Fastest Unknown Time
What running 171 miles means.
Fastest Unknown Time
LØPE MAGAZINE – Issue No. 030, January 2021
by Liam Boylan-Pett
Photography by Tony Di Pasquale
Forty-one miles into her run, Corrine Malcolm had to to stop and wait.
It was about 2:45 p.m. on October 18, 2020, and a little less than nine hours earlier Malcolm had taken off from Tahoe City, California, on a run around the Tahoe Rim Trail, a 171-mile loop with over 26,800 feet of elevation gain, with the intent of becoming the fastest woman to ever complete the route.
It had been a long, winding road to the start line for Malcolm, who planned to make a run at the Tahoe Rim Trail’s Fastest Known Time (F.K.T.) in late August before forest fires in California made conditions unsafe. She postponed attempts in September and early October, too, but, finally, on the 18th, the smoke cleared, and Malcolm was 41 miles into her attempt with Devon Yanko, who was pacing and supporting Malcolm for the first stretch of the run.
Arriving at Tahoe Meadows on the Northwest corner of the route, Malcolm and Yanko were supposed to meet her support crew, who would have some food, dry clothes, and another pacer in the wings. The crew, however, was not there. Malcolm and Yanko had run comfortably for the first 40 miles—in that first stage of the race, Malcolm urged herself just to run and not think about much else and felt good clicking off miles hovering between 9 and 15 minutes depending on the incline. And somehow, 40 miles in, Malcolm was already about two hours ahead of pace.
So, she had to wait once more. Which was fine. Malcolm had waited for this opportunity, waited to run 171 miles, waited to take a shot at a record she felt was one of the most impressive in the country, waited to do some sort of racing during the pandemic. Fortunately, this time, the delay was short.
Yanko called the crew to let them know they were at the meeting spot—Malcolm could hear a mumbled version of, “We’re coming!” through the phone as she took off her shoes and socks and changed into a dry outfit. As she pulled a clean shirt over her head, a forest green Honda S.U.V. roared into the parking lot. Tony Di Pasquale and the support crew had arrived. Someone immediately pulled out a Jetboil propane tank to make some ramen noodles. Paddy O’Leary, a star ultrarunner in his own right, packed his bag with more changes of clothes, food, water bottles, and water filters—he was next up on the pace squad. And Malcolm ate and drank quickly.
It was less than 15 minutes, and she was on her way again, this time with O’Leary, running toward an F.K.T. she was eager to capture, thinking not about the entirety of the 171 miles, but about this 40-mile portion.
Thinking about the moment, she told me three months later, was important in an ultra. When we spoke, though, she was thinking about the bigger picture after the fact: What her run meant, what an F.K.T. means, and whether the validation that sometimes comes with a monumental run is even worth it. Some F.K.T. attempts had made national news in publications like National Public Radio and Outside Magazine throughout 2020. But her’s, it seemed to her, was under the radar.
“I’m a sore loser,” Malcolm told me, “because there’s this part of me that wanted people to care more about this run. I was sad that I had this perception that people didn’t care, and then I was sad that I was sad about that.”
Malcolm was proud of her run, she said, but still grappling with what it meant to her. “It was a personal challenge,” she has had to remind herself.
The more we spoke, however, the more it became clear that the run was about more than only her. Validation did matter.
As she ran with O’Leary on October 18, however, she was not thinking about validation or anything other than the mile she was in. Fifty-two miles into the run, Malcolm was thinking about one more thing: An off feeling in her stomach. Moments later, she was projectile vomiting ramen noodles.
She still had about 120 miles to go. With O’Leary by her side, she started running again.
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