I was competing in the Billy Dutton Uphill Race a number of years ago, gasping for breath when I saw a tall man with a Fabio mane effortlessly loping back down the trail on snowshoes. He’d already finished and was either heading back for another lap or cheering on us sufferers who still had a long way to go.
He was Peter Fain, Truckee resident and national snowshoe racing champion. Even though he is a snowshoe legend, according to his friend and fellow competitor Helen Pelster: “He tolerates winter only to pass time until the dirt trails open up each spring.”
Oh yeah, he can run. He has won more than 20 long-distance running competitions.
Fain grew up in Reseda, part of the Los Angeles megapolis. His first memory of competitive running was when he joined his mom at a March of Dimes fundraiser in fifth grade. He ran back and forth between the checkpoint and his mom because he couldn’t stand running as slow as she was. As a sixth grader, he ran the 20-mile March of Dimes event by himself. Fain ran cross country and track in high school, and then ran a 10-km combat cross country in the army. Combat cross-country is like any other 10-km run, except the competitors are wearing full combat gear. In 1991, he was the U.S. Forces Europe Army Combat Cross Country champion.
Like many other folks who end up living in the Truckee-Tahoe region, Fain was on his way somewhere else when he got sidetracked by the beauty and running opportunities of the area. After attending San Francisco State University, the plan was to follow in his parents’ footsteps in the film business in L.A., instead Fain chose Truckee.
“I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else that could support the lifestyle I love. We have epic vistas; the trails are perfect around Truckee.” – Peter Fain
These days when Fain is not passing out drinks as a bartender at Moody’s, he might be passing on his love of running on dirt to others as one of the founders of the Donner Party Mountain Runners and through his training business Run on Dirt Coaching.
“As each trail melts out, Peter runs it several times until he has used it up,’” says Pelster. “By then, a new set of routes a bit higher will be clear. Finally, the crown jewel, everyone’s favorite route will open, the Warren Lake Loop. Peter Fain is the undisputed king of the 12-mile loop with over 3,000 feet of climbing. The insanely difficult and stunningly beautiful route has been incorporated into the Castle Peak 100k course.”
Fain designed the grueling course for the Castle Peak 100km presented each year by the Donner Party Mountain Runners. This year’s race is set for Aug. 26.
Just a year after moving to Truckee in 1999, Fain had a dream of creating a running club and he made an early attempt that failed. Then, he joined a group of fellow long-distance runners including Mike Tebbutt, Pete Broomhall and Pelster in 2014 to form the Donner Party Mountain Runners.
“We went all in and made a nonprofit to do it right,” says Fain, who became the group’s president.
Every Tuesday morning, Fain leads a group run designed for all abilities. Usually between 15 and 20 people show up to run and learn from the master. The group has Sunday social runs and a Facebook page on which to find running buddies and get the latest update on trail conditions. They also hold educational clinics and screen movies that inspire runners.
“You might say that I run with Peter. But I don’t. Only a few very fast people actually run with Peter Fain. The rest of us see him just briefly at a race start line. He does, however, coach me,” says Pelster.
Fain dived full bore into his coaching business, Run on Dirt, three years ago, although he has dabbled in coaching since he was certified to coach in 1997.
“I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else that could support the lifestyle I love. We have epic vistas; the trails are perfect around Truckee,” says Fain.
It doesn’t sound like he is going anywhere soon, unless it is in his running shoes. So perhaps as you take on an all-day hike through Coon Canyon to the top of Basin Peak near Donner Summit this August, Fain will run by you, looking as if he is ready to run another 50 miles.