FKT: 5 Tips from a Record-Holder to Plan Your Next Route

If you’ve kept up with running news in the past two years, chances are you’ve read or heard about Fastest Known Times (FKT), which grew exponentially during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

A Fastest Known Time is a running speed record on verified routes all over the world.

Want to test your toughness on a favorite trail and go for an FKT?

In this article, FKT record-holder Brynn Cunningham will show you how to pick your next FKT route.

Want to test your toughness on a favorite trail and go for an FKT (Fastest Known Time)?

Fastest Known Times are appealing because:

  • The runner chooses the date and time, and can even be spontaneous about it (half of mine have been on a whim).
  • They can be done solo, with a group, unsupported, supported, self-supported - the runner chooses the style that best suits them.
  • They present runners with new challenges, like taking on a trail they’ve never seen, as fast as they can, by themselves.
  • They can act as good tune-ups and training runs for upcoming races.
  • They can even be the “A” race.
  • They give us reasons to run fast!
  • They give us routers to run that we may never run before.
  • Runners can create new FKT routes, and if they are accepted, other runners have fresh routes to try, new projects to sink their teeth into… and, like I mentioned, we runners live for new challenges, don’t we? 

A list of the routes and the records are kept on www.fastestknowntime.com

If you’re curious about creating FKT routes, read on...

When Brynn Cunningham's learned about an FKT record on West Virginia's 24-mile North Fork Mountain Trail, she decided to plan her own FKT route.

My first FKT attempt

Once upon a time, I thought Fastest Known Times existed only for the longest trails, such as the Appalachian Trail or Pacific Crest Trail, both thousands of miles long. 

Then, I read about a Fastest Known Time established on West Virginia's 24-mile North Fork Mountain Trail. 

Ever since, I’ve been chasing FKTs.

First, I set my sights on the Big Savage Mountain Trail, a 17-mile point-to-point trail across a mountain ridge in Maryland. 

I planned it as a tune-up for a North Fork Mountain Trail FKT attempt, planned for March 28, 2020. 

  • The Big Savage Mountain Trail was a currently existing verified route, meaning that it was already listed on the FKT website. All I needed to do was submit the FKT once I ran it, which I did on March 1, 2020. 
  • Two weeks later, the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the world as we knew it, and my dream to run the North Fork Mountain Trail FKT was put on hold (in May 2021, I finally captured the uphill record - read the trip report here.

In the meantime, as I awaited the day when traveling to the North Fork would be safe, I began perusing the Fastest Known Time routes page and FKT guidelines and discovered the following: 

  • Every day, average runners like me and most of us can submit new routes for verification. 

The first idea that came to mind:

  • To establish an FKT on all six loops at one of my favorite local trail systems, the Bear Run Nature Reserve, part of the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, where Frank Lloyd Wright’s world-famous Fallingwater is located
Brynn Cunningham has completed 12 FKT routes.

So, just how would establishing new FKT routes work?

The FKT website provides a detailed description outlining what qualifies as a route

To prepare for setting routes, I read it thoroughly.

What stood out most from the guidelines was this phrase:

  • “Fastest Known Times is a “bucket-list” of the best routes in the world!”

Still, it’s a subjective statement, right? 

How are we to know what the FKT authorities consider “bucket-list” worthy? 

There was only one way to find out: by trial and error.

My first FKT route submissions: Rejected

On Tuesday, April 21, I threw on running shorts in a hurry, laced up trail running shoes, drove the short distance to Bear Run, and ran the Red Loop followed by the White Loop, 5.47 miles in 49:50, a 9:07/mile pace.

When I got home, I submitted them to be verified as new FKT routes.

Neither one qualified. They were:

  • Too short in distance 
  • With not enough vertical gain 

In my email exchange with the FKT authorities, they asked the following:

  • “Is there a noteworthy, longer route connecting all the trails at Bear Run, or an outer loop?”

The answer: Yes. 

Baughman Rock Overlook sits along the 6.1-mile out-and-back Lower to Upper Baughman Trail Fastest Known Time route, which gains 1,164 feet. Author Brynn Cunningham established the route and set the first FKT in 1:04:05 on July 7, 2022. Baughman Rock, located in Ohiopyle, Pa., is a popular scenic overlook, especially during peak leaf season. Photo taken October 2021. (Photo/ Colleen O’Neil)

My next several FKT route submissions: Accepted

Consequently, the next day, I ran the 11.5-mile Bear Run Black Loop as fast as I could and submitted it as a new route and new FKT.

Happily, the route was approved.

Read the Bear Run Black Loop Fastest Known Time Trip Report here.

After that, I had a solid understanding of what “bucket-list” routes were and established two more new records and routes, ones I know like the back of my hand:

Then, I ran some already established routes: 

Now, fast forward to June 2022. 

Running the “Que Trail” FKT with the Trail Run Tribe as an unsupported group. From front to back: Author (taking the pic); Amanda Love (in blue); Andrea Detwiler (behind Amanda); Lauren Worrell; and Keli DeCarlo. July 2, 2022.

Women Who FKT

The summer edition of Trail Runner magazine arrived in my mailbox. 

“Meet the Women Making FKT History” was one of the headlines on the cover. I flipped to the story, titled “Women Who FKT.”

From the article, I learned:

Needless to say, I became inspired once again to chase FKTs, this time in the name of all women runners. 

Besides, even if I do live on the opposite side of the country as the Women Who FKT, I felt compelled to do my part for the movement from my small corner of southwestern Pennsylvania.

Author at the start of the nearly-20-mile Raccoon Creek State Park Loop FKT, July 17. (Photo/ Eric Harder)

FKTs established in July 2022, inspired by the Women Who FKT

As a result, I…

Established one new route that I still plan to run this summer:

Ran an unsupported group FKT with Trail Run Tribe ladies Andrea Detwiler, Amanda Love, Keli DeCarlo and Lauren Worrell:

Ran a solo, unsupported FKT on an already established route:

And established two new, local routes upon which I set the first solo, unsupported female FKTs:

  • Baughman Trail, uphill then downhill, out and back, 6.1 miles (July 7)
  • Sugarloaf Trail, uphill then downhill, out and back, 11.6 miles (July 24)

Are you inspired to explore the world of FKTs?

Or do you know someone who might be? 

Then keep reading… 

5 tips for creating "bucket-list" worthy FKT routes

Over the last couple of years, I've learned a few things about FKT attempts and records. 

Want to chase your own FKT record? Here's what you need to know...

🏃‍♀️1. Read the FKT guidelines

It's pretty simple. If you want to attempt an FKT, start here: 

🏃‍♀️2. Look for routes with significant elevation gain

The FKT site states that a route must be “at least five miles long or at least 500 feet of climbing.” 

The North Fork Mountain Trail, Baughman Trail, Sugarloaf Trail and Pine Knob to Whitetail Trails all get their appeal and allure from the amount of climbing they boast. 

Even the less-hilly routes I’ve established have much more climbing than 500 feet. 

🏃‍♀️3. Look for routes that are popular amongst day hikers, tourists, backpackers and mountain bikers

Often, trails enjoyed by the masses are what makes a route a “bucket-list” item, something to check off your own personal running bucket-list. 

Before I established some of the local routes listed in the article, I Googled them to see how many search results they had on the Internet. 

If there were lots, I had a feeling it would be verified as a route, and so far, that has proven to be true. 

🏃‍♀️4. If you’re an avid trail runner, consider routes on your own turf that might qualify

Have a local gem you think others will like or want to run for time? Then give it a try. 

Run it, submit the route, and see what the FKT editors tell you. You never know unless you try, right? 

Besides, if it doesn’t get verified in the end, what’s the loss? 

At least you got in a good run, right? 

Furthermore, trying and not succeeding will give you an idea of what routes might or might work, so you’re better prepared the next time you create and submit a new route.  

🏃‍♀️5. Ask yourself: would someone else enjoy running this route...

...whether it’s for the difficulty, views, quality running terrain, scenery, popularity, or all of the above? 

If you think it would be appealing to your best running pal, or if you would take an out-of-town running friend seeking a good challenge for a run on the route, it might be worth trying to submit it as an FKT. 

It's time to plan your own FKT

Take it from me: FKTs don’t have to be long in distance or take months of planning, if that’s not your thing right now. 

For an average trail running working mother-of-two-boys who dedicates time to other pursuits (mountain biking, white water kayaking, yoga, backpacking, camping, Tae Kwon Do, skiing), the short, local ones suit life just right.

They might suit your life just right, too. 

So go ahead, take on some new running challenges, share this with your running friends, and chase those FKT dreams.

Thank you, Women Who FKT, for the renewed inspiration.

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

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Marci McGuinness Your drive is truly astounding!

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