in a completely different way. Going on 47 hours with next to no sleep, his mind began playing tricks on him.

"I think the most interesting thing, which I've never ran into, was the second night I really started hallucinating fairly significantly. I was sitting there and had to turn my headlamp off to change the batteries, and I look over in the darkness and there are all these white, floating things with this black structure between them," Ranney said. "So I look out and see all this going on, and I started wigging out a little bit. I was still together enough to know it was a hallucination. But there was that."

The hallucinations continued through the night. Ranney said he had a sense that people were with him, and he was delegating simple tasks to each of the imaginary friends. But they were failing him.

Still, he pushed on, one step at a time, until eventually reaching his starting point. He arrived at Spooner Summit at 8:52 a.m. to a crowd of one — Tebbutt.

"It was just Mike. He was there to give me a high-five," Ranney said.

Tebbutt said he took the sleep-deprived and loopy Ranney out to breakfast, where the friends chatted about their experiences.

Ranney said he went out super light, not even bringing a water filter or an abundance of food. While he took some chances drinking unfiltered water, the strategy paid off in the end. He got only one blister along the way and, aside from fatigue, felt fine in the wake of his feat.

Should someone break his new fastest known unsupported time — meaning no external support of any kind — Ranney said he'll remain satisfied with his efforts.

"Unlike most things in life, I think records are more about the getting than the having. I think it would be amazing to see someone else break 50 hours," he said, adding that he's already received an email from someone who wants to top his record. "I'd love to see a really good runner go after it."

Tebbutt, however, just might give it another shot.

"Sean has forced me to start my training for next year's attempt," he said.

As far as the overall fastest known time on the Tahoe Rim Trail — which, according to both Tebbutt and Ranney, measures closer to 172-175 miles — Spanish ultrarunning phenom Kilian Jornet ran it with full support in 38 hours and 32 minutes. The Tahoe Rim Trail records are listed at fastestknowntime.proboards.com.