If you are lucky enough to meet Amber Weibel in person, you will not be intimidated, I promise. Humble, giving, resilient, unafraid, are descriptors that come to mind. I met Amber when she was volunteering at the Castle Peak 100k. She was there to crew her husband Ryan, who would take the win. But instead, after her aid station shift, she spent hours helping us look for a lost runner.
What’s not obvious in her quiet words is that Amber holds the women’s unsupported fastest known time (FKT) on the John Muir Trail. Solo for 4 days, 1 hour, 13 minutes. (Click here to read her report.) She embodies the spirit of the Donner Party Mountain Runners and we are lucky to call her a member. Read Amber’s interview below and get ready to be inspired for your 2017 adventures.
Where are you from and where do you live now?
I’m originally from Truckee, spent about 15 years in Reno for school and work, and currently call South Lake Tahoe home.
When did you begin running and/or long-distance running, if that applies? Why?
I started this ultra journey as a triathlete gradually doing longer and longer distances, ultimately competing in Ultraman in Hawaii (a 3-day triathlon covering 261 miles.) After finishing that, I was looking for my next challenge. My dad lives in Foresthill and I had grown up riding horses, dreaming of the Tevis Cup, so Western States was a logical choice for a first 100. I got lucky and got in my second year trying and completed WS in 2012. I found trail running in the mountains to be pure magic. I also enjoyed the simplicity of just running after many years of triathlon. With just shoes I can explore so many places in the mountains that few people ever get to see. I am constantly blown away by the beauty of the backcountry.
Running for me now means so many things. It’s a way of seeing the world, but it also offers balance to my stressful job as an RN. I come back from a run both mentally and physically refreshed and ready to face whatever challenges work may throw at me. It is also refreshing to see how differently runners age as opposed to the general population. It is hard not to be inspired watching runners of all ages and other physical challenges finishing or just attempting races.
Do you race? Does racing motivate you? if not racing, what motivates you?
I do race, but I always find races in places I want to travel. It gives me a good excuse to take some time off work and explore somewhere new. My husband (Ryan) and I just got back from a 3-week trip to Australia that was based on the Alpine Challenge event. I have found that my motivation to race has changed over the years from actually trying to race to just experiencing an event or place.
Do you have any dream races (either hoping to qualify for or get selected for)?
Hardrock 100 is on my bucket list of course. I’ve been unlucky in the lottery for Hardrock for 3 years, and it’s looking like I came into this sport a little too late as each year the odds seem to get worse. Fortunately, there are many other races in big mountains out there if I never get a spot. Tor De Geants is my overseas dream race.
Do you have a favorite on-trail food or nutrition strategy? Favorite post-run meal or beverage?
For racing, I’ve found I eat whatever my body feels like eating and that can vary from race to race or aid station to aid station. I tend to eat real food. For my John Muir Trail fastback, I had to carry all my food and I researched calorie per gram content. I ended up drinking about 50% of my calories in Perpetuem. The other 50% was a nut butter and macadamia nuts.
What was your favorite running experience this past year?
Training for and completing my fastpack trip on the John Muir Trail was by far the highlight (click here to read Amber’s report). After completing the JMT in 2015 I knew I could do it faster if I prepared more specifically. I had never been on the trail prior to 2015 and made a lot of little mistakes. My lead up to this year included 2 shorter solo backpacking trips on sections of the trail. I got to see the trail covered in snow in June with glacial blue lakes. Being out there in the various conditions made me stronger mentally and physically. When I went to pick up that June permit the ranger told me, “I highly doubt you’ll make it.” Not only did I make it, I fell in love with snow-covered trail and the challenge it offered.
What was your most challenging/character-building experience this past year?
Fastpacking the John Muir Trail unsupported was definitely the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Keeping moving for 4 days with basically no sleep and painful everything is much more difficult when alone.
What are your upcoming racing/adventure plans?
I have no current race plans for next year, but we’re hoping to start a family so I’ll call that an adventure. If we aren’t lucky I’ll probably look into Ouray or Plain 100.
What do you do for a living? Is it hard to fit in time for training?
Both my husband and I are RNs at Barton Hospital. We work 3 x 12.5 hour shifts per week. Fitting in training on work days is challenging and as I get older I find I don’t enjoy getting up at 4am to run before work anymore. We take full advantage of our days off and go off on what we call rikes (run/hikes). They end up being all day adventures of trail and off-trail exploring that often finish in the dark. We’ve learned our lesson and never leave home without a water filter, headlamp, extra food, or space blanket.
What led you to join the DPMR?
Living in South Lake Ryan and I felt a bit isolated from the running scene. We had hoped to make to some of the summer training runs, but we let busy schedules get in the way this summer. We hope to be more active in the group in 2017.
What has been your favorite DPMR experience so far?
I really enjoyed volunteering at Castle Peak 100 this year.
Favorite local trail?
Anything in Desolation Wilderness will do, but our go-to 20 mile loop – click here for the loop on Strava – starts in Christmas Valley. It is basically the Tahoe Rim Trail from Echo to Big Meadow with local trails to complete the loop.
What other outdoor or indoor interests do you have?
Living in South Lake I like to do mostly outdoor activities. Backpacking, mountain biking, and stand up paddle in the summer. If we have a good winter hopefully I’ll improve my backcountry skiing skills and maybe do some snow camping ski trips.