Gellin’s Group Attempts Tahoe Rim Trail FKT

Tahoe Rim TrailIt was two summers ago that Gary Gellin first had the idea to run the entire Tahoe Rim Trail. It wasn’t until meeting Ben Lewis, at mile 35 of The Bear 100 in 2011, that he came up with the idea of running it as a team. One other important piece of his plan: He wants to take down Kilian Jornet’s speed record of 38 hours and 32 minutes.

This morning at 5:30 am in Tahoe City, California, the final step in Gellin’s plan began when he, Ben Lewis (Ben’s pre-TRT post), Adam Hewey, and Victor Ballesteros set out together for their 165 mile journey around Lake Tahoe.With numerous mountain races, such as Western States, The Bear, Bighorn, and Hardrock, to their credit, the men can all claim experience in the ultrarunning world, but none have ever attempted a run this far. If all goes as planned, they’ll arrive back in Tahoe City sometime before 8:02 pm on Tuesday.

Gellin’s idea to run this as a group, rather than as a solo runner with pacers, lends an interesting aspect to his attempt.

“When I met Ben during The Bear, we teamed up and ran together for 50 miles of the race,” Gellin said.

He enjoyed the camaraderie, and realized that the sense of working together and feeling like a team would be helpful in a “Fastest Known Time” attempt.

A group running together the entire distance creates a different dynamic than a runner and pacer, because everyone in the group has been through the same thing; they all have the same number of miles on their legs.

Adam Hewey, Victor Ballesteros, Gary Gellin, and Ben Lewis before their Tahoe Rim Trail attempt.

Adam Hewey, Victor Ballesteros, Gary Gellin, and Ben Lewis before their Tahoe Rim Trail attempt.

“Something like this is beyond a race,” Gellin explained. “It’s more like going to war. You have to shift from competitive mode to survival mode, and you feed off the energy of your teammates.”

With that in mind, last fall he began recruiting fellow ultrarunners to join him on his journey.

How does this group plan to accomplish the monstrous task of finishing the trail faster than someone with the credentials of Kilian Jornet? Gellin feels their advantages lie not in running faster, but in being more efficient.

“Kilian slept for at least an hour, and he also got lost for about 45 minutes,” said Gellin. “We don’t plan on doing either of those things.”

He also plans on doing very little stopping. He has spent hours organizing a team of 35 experienced pacers and crew members that will give the group “NASCAR-style pit crewing.” Their plan calls for stops of only 1-2 minutes at each of 12 aid stations.

Leading the crew efforts will be Gellin’s wife, Holly. Other support members include a list of familiar names from the ultrarunning scene, everyone from Quad Dipsea record holder Caren Spore, to “Unbreakable” filmmaker JB Benna.

Pacers will be employed simply for the purpose of safety, ensuring that no runner ends up on the trail alone. If any runner in the group falls off the pace, one of three pacers will stay with him so that he may keep running without compromising the speed of the entire group. Pacers already know who will go ahead with the leaders and who will be the first to stay back with struggling runners.

“We won’t have time to stop and have a pow-wow about what to do if someone is slowing down,” Gellin said. And it is this attention to detail that should work in the group’s favor.

In addition to being incredibly organized, Gellin has done his homework on the Tahoe Rim Trail and on what it takes to finish the entire thing. He has been on every mile of the trail himself, and completed a practice run of 66 miles on it in June at his planned pace (15:00 per mile uphill and 10:40 per mile downhill). He also sought advice from the experts, getting help from Jornet, former record holder Tim Twietmeyer, and ultra distance legend David Horton.

“Kilian was incredibly supportive,” Gellin said, “and Tim recommended finishing before the second night to avoid the sleep deprivation issue.” The group will have to follow that advice if they want to achieve the record.

David Horton initially gave Gellin’s group no chance of success. “He said it was a zero percent possibility,” Gellin laughed. “But after I explained all of our plans, he upped us to 60%.”

In addition to a primary goal of setting a new record, Gellin is excited about simply going the entire distance.

“Even if I slow down, I’m definitely not stopping. It’s not just that I’ve never run that far, but I’ve never even stayed awake that long,” he explained. “There’s a sense of discovery about the whole thing, and I can’t wait to start.”

Given the amount of support this group has, it appears that many others in the ultrarunning world are also excited about this sense of discovery.

You can follow Gary, Ben, Adam, and Victor’s progress on Monday and Tuesday at http://www.ultralive.net/trt165/webcast.php and on Twitter with the hashtag #TRT165.’

Call for Comments (from Bryon)

  • Do you think anyone in this group will succeed in setting the FKT? If so, which runner(s) and why?
  • What do you think of the group twist on an FKT? Would it suit you?

Updates (from Gretchen Brugman in the field)

Mile 3 – Here’s a shot of Gary and Adam coming through Paige Meadows, about 3 miles into the run this morning. Their comment was “We’re on our last lap!”

Gary Gellin, Adam Hewey Tahoe Rim Trail 2012

Gary Gellin and Adam Hewey at Mlle 3.


Mile 47.6 – Echo Lakes Chalet:
Gary, Ben, and Victor arrived exactly on schedule and still looking strong. Adam had dropped back about ten minutes with a sour stomach. The group of 3 left before Adam arrived. Adam spent about 40 minutes trying to bring his stomach back around, still was not keeping food down, and decided not to continue.

At Barker Pass (mile 16) they were about 20 minutes ahead of their plan. At Fontanillis (mile 32) they were 5 minutes early. At Echo (mile 47.6) they were also about 5 minutes early. Desolation Wilderness is considered to be the hardest section because it is so rocky and technical, and now that’s all behind them.

Echo Lake - Tahoe Rim Trail 2012

Three of the FKT attempters – Gary Gellin, Victor Ballesteros, and Ben Lewis along with pacer VJ Boril at Echo Lake.

Gretchen reports, “There has been thunder, but the runners have mostly avoided any real soakings. At this point, the cloud cover is great because it is helping to keep things cooler than expected.”

Echo Lake - Gary Gellin - Victor Ballesteros - Bew Lewis

Gary Gellin, pacer VJ Boril, Ben Lewis, and Victor Ballesteros at Echo Lake.

Mile 65 – Big Meadow:
Ben Lewis has dropped.

Tuesday Morning Update:
Here’s an update from Steve Tjiang who is crewing

Sometime around midnight Gary’s knee gave up on him before Star Lake. And Victor Ballesteros got lost and found himself on pavement of South Lake Tahoe.

We abandoned our rest at Kingsbury North and eventually picked up Gary and his pacer at High Meadow trailhead at 5 am. He had hobbled down from Star Lake, officially dropping out.

Victor retraced his steps after talking to Jenna, his wife, who drove to meet him. He finally reached Star Lake around 4 am and made it to Kingsbury south around 6:30 am. He is now about 5.5 hours behind schedule, but continuing.

Mile 126 – Tahoe Meadows:
Victor came in at 7:05 pm looking great. He is well behind record pace, (It sounds like his “detour” in the middle of the night cost him 10 miles and at least 4 hours.), but obviously enjoying himself. Gary, Adam, Ben and the crew are all out supporting and the mood is positive for Victor to finish sometime early Wednesday morning.

Final Update:
Wednesday morning at 10:53, the TRT 165 run came to a close, with Victor Ballesteros completing the distance in 53 hours and 3 minutes.

Of the four who began the run on Monday morning, he was the only one to make it past 80 miles – and that with a 10-mile detour when he got lost around mile 75. Victor spent much of Tuesday running through warm temperatures and smoky skies before thunderstorms rolled in and cooled things down. He managed to avoid the worst of the weather through the day, and was in great spirits and moving well when he arrived at Tahoe Meadows (mile 126) Tuesday evening. A long night with unpredictable weather made for a challenging push to Tahoe City and mile 165, (or mile ~175 in Victor’s case).

Among the crowd gathered to crew and support Victor along the way and at his finish were Gary, Adam, Ben and their families. In spite of the fact that each of them were forced to drop before the end of the run, they were all overwhelmingly positive about the experience and excited for Victor.

“This has been a great time in Tahoe,” Adam said. “And the group run was an interesting experiment.”

Gary, with a visibly swollen knee, admitted, “It’s bittersweet. But I feel like there were a lot of positives, and that’s what I can take away. I enjoyed the ‘mini event’ aspect, and appreciated the support of so many people. Kilian’s time is totally solid, absolutely. I do think with ‘all systems go’ it could be doable.”

When asked if he planned to try it again, Gary was noncommittal. “Maybe.” He shrugged. “In about ten years.”

One thing is clear, in spite of not completing the entire 165 mile distance, the Gary, Adam and Ben have no regrets about their attempt and enjoyed celebrating Victor’s successful completion of the trail.

Here’s Gretchen’s article on the attempt for the Sierra Sun newspaper.

Gretchen Brugman

has been running and racing for over 25 years at distances from a quarter mile to 100 miles. She has worked as a track coach and outdoor guide, leading rock climbing, back packing, and canoeing trips through the wilderness areas of North America. Currently a teacher and writer in the Tahoe area, she discusses running and outdoor adventures at her website, Daily Adventures.

There are 51 comments

  1. Alex from New Haven

    This is great! I solo fast-packed TRT in 2007 and it was beautiful. Much of the trail is quite fast. I would love to do it supported as a run (well until it got ugly)

    Are they doing the same distance/trail as Kilian? A section has changed in the last few years, around the Tahoe City area that was supposed to bypass a really terrible section of trail (which is great) but it was supposed to add a few miles. Any info on that?

    1. Gretchen

      Alex – The Tahoe City reroute happened before Kilian's run, so that section will be the same. However, Gary told me that there has been a new section rerouted near Heavenly in South Lake Tahoe that changes a 4 mile stretch of pavement (what Kilian ran) to a 5-6 mile stretch of trail. This will definitely add some challenge to achieving their goal.

      1. Alex from New Haven

        I know exactly what you're talking about. I actually found those 5 miles of road to be one of the hardest stretches of the hike/run because after several days of soft trail your swollen/mashed feet have to do over and hour of pavement walking…

        Thank god they've reworked that section, makes it much more aesthetic. I'm sure Kilian wasn't wild about the road walk/run section either. Much of it was steep uphill through neighborhoods to get to the trail head.

  2. Sean

    You gotta love Horton and his brutal honesty – he'll tell it as he sees it, no holds barred. Reading about Gary's attention to detail is pretty incredible. With just that, it looks like he, Victor, Adam, and Ben are off to a good start. Enjoy the trail, boys!

  3. marco

    I just saw Gary at the Quicksilver running club BBQ a couple of weeks ago and he was telling us all the research he has done to accomplish this. It's very impressive. Just hearing him talk about it I could sense his feeling of adventure. I wish them all the best and hope that they all complete this journey safely.

    Marco

  4. art

    I wish the group well in their effort.

    But I do admit to not being quite sure how I feel about it.

    Yes, I was a bit relieved when David Horton's PCT record was broken using traditional thrupacker style.

    But PCT and TRT are considerably different, and TRT really has no history being so new, so perhaps this "super ultrarunner style" is ok for TRT.

  5. Aaron Sorensen

    Okay so this is some more brutal honesty from someone who has tried for the Unsupported TRT 3 times and is going for it again this year.

    Just knowing that most of them are faster than Tim and they will be carrying less due to the amount of support, I would say at least 2 of them have a fighting chance of getting in under 40 hours. I think finding the extra hour and a half to get the record will be up to one of them having a good day with 30 miles to go and really pushing the throttle down and leave the team to get it. IF not, I think they have no chance.

    Tim did 100 miles in the first 24 hours, Kilian did it in something crazy like under 19 hours.

    If they are to have any chance in the first place they will need to first do 100 in sub 20.

    I am only saying this time because Kilian lost 2 hours on sleep and getting lost.

    They may all be capable of that 20 hour time, but I don't think any of them knows what it is like to keep pushing that pace after that.

    So if 3 of them stay together 42+ hours, 2 of them a good chance at sub 40, one of them keeps that momentum up a 35% of getting the record.

    I think that Tim's time was just okay, (it's kind of like Brett's Maunes JMT time as a time to go for supported) but a 38:32 will be a lot more difficult than they think.

    I wish them God speed, but Killian is already one himself, so they need it.

  6. Aaron Sorensen

    Actually they are going the opposite direction, so all times are out the window relative to Kilian's.

    While carrying 15 pounds going unsupported, a good time to Echo Lakes is 15 hours.

    They will be doing that 47.6 miles much faster, but there are about 12 miles that are brutal. I hope they are able to do this in sub 11.

    The one and only thing about going counter clockwise starting from Tahoe City is that Desolation hurts so now you are hurting the rest of the way, thus slowing you down on the easier faster stuff.

    These guys are supper strong though. I'm sure they will get through desolation without too many difficulties, but it will hurt!

  7. David T

    Almost seems like there should be at least four FKT catagories:

    1) Solo unsupported

    2) Solo supported

    3) Team (of two or more) unsupported

    4) Team (of two or more) supported

    Seems unfair to compare across these obvious catagories.

    1. Trevor

      Yes David, the trail really lends its self to solo supported attempts with all the road crossings which is really unlike any other trail of this length in the states. In the summer I keep water stashed at all the trail heads(our little secret) I can leave my house with 2 bottles and a fanny pack and knock 50+ miles with almost no planning what so ever then just hitch a ride home or I can hitch a ride and run home just as easy. Not alot of trails/areas in the world you can do that so easily.

      Also I think you really need to look a the direction being run. As they are completely different efforts. There really should be a Counter/Clockwise record also added to all the sub categories mentioned.

  8. Trevor

    Judging by the photo of mile 3(running through Page meadows south of TC) they are running counterclockwise, if I am correct Kilian ran clockwise like almost all previous attempts and records. So really they are not trying to break any record they are just setting a new one.

    Also having run every single section of the TRT in every direction many many times I would have to say that counter clockwise is easier. I could be wrong though? I would agree with Aaron that the TC to Echo section is tough and a some what hard way to start but there are also a lot of big climbs they will be running down. For example it is for the most part all down hill(no huge climbs) after Relay to the finish.

    I would love to here what people think regarding direction difficulty???

    Either way best of luck guys enjoy it, it is a truly AMAZING trail.

    1. Aaron Sorensen

      Next time out on the TRT for the Unsupported Record, I am going to start at Echo Lakes to leave Desolation for last.

      I don't see how going the other way means a different record.

      You are still running every step of the trail with the same elevation gain.

      On the JMT, that's a different story, but on any loop course, it's all the same.

      I know if every hill were steeper one way and easier going down, it may be different on paper, but still the same trail on a loop.

      David T.

      The different categories are more on the self/supported side. Doing the PCT/AT solo you are going self supported, yet it is considered unsupported.

      1. Alex from New Haven

        For instance, take Hardrock; everyone reports that one orientation of the loop is very different than the other with some passes having steep climbs and long road descents, or reversed, depending on the orientation of the loop.

        With TRT you have the extra variable of where to start. When I solo unsupported, I started at Echo and went counter-clockwise because the mileage and camping spots worked out best. That being said, leaving Desolation for last is extremely tough of trashed legs.

        I'm not even in the same zip code ability wise, and I would need a whole extra night/day to "run" it ultra style, but I think Tahoe City Counter Clockwise sounds best to me…

      2. Trevor

        Hardrock has records for both direction and times are different, there is an ongoing discusion on which is harder, I think the same should be applied here.

        I think the Brockway to Rose section is a great example it is either a long slog up to Relay and a nice easy short jog to the road or a short jog up to Relay and nice steady downhill that can be run really fast if needed. My times on that section alone are well over a hour different. Many other sections are the similar.

        Aaron bold move or leaving the Desolation section for last, you will definitely be doing some soul searching out there! "Anything worth doing is worth doing right" -H.Thompson

  9. Jeff

    From my perch here in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, it is not looking good up there…big thunder storms erupting in and around the Lake Tahoe area…hope they stay safe!

    1. Pete

      Just saw and heard the first thunder and lightening in tahoe city. I will say though that the rain is very light and honestly the temps are a perfect 65 right now. With that said it will most likely be a cold one tonight.

  10. djconnel

    It seems like this begs for an organized race in the future. It's really amazing what Gary is attempting here and I'm pulling for him to pull it off. Just getting within striking distance of Killian will be success enough: it would reinforce how impressive a runner he is, rather than any sort of failure by Gary's team.

  11. Aaron Sorensen

    Looks like desolation did Adam Hewey in?

    At least it shows that he dropped. I hope not, he was only 10 minutes back.

    All of them will have a bad spell out there that they won’t be able to keep up with the others.

    10 minutes is a drop in the bucket, if you weren’t feeling good. The right pacer and getting back up on your hydration and caloric intake can take that 10 off in just a few hours.

    At least they did sub 11 hours to Echo, right on track. The hard part now will be being able to stay focused through the night. After you get up to the top of the section they're on (Echo to Big Meadows), you can run every step all the way down to Big Meadow with the exception of the last 1/2 mile.

    It will be here where they will need to make up time. They are still way behind Kilian. He average almost 6 mph until dark, where they are at 4.5.

    Still, Kilian did not average 4.5 through desolation, so everything is still relative until we start to see how the do starting now. Their time on this section needs to be better than what they've been averaging so far. This should be pretty easy from how desolation is in comparison.

    I hope at least one of them has it in them because they have all been crushing big races in the past two years.

    1. Pete

      Adam is done sadly. A lot of stomach problems and unable to hold anything down. For sure the hard part is now over in terms of the terrain. There is a long way to go though.

  12. Fabrice

    My take is only just a few could get kilian record, ow four ??? Who are those guys? Whatch your words they'll get you :-)))) record are made to be broken but kilian is the best!!,

  13. Adam Hewey

    Gary's preparations for this FKT attempt are beyond amazing. He had every split, pacer, time schedule, travel connections figured out and printed. Gary is out there now in the dark killing it. Victor is only 30 minutes behind Gary. Ben and I are going to sleep this one off. We were both brought down by stomach issues caused by the beautiful, rugged Desolation Wilderness. Get it Gary, we'll be following tomorrow.

  14. Jacob Puzey

    Hope all goes well and look forward to reading and hearing about the adventure. Wish I could have been there to pace, but couldn't get work off. Jealous of those who get to be a part of this epic run (record or not). Very impressed by Gary's preparation and attention to detail!

  15. Erica Jonlin

    I am so in awe of my athlete brother! I have learned that Gary's approach to ultrarunning, and this run in particular, is fittingly intellectual and technical. Perfect and logical for this engineer-athlete. Holding this run at the end of the Olympics is so fitting. Gary wins gold in our family! We're so proud of you!

  16. Andy S.

    Looks like things are conspiring against this group, but it is not because of a lack of planning or preparation. Sorry I could not be of more help.

  17. Alex from New Haven

    They're operating in a difficult zone of effort, distance, elevation and logistics. Kilian set quite a high bar and that means they're having to push this 165-170 mile trek from the start often at 9000+ feet while trying to stay ahead on self care… it's very very difficult. You saw the toll it took on Kilian, he was pretty messed up and needed a nap to finish.

    I have a huge amount of respect for these guys even trying. If they make it around, breaking the record or not, it's impressive. If they don't make it, it simply shows how difficult it is and how impressive, Tim and then Kilian's records are. This is MUCH harder than almost any 100 mile race (I haven't done Hardrock, HURT, UTMB or Barkley's so I can't speak to those).

    Way to raise the bar on what's possible guys!

  18. Pete

    Sadly it looks like the record is out. Gary appears to have dropped. Looks like victor is still moving on attempting to finish which is still a feat in it self. I hope he does it.

  19. jenn

    I agree with you, Alex. And hopefully Victor will have a great run!

    Plus, how boring would it be if we all succeeded first time out?!

  20. David Wronski

    The Tahoe Rim Trail is no joke, and to even attempt to run it close to Kilian's record time is a huge challenge. I can't imagine doing it under 55 hours. I recently completed the entire TRT going clockwise, and was on pace to finish in 60 hours but by not sleeping at all my pace slowed considerably and it took 68 hours.

    Good luck to Victor, as it looks like he's the only one left!

  21. Erwan Japon

    And this also tells us how much research the Salomon's team of Kilian has done before too. Not only is Kilian a very good runner, but we should also emphasize that he has one of the best team in the world _gathering information, checking course, making preliminary contacts with great guys in the ultra-running community etc…_

    Looks like the group won't make the FKT this year but good luck for Victor !

  22. Pete

    wow some serious weather now. just hope victor is safe. golf ball size hail and thunder plus lightening. the weather in tahoe is no joke currently

  23. Chris

    i paced and crewed for Tom Flahaven the weekend of 8/4/12 where he completed the entire TRT in 45:34. TRT is no joke and i'll say i was a bit taken back by how outspoken this group was on with respect to their tactics (no planned sleep and not getting lost). Sleep for > 24hr endurance events isn't a choice, but a necessity.

    1. Terry wilson

      I feel the need to also comment on the results of this attempt .i, along chris crewed and paced tom last weekend.. Tom insisted on not talking about this adventure he was doing. So we honored him with that request. I will now say that tom did this adventure for all the right reasons. Tom chose to do this for the following reasons. First of all he loves the trails ..another reason is that he wanted something to challenge him physically, mentally and spiritually. And finally he wanted to attempt to do this with friends and family, and people that share in his love for the trails and mountains . He succeeded in all facets of his adventure.. It was an honor and a privilege to share this special weekend with tom , his wife and friends…

      I may be wrong about this group that attempted and failed to break kiilians record….but I'm going to take this moment to pass judgement. Y'all did it for the wrong reasons……basically driven by your egos..so I invite you to check your selves"……..AND BTY ….go victor, your the man

      1. Bryon Powell

        Terry, we all run and take on challenges for different reasons. I think it'd be a bit rash to assume that all of the runners involved were driven by ego. Knowing some better than others, I'm pretty sure that's not the case. Perhaps, some aimed high for a challenge. The novelty of such a group attempt might also have drawn folks in. There have long been (judgmental) debates about whether folks should run FKTs on famous trail routes; however, so long as one person's outing doesn't interfere with anyone else's enjoyment of the trail, isn't it all good in the end?

        1. Anonymous

          Ironically if someone is so smugly judgmental of others that alone could be argued to be indicative of egomania: an obsession with the superiority of the self. I know Gary and for him this was the perfect logistical and physical challenge. He gave it a try, not afraid to do so publicly, and failed. I salute him for making the effort.

          1. marco

            Terry,

            do yo also think that Killian goes around the world setting these records or attempting to do so just for his ego? He films them and advertises them so according to your assessment/judgment of Gary's group Killian is a huge emomaniac.

            Marco

            1. terry wilson

              hey guys , i didnt use the words "egomaniac", those are your words.i just would have liked to have seen a humbler approach to such an ardent endeavor . And I owned it as My judgement.

              and I think that Killian would be running those hills just the same even if there wasnt a camera on him. Just for the love of the experience.

          2. Aaron Sorensen

            I for one have to build myself up (more mentally) in order to keep the progression going during training and during an attempt just to keep me going on the right track.

            Although it may seem like an arrogance or ego, I can assure you that these guys are on the trail because they have a passion and love of it.

            It may be hard to believe it just because they need to follow splits, but obviously all that goes right out the window as soon as you are not able to keep those splits and you keep going because of the love of the trail.

  24. Ben

    Victor came through Tahoe Meadows (mile 125) at around 7pm looking great and moving smoothly. Even brought a flower for his wife. Looking to be on pace to go sub 48 hours.

  25. Erwan Japon

    I was wondering naively. From the administrative point of view, it is usualy easier to make a solo attempt or this kind of small group attempt… But would a race receive the authorizations ?

    As we can see with the popularity of long races such as the Tor Des Geants (Italia, sept.), we certainly can gather enough runners for an organized events.

    The scenary looks great, the record exist, etc…

  26. Pete

    Congrats Victor. 53:03 what a grind. Amazing he stuck with it. That is a long time to be grinding. Be interested to see a post run write up. Really an amazing accomplishment. Really makes one wonder if anyone even has a chance to come close to killian's time.

  27. KenZ

    Oh my goodness, that is pure core. Wow. Respect!

    Knowing one of the guys that planned this, I'd say they wouldn't have attempted it if they didn't think it was possible. Granted, Killian may just be the best mountain runner out there right now, but that doesn't mean he ran that particular effort at his peak (conjecture on my part). I'm betting it's beatable, but difficult. Would need stellar logistics and planning AND super talented mountain runner(s). I'd like to see a write up, and see what that group things about chances for attempt #2.

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