In 1981, a gallon of gas cost $1.25, a Tandy TRS-80 computer retailed for $149.95, and the median home price in the United States was $66,400. Lady Diana Spencer married Prince Charles in 1981, the Space Shuttle Columbia was launched for the first-ever space shuttle mission, and the very first London Marathon was held. Additionally, your columnist was a 13-year-old freshman in high school who could barely run a half a mile without keeling over. In April of that year, 22-year-old Tim Twietmeyer ran the first and his first American River 50 Mile (AR50) race, held in California.
In the 41 races since that day in April of 1981, Tim Twietmeyer has run the AR50 every single year. When I recently asked Tim to share his memory from his first American River, he had this to say, “What I remember was that they ran the race downhill from Auburn to Sacramento, which sounds like a better course but was really miserable. The first 20 miles on the trail were fun but when you jam 300 runners onto singletrack after three miles of downhill it meant that if you wanted to pass someone who had to run up into the poison oak to do so.”
In Twietmeyer’s 41 finishes, he ran sub-eight hours 32 consecutive times between 1982 and 2013 and sub-seven hours 15 consecutive times between 1988 and 2002. In fact, the only two times he has run the race over 10 hours were when he ran the race with his son Austin. “Don’t get me wrong, it’s fun to run the trails with your kids,” Twietmeyer chides, “but Austin is killing my UltraSignup ranking.” Twietmeyer’s fastest time on the course is the 6:04 he ran in 1997 at the age of 38. That was also the closest he has ever come to winning the race, taking second to San Francisco Bay Area legend Carl Andersen.
“Two things I remember about that year Carl won was how effortless he looked while tapping out 6:30 miles on the Parkway. It looked like he wasn’t even trying, wasn’t sweating at all, and looked like he was in total cruise control. The other thing was seeing Jussi Hamalainen finish in 6:24 at age 51. Jussi was truly one of the original veteran badasses.”
Knowing that over 41 years Tim has shared the trails with many people, I asked him who some of the most influential runners were in his formative years.
“As a youngster in the sport, I always looked up to the steady veterans to learn from and the two steadiest were Dick Collins and Gard Leighton. Dick was literally at every race in California, always smiling and always more than happy to share a hard candy or a trail tip if you were starting to blow. As for Gard, he was one of the first veteran badasses I knew. He ran in that tennis bucket hat and carried his water in a syrup bottle, but the dude ran like a lean daddy-long-legs spider.” Noting the influence Collins and Leighton had on him, Twiet acknowledges how sad it is that both Dick and Gard have passed and what a profound impact they had both on him and his beloved sport.
While there are some who’ve run the AR50 who call it “easy” or “boring,” Twietmeyer’s 41-year experience suggests otherwise. He lights up a bit when talking about the “meat grinder” section which has evolved for him over the years, “It shows up flat on the map, but there’s nothing flat about it. It’s a slow grind in the hottest part of the day. In the middle years when I knew that stretch much better and had good legs, I loved it. Now, I’m back to hating it again.” Noting, as well, that the AR50 course contains ample natural beauty, Twiet waxes almost poetic, “You have poppies blooming on the sidehills, lupine lining the river, irises along Avery’s Pond, and the views along the river change constantly as you climb.”
After a year away from racing—Twietmeyer ran the virtual version of the AR50 on what would have been race day in 2020—I was curious to hear what the feeling of the race was like this year, one of the first few permitted ultramarathons in Northern California since the COVID-19 pandemic began, “It was mostly weird because I hadn’t raced since December, 2019. I had to dig out all my water bottles and get them all cleaned out. In my more than 40 years of running, I’d never gone that long. It was great to be back in the game!”
Toward the end of our conversation, I had to ask Tim what his thoughts were about running AR50 next year and his response was decidedly Twietmeyer-like, “Who knows? I just want to stay in shape so that if something super compelling comes up, I’m in good-enough shape to jump in. I’m hoping I’m available for next year’s AR50 so we can get back to a bigger field and I can meet a few new runners in the sport and share some good trail stories along the way.”
And with that, I think it’s safe to say, if you’re looking for Tim on the first Saturday in April next year, he’ll be somewhere between Sacramento and Auburn soaking up another sun-drenched day on his beloved trails and inspiring another generation of ultrarunners.
AJW’s Tim Twietmeyer’s Beer of the Week
“Combining two of my favorite beverages, coffee and beer, 21st Amendment Brewery has nailed it with their 1966 Coffee IPA. Combining Peet’s Coffee, my preferred choice for a morning beverage, with their IPA, a great BBQ or post-run brew, 1966 will keep you wondering if you should sit back and relax or get amped for a 10-mile run. The coffee flavor is obvious but not too strong and the IPA makes it all go down smoothly. Try one at your next carbo-loading opportunity.”
Call for Comments
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