A running king takes one last lap

Twietmeyer says it's his final WS 100 race, though his career goes on
By: Mark DeVaughn, Journal Assistant Sports Editor
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Clean-shaven with cropped hair and looking like a congressional intern in a sea of 1970's-era big hair and Fu Manchu's, teenage Tim Twietmeyer was unique because of his looks. The grown-up version has long since become a one-of-a-kind athlete - a five-time champion of the Western States Endurance Run - with a sturdy moustache to boot. And one simple fact separates the upcoming Western States from the other 24 he's ran. He says it's his last as a competitor. "Twenty-five years is a long time," the 47-year-old Auburn resident said. I don't want to be 49-years-old and not playing sports. I really want to give my body a rest. It's like I've been borrowing money from the bank and I need to give it back." Don't call it a retirement. He'll still run in various 50-mile races. However, closing his career at Western States comes in the name of preserving his health and focusing on the business-side of the race. Twietmeyer will bring nagging knee and toe injuries into Saturday's 33rd running of the Western States. He spent May running a total of 200 miles. In previous years (as in when he won Western States crowns in 1992, 1994-1996, and 1998), his personal odometer was often closer 350 miles for that month. Call it sticking with what works. A basketball player and golfer in high school who didn't even compete as a distance runner until college, Twietmeyer has crossed the finish line each time he's competed ultrarunning's premier event. That's an ongoing WS100 record, putting giving him legend-status among distance runners. "Gordy (Ainsleigh) is kind of like the James Naismith of the sport, given that he founded this race," Western States media relation director John Trent said. "I'd call Tim the Cal Ripken of the whole thing. He's the durable iron man who's laid it on the line and performed superbly." The five-time champ is in his second year serving as president of the Western States Endurance Run Foundation since May of last year, and he wants to continue serving that role. Instead of winning the race, getting federal protection for race's entire stretch of rails is of utmost importance now. Only patches of the 100 miles of protection are under such guard. "I'm doing a little bit of everything," he said. "The main thing is preserving this race as the premier race in the sport and continuing to push that. And I'm not really planning to come back." Not really? Having come out racing retirement himself a decade ago after a long stretch of WS100 success, the race's founder disagrees. "I think there's a chance he'll change is mind," said Ainsleigh, 59, who will race this year. "This is a guy easily capable of doing (the race) again. I think he'll be back just because he loves it, kind of like it being a big piece out of his life." Twietmeyer was 22 in 1981, the year he first competed at Western States. The lingering effects of the flu hampered him in 1987, when he still placed 16th with a time of 20 hours and 59 minutes. A 19-hour finish occurred the following year. His next turn began a stretch that solidified his place as a legend in the realm of ultrarunning. He finished among the top five every year from 1989 and 2003, a run that included his dominating run of championships in the 1990's. So how does the man himself explain his longevity? "There's something intoxicating about winning," he said. "But I'm not racing over the place. I'm not a high-mileage guy," Sort of. Twietmeyer ran about 2,700 miles per-year in his racing prime. He compares himself to 14-time women's champion Ann Trason - whom he says would surpass 5,000 miles per-year at her height - in that regard. It's hard to imagine Twietmeyer's life without competitive running, but that's how it was until his college days. The Bay Area native played golf and basketball and Redwood City's Sequoia High School. He wouldn't run long distances competitively until arriving at Chico State, where he ran his first marathon in 3 hours, 7 minutes. Even for a champion like Twietmeyer, the Western States has still proven to pose challenges. Throwing rocks at a skunk to make the furry critter get off the trail with five miles to go in the 1995 race was one thing, but it wasn't this harrowing. He began the 1982 race tipping the scales at 168 pounds. By the time he crossed the finish line with a 50th-place mark of 22 hours and 53 minutes, the dehydrated Twietmeyer weighed 157 pounds. "A motorcycle drove by one of the aid stations at one point of the race," he said. "I remember that if I had seen him earlier, I would have jumped on and quit." Trent - who met Twietmeyer while covering the race for a newspaper in Reno - thinks the move off the trail will suit him. "He'll be more of a politician out on the course," he said. "He's very intellectually curious. He's always been out to understand how things work. It fits." Twietmeyer also took time on Wednesday to look ahead. "It will be bittersweet," he said. "I know next year I'll be wishing I was running."