Constellations and Supernovas

For me, two dates rise above all others in the world of trail ultramarathon running over the past 30 years.

June 24, 2006 and July 12, 2008.

Why, you ask?

Well, on June 24, 2006, Tim Twietmeyer finished his 25th WS 100 and on July 11, 2008 Kyle Skaggs ran what is, in my opinion, the greatest single race in trail ultramarathon history at the Hardrock 100.

What makes these events so similar and so different is the reason for this article. And what happened after the fact makes them even more compelling.

Tim Twietmeyer’s accomplishments at Western States are downright staggering: 25 sub-24 hour finishes, 15 consecutive top-5 finishes, and 5 wins. In 2006, going into his 25th race, Tim was battling a serious knee injury and talking to many of us about just running the race under the cutoffs. Then, of course, the weather turned ugly with record high temperatures in many areas of the course and Tim ran an incredible race finishing in 11th place (9th male) in a time of 20:33. At the awards ceremony that year Tim was presented with a beautiful framed box with all 25 of his silver buckles on display. That occasion marked the end of an incredible string of consistency and longevity that I cannot imagine ever being matched.

Kyle Skaggs’ run at the Hardrock 100 miler two years later was, quite simply, extraordinary. Leaving Silverton, Kyle had a 2-minute lead before they even were out of town (7 minutes into the race!). Kyle then proceeded to run as if he was on fire arriving at aid stations before they had been setup, traversing 13,000 foot passes as if they were at sea-level, and finishing in an astounding 23:23 – a full six hours before Scott Jaime, the 2nd place finisher. Upon finishing Kyle showed his shoes to the assembled crowd and determined that he had literally run the shoes off his feet! Kyle’s record may some day be broken as runners continue to push the envelope, but it will take a Herculean effort to do so. In one day, Kyle simply changed the paradigm.

Following the race Kyle ran a couple more low-key events and then slowly slipped off the ultrarunning map. Word is that Kyle still runs and is busy with his farm in New Mexico, but his life has moved away from ultramarathon running for reasons that are entirely his own.

What, then, is it about a sport that can produce both Tim Twietmeyer and Kyle Skaggs? On one end of the spectrum is the model of consistency and longevity and on the other end is the outright single performance of a lifetime. Is this the same as comparing the 300-win baseball pitcher to the one-year phenom who strikes out 300 batters in a season and then is never to be heard from again? Perhaps.

But there also could be something deeper. Ultramarathon running requires a tremendous commitment of time, energy and passion. Can you imagine what life was like in the Twietmeyer household every year for 25 years? Kids were born and raised, jobs were done, houses were remodeled, etc, and along the way, every June, Tim ran the race and ran it very well. By contrast, in the early spring of 2008, Kyle put his life on hold, moved to Silverton, and over the course of 5 months whipped himself into the best shape of his life. He learned the nuances of every climb on the Hardrock course and internalized every rock, twig and creek crossing. Then, with the calm and deliberate focus of a monk, proceeded to run what could go down in history as the perfect race. Tim reached the top of the sport through a long, consistent devotional to what makes him tick. Kyle made it to the top with one sharp sweep of the sword and then stepped aside.

Of course, there are likely many more personal characteristics that come into play here and I do not pretend to know what they are. In fact, in my imagination I prefer not to know. Rather, as an observer, I like to think that both of these incredible men have had an impact on a sport that will change it forever. And, that impact is what inspires more people to the sport. In this time of great growth and evolution for ultramarathon running I hope that both longevity and individual excellence bring people out to the trails. I cannot think of two better people to represent these dual ideals as Tim Twietmeyer and Kyle Skaggs. Thanks guys!

Call for Comments (from Bryon)
What do you think of Tim’s and Kyle’s contributions as runners to the annals of ultramarathon history? What do you find most compelling or fascinating from each of their performances? What’s more impressive to you (this isn’t to say that either is “lesser”) years of top-end performance or a Bannisterian performance that changes what the world believes is possible?

If you had to add a date to AJW’s list, what would it be and why? Whose other performance – be it career, year, or single event – redefined what is possible in ultrarunning?