When I first read about running speed records known as FKT (Fastest Known Time), I thought they were established only on the longest of trails, ones covering hundreds and thousands of miles.
At the mention of Fastest Known Time, my mind went to the Appalachian Trail, at 2,193 miles, because of two favorite books:
Or Vermont’s Long Trail, at 273 miles, because of the documentary Finding Traction.
While I was allured by the idea of a Fastest Known Time record, those distances and durations felt seemingly impossible to undertake. I felt that they did not fit into the life of a working woman with a working husband with two young children without uprooting our lives in a big way and putting the family into dire stress.
Me: “Eric, I’m going to quit my jobs, travel far away, leave you with the boys for a couple months, and attempt to set an FKT on a really long trail. And we have to start planning and spending money on the effort right now, and I’ll be gone training a lot.”
Never in a million.
It’s not that I think it’s impossible. I do believe in reaching for the stars.
It’s just that my desire to sacrifice so much family and work time in this season of our lives is just about zilch. I do not want to undertake such an enormous task.
No, multi-day Fastest Known Time records remained something that I admired from afar.
Then I read a story about a group of runners in West Virginia who established a Fastest Known Time on the North Fork Mountain Trail, a mere 24 miles long.
No longer were FKTs out of my league.
In fact, on July 31, 2021, I established my eighth Fastest Known Time as a solo, unsupported female on the Quemahoning Reservoir Trail, breaking my very own previously established FKT on the trail.
But more on that in a minute.
First, let’s step back.
I began planning for my first Fastest Known Time, the Big Savage Mountain Trail, during the winter of 2019-2020, pre-COVID.
I established it just two weeks before the pandemic hit the United States. Once the pandemic hit, I continued to seek out new routes for FKT efforts.
It was a flicker of light in the darkness during the worldwide crisis. Fastest Known Time records became more popular than ever, with an historical, exponential increase in new FKTs. As the trend keeps up, some have termed 2021 the year of the FKT.
Here is what I learned when first diving into FKTs, from fastestknowntime.com:
Lists of routes from all over the world are there for one’s scrolling pleasure. Simply search by country and state, and lists of qualifying routes pop up. Though FKTs are often affiliated with trails, road FKTs as well as trail routes exist, something that was news to me.
To date, I have set the female, solo, unsupported FKT on four already established routes:
Don’t see a favorite trail on the list? Not to worry…
Submit a route that is worthwhile, and the FKT founders/gurus (Peter Bawkin and Buzz Burrell) will determine whether it qualifies or not.
In my FKT pursuits during the spring of 2020, I submitted three FKT routes that were NOT approved.
Two were too short, and one was just a section of a longer trail (the Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail). I ran the LHHT 50k race section solo and unsupported and decided to submit it, curious about what the response would be. They said that I had to do the full 70-mile trail, or an out and back (140 miles) in order for it to qualify.
Understandable - I was learning as I went.
To date, I have established three new routes, personal local favorites:
I ran the routes first, the whole time hoping they would be approved, submitted them as new routes, and once the routes received approval, I submitted the new FKTs.
With GPS, it’s easy to have proof of the run. Thus, when doing an FKT, it must be clocked without pauses, just like a real-live race. A GPS watch or running app will get the job done. Please note, as most runners already know, not all apps and watches are alike - do not be alarmed if distances and elevation profiles vary.
For the 10 Premier Routes, a public announcement in advance is required.
For routes other than the 10 Premier, I have posted announcements on the FKT site prior to my attempts, because that’s what I like to do. It’s a nice way to connect with other runners.
FKTs are not Strava. Thus, one does not receive notifications that their King or Queen of the Mountain reign is over. To me, FKTs harness a community of like-minded adventure seekers. Therefore, in the name of building relationships, contributing to a positive community and keeping good vibes among the running and FKT community, please reach out to those who blazed the path and made it possible.
None of the FKTs I have set had a solo, unsupported female record yet, thus, I had no one to inform.
However, I contacted the men who held the records for beta, to say thanks for creating the route, and because I enjoy chatting with other runners, especially ones with an affinity toward the same trails upon which my sights are set. Additionally, I contacted one of the West Virginia runners part of the group assisting with the supported records on the North Fork Mountain Trail for information regarding my unsupported FKT, running in the opposite direction (uphill) that they did.
The FKT verification process is simple. It requires a link to the track, which I provide from the Garmin Connect app, as well as a short description of the experience. Photos are optional.
Years ago, I thought only famous, sponsored athletes ran Fastest Known Times. But the West Virginia crew showed me otherwise.
Anyone can run an FKT.
OK, ok, so you’re not keen on the Fastest in Fastest Known Time?
For routes that do not yet have records, anyone can go out and establish the first FKT, with no cut-off times or checkpoints. Routes can be completed at a hiking pace if no record yet exists. So, why not give it a go?
After that, it’s up to other runners to better the time.
Now, let’s get back to the above mentioned, most recent FKT on the Quemahoning Reservoir Trail.
The first time I set foot on the “Que,” as it’s known, was on January 24, 2021. The trail was snow-packed, it was 12 degrees, and my bite valves froze, leaving me with about 15 ounces of fluid for the entire run, about a good, solid 25K long (note: I have clocked varying distances from 14.7 to 15.5, while mountain biking and running - something to keep in mind).
After setting the grounds for the FKT, I knew that I would return to better my time on a warmer day without snow.
Before that day arrived, my husband and I returned to mountain bike the loop in early July.
Four weeks after riding it, and six months after my first wintery FKT, I returned to a clear, dry trail on a 72-degree summer day.
We were camping at the Stoneycreek River put-in just 10 minutes away. Before running, my husband and I took our two sons mountain biking. Our oldest, age eight, was on his mountain bike, while our youngest, age four, was on a SHOTGUN kids mountain bike seat on my husband’s bike. We rode about 40 minutes.
After the ride, I told my husband I would probably take it easy on the run, that it didn’t feel like an FKT day. He said he would be back in about three hours.
I kissed them all goodbye and began running at 3:43 p.m.
The first mile was at a 10-minute pace.
The next five were at a nine-minute pace.
OK, maybe it was an FKT day.
By mile 10, I hadn’t run anything but nine and 10-minute miles.
Things were going surprisingly well and faster than anticipated.
All I had to do was maintain, and I would break my own record.
It felt as if I were on a moving walkway, this trail being much less technical and steep than any other FKT I have run.
The Que is smooth and narrow with one mile of several rock gardens between miles 11 and 12 if beginning at the township parking lot. It is a fun, rolling, flowing trail that remains interesting and beautiful throughout, with some switchbacks, road crossing and a lake view for most of the way. No hill requires walking. Stinging nettle and thorns may get you in the summertime.
When I completed the loop, I was confused.
My family was not there, and my watch said 2:25:45. Did I run that fast? I expected to break my 2:45:08 record, but not by that much.
Happy and buzzing, I jumped in the lake, stretched, and soon my family picked me up.
We returned to dinner by the campfire.
It was a good day for an FKT.
The next day, I kayaked the Class III Stoneycreek River while Eric and the boys rafted along, accompanied by friends.
Perhaps the long, multi-day or even weeks-long premier routes are not for me, but FKTs are.
I have found a way to fit them into our lives, to create mini family adventures around the efforts, or to zip away quickly by myself for a few hours and return home.
Here’s to keeping the love and allure of solo, unsupported, fast trail running alive.
Thank you, Fastest Known Time <3
Three scoops of Carborocket 333 Half Evil All-in-One Endurance Drink (Raspberry Caffeine) in a 1.5-liter reservoir
Tart cherry juice (eight ounces) mixed with beet juice (eight ounces)