Friday, November 21, 2014

What the F*KT?

Do you know what an FKT is? I didn’t until recently. In South Africa they weren’t common place until Ryan Sandes and Ryno Griesel demolished the best time for the Drakensberg Traverse. Ie the ‘Fastest Known Time’ for that route. Here in the good old US of A, the home of long distance trail running they are sought after, documented and even debated in depth on a website

Maybe an FKT is a Strava for grown ups? Those of us using Strava to document our regular training runs are familiar with trying to run a certain trail the fastest, or at least comparing our time with our peers. FKTs here seem to have a certain appeal to a certain runner. There’s definitely an element of chest thumping (although female FKTs are also on the increase) but also a desire to just go out, alone, unsupported and run a trail, whenever.

My Wildwood end to end FKT 'attempt'
Here in Portland we have Forest Park, the 5000 acres of natural wilderness actually IN the city and containing the Wildwood Trail; 30 miles of uninterrupted trail from the city stretching north. To a South African trail runner used to rocky technical trails, Wildwood would be akin to running on a cricket pitch. Manicured, well maintained and un-technical in the extreme. But it is single track the whole 30 miles which is pretty special. It twists and turns through densely wooded forest for a distance that is only 9 miles in a straight line. It is home to deer, coyote, raccoons, allegedly (feline) cougars. When I arrived in Portland I ran on sections of it, and heard more about the end to end run, or even the end to end to end run (60 miles obviously). Eventually and inevitably I was drawn to run the whole trail unsupported, which is how most short FKTs are run.

The view from Wildwood at Pittock Mansion
My plan was to run South to North meaning you start literally downtown and run out, watching the number of hikers, dog walkers and runners dwindle. I carried water and gels for the relatively short time on my feet. My target was the current FKT of 3.38.16 for the 30.25 miles by local legend Yassine Diboun, which didn’t seem out of the question for 30 miles of relatively tame undulating trail.

As I started out on a crisp cool morning I was confident I could get near the FKT. I topped the only significant climb to the historic Pittock Mansion and felt good. As I left the busier parts of the park the miles ticked away (each ¼ mile is marked on a tree with a blue diamond and the distance from the start). But this trail doesn’t bite you, it knaws away at you, the rollers are endless, the twists and turns make finding a rhythm difficult and suddenly your pace has slipped. The twisting single track all looks the same and the blue diamonds aren’t slipping by so fast. I stopped once or twice to take a gel or have a pee, but mostly I plodded rather than ran the last 10 miles or so. I purposely didn’t look at my watch until a mile of so to go and was shocked to see HOW far I was not only outside the FKT, but also my ‘worst case’ time of a sub 4 hour run. I arrived at the end of the trail in 4.12.24, well outside the FKT.

And then it was done
This really was FKT lite, and better runners are attempting more extreme FKTs literally weekly. Those to stare in awe at are Killian Jornet’s Matterhorn FKT, Rob Krar’s Grand Canyon Rim to Rim to Rim record (now likely to stand for all time as national parks have tightened up on solo traversers) and a recent attempt on the 2175 mile Appalachian Trail speed record of 46 days. That’s 47 miles a day. Every day. For over 6 weeks! Karl Meltzer, the winning most 100 miler was last seen on day 32 and appears to have abandoned an attempt at this insane record.

You want to run a FKT?

Decide which record; unsupported (you carry all your own shit). Self Supported (you can stash shit on the route in advance). Supported (everyone else carries your shit)

Find a route that has an FKT within your compass

Post that you are going to attempt it on           

Run with a GPS to record the time, distance and route

Tell your family and friends your intention (makes it easier for everyone to believe you)

Shout ‘go’ as you run off into the distance

For inspiration watch Killian on the Matterhorn

Go do it!