For the second time this year, an ultra runner has completed a 54-mile run measuring from Hoypus Point on North Whidbey to Possession Point on South Whidbey.
Riley Nachtrieb, a 20-year-old Seattle resident, spent her Monday running the Whidbey Island Traverse, a route created earlier this year by Bainbridge Island ultramarathon runner Greg Nance. She finished the route with a time of 11:10:02 on April 4.
Although Nachtrieb didn’t beat Nance’s time, she did establish the current record for women running the route on Fastest Known Time, a website where runners can record their own routes or try to beat others using GPS tracking.
“When I mention I want to run 50-plus miles for fun, a lot of people think I’m crazy,” Nachtrieb said with a laugh.
Nachtrieb has been running for as long as she can remember. Though she ran cross country in high school, she didn’t set any records or win any championships.
“I wasn’t the fastest person on the team, but everyone told me I could run the longest, so I guess I took that in stride,” she said.
For Nachtrieb, endurance running requires a pace between 11 to 13 minutes per mile. She ran Whidbey Island with some pacers and took brief breaks at every town to gulp down bananas and Red Bull.
It was only two weeks ago that she learned about the Whidbey Island Traverse and decided to run it.
“I’ve just been super curious about how the body reacts to running long distances like this,” she said. “It’s kind of like an experiment.”
Nachtrieb has a special connection to Whidbey Island. Not only has she participated in the Whidbey Island Film Festival before, but she also visits the island often to see her grandparents, who live in Freeland.
“The community on Whidbey Island is like no other community,” she said. “When I was running along the highway, so many people honked and cheered from their cars.”
She was prepared to run in a thunderstorm Monday. Instead, she encountered hail and powerful headwinds.
Towards the end of her run, she really felt herself in the “pain cave,” which is the point in the run when she wanted to give up the most.
“A lot of people think it’s physical endurance, but it’s probably 99% mental endurance,” she said. “All I do is stay positive and keep thinking about how I will complete these long runs.”
At mile 40, when the rain was at its worst, she walked for a little bit and debated cutting the run short.
But she pushed through, and nabbed the fastest known time, or FKT, for women running the route.
“I’m hungry to beat all the overall times,” Nachtrieb said. “Ultra running is one of the sports where you can compete with the men, so I think it’s really cool that there’s a fine gap between the men and the women.”
Her run down Whidbey Island is part of a new initiative called “Women Who FKT,” which is a group of 50 women whose goal it is to set the majority of FKTs in the Pacific Northwest. In 2021, women set only one-third of FKTs in Washington and Oregon.
“We’re trying to flip that narrative and trying to get more FKTs than the men,” Nachtrieb said.
At 20, she has been underestimated before by older athletes.
“That sometimes gets looked down upon by all these ultra runners and ex ultra runners, because this sport is mostly for older people with more experience,” she said.
Next month, she will be attempting a 135-mile run across the Olympic Peninsula from Port Townsend to La Push. She attempted the same run in 2019 at 17 years old, but had to stop around mile 82 because of a fractured foot. This time around, she plans to run a total of 25 hours and sleep for one hour in order to set the FKT for the route, which she created.
“I’m a pretty competitive person. I run to explore the places around me,” she said. “It’s just the most simplest form of transportation, and one of the purest forms.”
She thinks she might return to her favorite island to run the Whidbey Island Traverse again as soon as this summer.
Her father, Erik Nachtrieb, is a former ultra runner.