LA PUSH — Powered by pizza, donuts, potato chips and sub sandwiches, ultramarathoner Riley Nachtrieb pushed herself the width of the Olympic Peninsula to achieve an awe-inspiring feat — the 20-year old ran the entire length of the Olympic Discovery Trail in one non-stop binge, finishing her epic, 135-mile adventure in 41 hours, 29 minutes at First Beach around midnight last Sunday evening.
A stress fracture in her foot at the 82-mile mark ended Nachtrieb’s attempt at the full length of the ODT prematurely in 2019. Since that moment, Nachtrieb said she was obsessed with completing the run which equals out to more than five full 26.2-mile marathons.
“I just wanted to finish because I didn’t in the first attempt and it’s been the only thing on my mind the last three years,” she said. “All the ultramarathon races, all the fastest times, it was all to prepare me for the ODT. There was nothing else. I just wanted to finish it, I didn’t care about the time. If I broke my foot again I wouldn’t have cared, I would have finished it.”
Nachtrieb was never the fastest runner on her West Seattle High School cross-country team, but her teammates noticed her endurance.
“I wasn’t the fastest, I was usually in the back of the pack, but all my teammates told me I could run the longest,” Nachtrieb said. “I would run to cross-country practice, I would run back home, run around the neighborhood, run to the coffee shop, so I looked up running more than a marathon on the internet.”
Nachtrieb kept putting in “time on her feet,” running between 50-to-75-miles a week and walking all over hilly West Seattle.
“In November of 2021 I ran my first 50-kilometer race and in April of 2022, I ran Whidbey Island from the most northerly point [Deception Pass] to the most southerly point [Point Possession]. I ran [51.6 miles in] 11 hours and 10 minutes.”
This run started at the Larry Scott Trailhead in Port Townsend at 7 a.m. last Saturday with support from a team of six, her parents Erik and Tracy, grandparents and a couple of friends, including Herman Meyer, who ran 11 miles alongside Nachtrieb in Van skateboard shoes after forgetting his running shoes.
“My support crew saved me,” Nachtrieb said.
Nachtrieb prepped like runners before a normal-distance run: packing on some carbohydrates and electrolytes and drinking plenty of water. She needed nearly constant fuel during the run to keep moving forward, however.
When I was running the ODT, it was literally a junk food fest,” Nachtrieb said. “I think I ate a whole pizza throughout the run, donuts, potato chips, a sub sandwich…so much junk food. Anything helps, the sugar, the fats, the carbs. I focused on eating more than the running.”
The first portion of the run that Saturday from Port Townsend to Port Angeles was ideal.
“The first day it was so beautiful I think I got a sunburn and the winds were warm,” Nachtrieb said.
But rough weather moved in overnight and as Nachtrieb exited the Elwha River Bridge, the first wave of hallucinations also kicked in.
Distance runners have long discussed the “runner’s high” that can be acheived on a long run, but hallucinations?
“They started to kick in when I left the Elwha River Bridge and was running on the highway [state route 112] to Joyce,” Nachtrieb said. “It was pitch black, cars were swooshing past me and one of my pacers was behind me shining a light so I could see. The lines in the road were moving and squiggly like a snake. And there are trees on the side of the road and I kept seeing weird faces in the trees, those were the most prominent.”
Arriving at the Spruce Railroad Trail on Lake Crescent, Nachtrieb said she and her support team spotted a cougar on the trail.
“At that point, if the cougar wanted to eat me, I would have been an easy meal,” Nachtrieb joked.
After that fright, Nachtrieb was uplifted when she ran past the spot where she was forced to quit back in 2019.
“I think the Spruce Trail was the hardest section,” she said. “Around the 82-mile mark, when I ran past where I had to stop [in 2019] that was the hardest but most satisfying portion of the run.”
Nachtrieb also completed the run without the help of music. There was no “Eye of the Tiger” for her, just feet pounding pavement.
“Normally I listen to music on all of my trail runs, but I didn’t put a single ear bud in the entire 41 hours,” Nachtrieb said.
Nachtrieb continued to push through gale-force headwinds and heavy rain throughout Sunday, arriving at First Beach around midnight.
“My friend brought string lights and made a banner and I ran through the string lights and just stopped for a few minutes and processed what I did,” Nachtrieb said. “The tide was super high and I finished by touching the Pacific Ocean.”
Recovering from such a physical ordeal hasn’t been easy.
“I started to properly walk Wednesday,” Nachtrieb said. “Before that I was just transporting myself from couch to couch. I think everyone thinks I would get super good sleep, but when you are constantly moving your body for that long of a time you start to cramp up, so sleep hasn’t been easy. And I’m eating constantly and it’s still junk food. Those pro ultramarathoners would say it’s not smart.”
Nachtrieb said Vic Smith filmed and took pictures of the run for a film Nachtrieb hopes to release later this year.
And she plans to keep challenging herself and her limits.
“That’s the plan, to keep racing, to keep doing these fastest-known times,” she said. “There’s a time right after a race that ultrarunners say is the worst time ever, you want to sign up and do everything.
“I signed up to run a 45-mile race in India at 18,000 feet in the Himalayas in September. I always say you never know unless you try, you never know you can run 100 miles until you take the first step.”
Sports reporter Michael Carman can be contacted at [email protected] news.com.