6 Tips to Run a Solo Unsupported Fastest Known Time

Been thinking about chasing a Fastest Known Time record?

You know...run a designated trail, route or loop faster than anyone else, then document your efforts for the record books.

  • Right now there's 5,414 documented FKT records, and the list keeps growing.
  • But with more than 200,000 miles of trails across the United States, that's just a drop in the bucket.

Which means there's a good chance you could set a Fastest Known Time record of your own. 

How about making things a little more interesting, and chase a solo, unsupported FKT record?

WeeViews Ambassador and 13-time FKT record-holder, Brynn Cunningham shows you how it's done: 

Brynn ran her first solo, unsupported FKT on March 1, 2020, becoming the first woman to establish an FKT on the 17-mile point-to-point Big Savage Mountain Trail, MD. (Photo/ Eric Harder)

People person or loner? The curious thing about FKTs

People person or loner? 

Most of us are a mixture of both, with some leaning more toward one than the other.

As for myself, I love socializing and spending time with people as much as I love being by myself.

My need for an equal amount of independence and togetherness plays out in the sports I do:

  • Yoga in a class with one inch of space between the mats? Love it.
  • Yoga alone? Every morning. 
  • Kayak with friends? Yes, as much as possible.
  • Solo kayak my local river? Can’t get enough.
  • Mountain bike in a group? For sure.
  • Solo rides? All the time.
  • Rock climb with family and friends? My favorite.
  • A climbing gym with auto belay? Absolutely. 
  • Run with friends? Most definitely. 
  • Solo runs? Of course!
  • Better yet, solo, unsupported Fastest Known Time speed records? Naturally. 
WeeViews Ambassador Brynn Cunningham holds 13 Fastest Known Time records.

What’s a Fastest Known Time, anyway?

It’s a verified speed record that can be done in several different styles.

Read more about FKTs and the various styles here.

In this article, we’ll talk about one of those styles: solo and unsupported. 

Before you write FKTs off as something NOT for you, hear me out:

  • Check the records of your local routes. There might not even be a record, giving you the leeway to run any pace you want. 
  • Ladies, there are so many routes without female records - the Pacific Northwest group Women Who FKT has brought this to light and is on a seriously successful campaign to get more women to set FKTs. Join the force!

Inspired yet?
Slightly interested?
Curious as to how it all works?

Then read on for SIX tips to chase your own solo unsupported Fastest Known Time record...

1. Do your research.

1. Do your research

Google the route and read everything you can about it...

From reviews to varying mileage and elevation charts.

Though you’ll be running, I like to read mountain biking and hiking sites, too. The more beta, the better.

Recommended sites:

  1. AllTrails
  2. Trailforks
  3. MTB Project
  4. Hiking Project 
  5. Trail Run Project
  6. RootsRated
  7. Singletracks
  8. TrailLink
  9. Traildino
  10. List of Long Trails (wiki)
  11. The official FKT site
  12. Purple Lizard maps for routes in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio and Puerto Rico
  13. State park web sites
  14. Brochures (gotta love tangibles) 
  15. Kiosks (take photos of maps before running)
2. Study the maps

2. Study the map(s)

If maps exists for the route you plan to run...

  • Print them
  • Buy them
  • Save them on your phone
  • And study the details

I can’t emphasize this enough, especially if doing a route solo without ever stepping foot on the trails prior to the attempt.

TIP: For paper maps, it’s a good idea to trace the route in permanent marker with directional arrows.

3. Scout the route ahead of your FKT attempt

3. Scout the route ahead of your FKT attempt

Scout and do recon of the route before running the FKT, if possible. 

It may take so much coordination to merely get to the FKT site to run the FKT that a recon trip is out of the question. 

Yet, even if you drive to intersections or the start/ finish area the night before...

It can alleviate possible stress mid-run, particularly on unmarked, overgrown, or otherwise tricky sections and intersections. 

Author scouting the Forest Trail the day before running the Raccoon Creek State Park Loop FKT with her family. (Photo/ Eric Harder)

🏃‍♀️In the case of the Big Savage Mountain Trail...

I ran the entire route with my all-female trail running group, the Trail Run Tribe, one week prior to establishing the first female FKT. 

Brynn ran the Big Savage Mountain Trail as a recon trip one week prior to her FKT effort with the Trail Run Tribe and discovered much of the trail was covered in blow downs like the one pictured and counted 204 trees across the trail in all. (Photo/ author)

For Terrace Mountain and my first Quemahoning record...

I went in blind.

For the North Fork Mountain Trail and Raccoon Creek...

I did a bit of scouting the night before at intersections and still went into it only having seen about one percent of the trails but felt more confident nonetheless. 

The other FKTs I’ve set and established as new FKT routes...

...were my hometown favorites.

4. Connect with people who’ve done it before.

4. Connect with people who’ve done it before.

If a record holder is listed on the FKT site on the route you’d like to attempt, contact them. 

TIP: From experience, do not merely comment on the FKT page, because notifications are not set up. You will not receive an email saying someone commented on the FKT page, thus you will have to log in and keep checking for a response.

Do this instead:

  • Perform a Google search of the athlete’s name
  • Find them on social media platforms 
  • Contact mutual friends if you think you have any who might know them
  • Make phone calls to friends who know the routes
  • Do whatever you can to talk to a real, live person who may be able to assist you 

👉On a similar note, it’s common courtesy to inform the previous record holder that you plan to break their record.

5. Be prepared

5. Be prepared

Take solo, unsupported FKT prep more seriously than race prep.

There’s a reason so many good quotes about preparation exist…

  • “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” — Benjamin Franklin
  • “Behind every brilliant performance there were countless hours of practice and preparation.”  —  Eric Butterworth
  • “It’s not the will to win that matters. Everyone has that. It’s the will to prepare to win that matters.”  —  Paul Bear Bryant

OK, got the point? 

Aside from preparation being the key to meeting your time goals in an FKT, more important matters are at stake: your safety. 

Going out alone into unknown territory is not to be taken lightly. 

Preparation increases your chances for a safe and successful solo, unsupported FKT. (Photo/ author)

✅Safety essentials for a solo, unsupported FKT:

  • A fully charged cell phone in a protective covering in case of rain or sweat (cell phones do not respond to wet fingertips).
  • A fully charged watch (if your watch dies, you have nothing to submit for the FKT, thus zero chance of setting the record).
  • Two tracking devices in case one dies or malfunctions, or simply to compare stats for the purpose of providing future runners beta  - I use my watch and the GAIA GPS app.
  • Live tracking turned on (you will need your phone and sport watch in most cases - I use the Garmin connect live tracker). Add multiple email addresses to who’s tracking you in case, for instance, the person picking you up is in a no service zone. 
  • A GPS tracker that works when out of service, such as the GAIA GPS app.
  • A first aid kit (click here for a list of first aid items for trail running)

Keep in mind that my solo, unsupported FKTs have been:

  • Completed in daylight
  • 10k (6.2 miles) to 24 miles
  • In temperatures ranging from 12 to 85 degrees
  • In snow, lightning, heavy rain, light rain, thunderstorms, bright sun and clouds, but nothing too extreme that I couldn't handle in less than six hours 

✅If going for multi-day solo, unsupported FKT efforts...

  • That require running through the night
  • Through a wide range of temperatures and varying weather, terrain and landscapes,
  • Then your preparation and gear requirements increase and change. 

You’ll need to do some research beyond the scope of this story, but here are some strongly suggested items:

  • A SPOT tracker
  • A watch with an extended battery life, because if what you are using to track your mileage dies, then the FKT effort is instantly done, over, killed. In other words, if it’s not tracked, it will not count, no matter what. 
  • A watch with “battery saver mode,” like my Garmin fenix 6s Pro Solar Edition 
  • Layers of clothes 
  • Water filtration
  • Headlamps and running flashlights

In summary, preparation ensures that you are:

  • Happy with the FKT effort, because you did everything in your power to bring it to fruition
  • On track (i.e. not lost)
  • Properly fueled
  • Prepared for emergencies 
  • Able to actually submit the file that you tracked while running the FKT because your watch and/or phone was fully charged 
6. Write a trip report

6. Write a trip report

First, you prepared.

Then, you ran.

Now what? 

It’s time to submit the FKT and get it verified.

Within that process, you have the opportunity to write a trip report. 

The trip report does TWO important things, especially for the solo, unsupported effort:

1️⃣ It preserves the memory

Since you were the only one there, no one can remind you of things like:

  • That weird intersection at mile whatever
  • The mountain lion prints in the snow at mile who knows, or...
  • That cute turtle you saw at mile two, right? 

Do yourself a favor and jot down the wonderful, good, bad, ugly.

 Who knows, you might want to go out and better your own time one day, and a detailed report would come in handy. 

2️⃣ It guides other runners through the route

On the same note, do your fellow runners a favor and write a trip report as if you were guiding your best friend or loved one through the run. 

After all, a concise trip report describing the route clearly might just be the thing that propels someone to go after it in the first place. 

Need an idea of how to write a trip report?

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Brynn Cunningham
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Trail runner, ultrarunner, white water boater, cyclist (mostly MTB), swimmer, cross country and backcountry skier, yogi, mom and writer. www.inhaleexhalerun.com

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Marci McGuinness You, my dear, are an amazing individual.

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