Gellin’s Group Attempts Tahoe Rim Trail FKT

A preview of Gary Gellin and company’s attempts to break Killian Jornet’s Tahoe Rim Trail FKT.

By on August 13, 2012 | Comments

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 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. [broken link removed]

Gretchen Brugman
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.