In late June and through the middle of July, the Tahoe Rim Trail’s 171-mile FKTs were battered by a bevy of runners that included Fran Zelenitz (women’s unsupported FKT on June 27), Helen Pelster (lowered Zelenitz’s unsupported FKT on July 2), Candice Burt (lowered Pelster’s unsupported FKT on July 6), Kyle Curtin (men’s unsupported FKT on July 4) and Adam Kimble (men’s supported FKT on July 18).
What is remarkable about all of these records is that they demonstrated how far the sport has advanced. Back in September 2000, Joe Braninburg, Robert Sobsey and Roland Martin – three friends from Reno, NV – became the first team of runners to complete the entire TRT in one sustained, supported outing. It took them a little over 66 hours.
A year later, in July 2001, three friends – Catra Corbett, Linda McFadden and Suzanne Krantz – became the first team of women to complete the entire TRT in one sustained, supported outing. Corbett remembered feeling so exhausted after more than 50 straight hours of being awake that she was “hallucinating so bad, I was ready to quit.” Of course, she didn’t, and neither did her friends. They finished in 72 hours.
Although FKTs are absolute, told in hours, minutes and sometimes down to the second, they are also like a patchwork quilt. Many hands of many runners throughout the years have sewn the stories of individual FKTs together. The story of the TRT FKT runs directly through the experience of Corbett, McFadden and Krantz because they found something more than the first women’s FKT on the TRT – they discovered a stronger sense of purpose and confidence, and came away from the experience more willing to seek out the hardest kinds of challenges possible.
It all started, Catra Corbett remembers, as a way to prepare for something bigger. “We wanted to do the TRT as training for doing the JMT (John Muir Trail) FKT,” Corbett says. “Linda McFadden, it was her idea. She always had these crazy ideas. I was fairly new, back then, to ultrarunning. Linda was the experienced one. She said, ‘If our main plan is to do the JMT, then we should do the TRT, too, and my boyfriend can crew us along the way because he has an RV.’ I was like, ‘Great, I’m in!’”
Corbett, who was living in the Bay Area at the time, had used running as a way to deal with and overcome years of drug and alcohol abuse. She was in her mid-30s, working at Whole Foods, and had made friends with McFadden (a Modesto, CA, attorney and later a judge) in 1997. She met Suzanne Krantz during the Way Too Cool 50K in March 2001.
Both McFadden and Krantz were willing to lend their advice, and their ability channeled their competitiveness into a welcoming generosity that helped Corbett expand her athletic horizons.
“Linda is one of those types of people who is up for anything,” Corbett, 55, and now living in Bishop, CA, says. Today, Corbett has competed at distances of more than 200 miles. She is an adventurous and savvy runner, having set more than her share of unsupported FKTs over the years. Yet in 2001, Corbett was far from being a fully-formed ultrarunner. “I have the super nutty ideas now, but Linda was the one who had them back then. I’ve learned a lot from her, from her being so motivating and wanting to do crazy stuff, and then always hauling me along with her.”
“Suzanne was just so positive,” Corbett says of Krantz. “She was always so encouraging – just a wealth of knowledge. She always saw the beauty in things. I remember the first time I ever saw a bear on the trail. I freaked out and screamed. Suzanne was like, ‘Oh my God. You’re so lucky you saw a bear on the trail.’”
The plan was to make a go at the previous year’s first-ever recorded FKT of the TRT in 66 hours set by Braninburg, Sobsey and Martin.
“I had no idea about this FKT business,” Corbett says. “When you haven’t done an FKT before, you do the math. Take your hundred-mile time, say you’ve run one hundred miles in 27 hours, maybe tack on another 65 miles and factor in you’re being crewed.” She pauses, then laughs, “Even if you’ve never done that distance before in your life, it suddenly seems totally doable.”
There were a few factors working against the women. First and foremost was the fact that in 2001, the TRT, which had taken years of a combined effort between dozens of volunteers and management agencies such as the U.S. Forest Service, was still in the final stages of becoming a fully realized 165-mile loop along the ridgetops of Lake Tahoe. Signage was intermittent. Distances were iffy. There were no Garmins or Strava software to track miles or suggest routes.
“We got lost a lot, to be honest with you,” Corbett says. “If felt like we were going in circles at times.”
As the trio battled distance, McFadden’s stomach began to bother her and Corbett was growing increasingly tired.
“It just seemed things were taking so much longer than we thought,” Corbett says. “We’d been awake for 50 hours. I was hallucinating so bad, I was ready to quit. I thought I was done. Then it dawned on me that Linda and Suzanne were going to finish and I wasn’t going to finish, and I thought, ‘That’s so lame.’ I didn’t have the experience like I do now. I had to dig deep.”
What helped was Corbett realizing how invested the women were in each other’s ability to keep moving.
“Looking back, luckily, we all had fallen apart at different points,” Corbett says. “It actually worked out really well. When one of us fell apart, the two others would lift them up. We’d be each other’s cheerleader. We weren’t going to let the other person stop.”
When they finished, having taken three days to complete the TRT, they stopped at the RV and spontaneously grabbed each other’s hands.
“It was really cool,” Corbett says. “We held hands and that was our finish. There was no one there to greet us, just Linda’s boyfriend, Jimmy. Suzanne was very emotional. She started crying, which made me cry. It was a huge accomplishment for all of us. It was like, wow, we just did something huge.”
Then they were on the road, almost immediately. Corbett had to be back to work at Whole Foods that afternoon. McFadden had a court date later that morning. They’d made history. They’d become the first women to complete the TRT. Few people knew.
About a month later, the trio attempted the JMT. At one point, however, Krantz’s arm broke while she was attempting to pull on her backpack. They were far enough onto the JMT that it took two days to hike out and get Krantz to medical treatment in Bishop.
“She would not let me carry her pack and instead, she used it as a sling,” Corbett says. “Suzanne was so not afraid of stuff.”
It turned out that Krantz was suffering from malignant melanoma. The cancer was eating through her bones. She would return to the race where she had held the course record, the Rio Del Lago 100, to cheer on her friends that fall. She died on Jan. 29, 2002. When Krantz’s daughter, Molly, ran the Tahoe Rim Trail Endurance run a few years ago, race director George Ruiz presented Molly with the inaugural Suzanne Krantz Inspiration Award.
Ruiz, whose participation in the sport dates back three decades, says he always has been “in awe” of what Corbett, McFadden and Krantz did during the summer of 2001.
“About the only woman we read or hear about from that era is Ann Trason,” Ruiz says. “But what those three women did in the early days of the Tahoe Rim Trail, doing it in one solid push, was awesome. Now, it’s so in vogue to do something like that. Back then, it really wasn’t. These were women who helped start it all.”
Corbett believes that her experience on the TRT in 2001 set her on the path that she still follows to this day.
“It did set me up to do solo stuff, more challenging stuff,” she says. “I thought, ‘If I can do this, what else am I capable of doing?’ For years I’ve also been trying to convince people to try these long challenges along with me. You learn a lot about yourself when you push yourself to do a little more than you thought you could.”
Corbett sees the value of what she did back in 2001, playing out often on the trails of the Eastern Sierra of California. “Women need to feel more empowered and not be afraid. A lot more women are being brave and are getting out in the wilderness. I see it all the time when I’m running up on the JMT. I notice more solo hikers who are women or girls. I always stop and high-five them.”
Pretty regularly, especially when she is running in and around Bishop, Corbett will find herself making a stop at the West Line Cemetery. It’s where her friend, Suzanne Krantz, is buried.
“I do stop by the cemetery and whenever I’m on Piute Pass (the area where Krantz broke her arm on the JMT in 2001), I say a prayer for her,” Corbett says. “I get to certain spots on the trail and I remember having this conversation or that conversation with her. I see a tree that Suzanne said was beautiful. She was a beautiful person, and she always saw beauty in the world.”