Trail and ultramarathon races used to be the ultimate proving ground. Slowly but surely, more athletes began to establish routes in the practice of running the Fastest Known Time, which is a who-ran-it-fastest type of challenge where athletes can create any route they dream up and, as long as they document it and make it repeatable for the next athlete, have their own claim to fame until somebody else does it faster.
This genre of competition has democratized athletic achievements for the sport of trail and ultra running. There’s no location restrictions, no entry fees… just imagination and a willing pair of feet to take you where you want to go.
So, how can YOU get in on the fun and run your first FKT?
Find Your Running Strengths
Every athlete has something they are good at. For some, that is going fast. Others, going far. Maybe orienteering, or operating well with little sleep. Heat, cold, rocky, flat… see where this is going? Find your niche, or where you feel most comfortable while moving quickly.
Think about what kind of terrain or distances get you the most inspired. Start there. Then, move to figure out what footing and conditions suit you the best. This generally comes with experience and training through different conditions and on a variety of trails.
Find an FKT Route
FastestKnownTime.com is probably the most widely used site to find and record FKTs. You can search your area and narrow things down by distance, as well as ready write-ups of past experience on the route. Look for something that fits your strengths and is a bit more “grassroots”. AKA, you probably won’t go for R2R2R as your first FKT attempt (Kudos if you do it. We owe you a beer.) but, there are definitely a variety of trails in the Grand Canyon area (pick any location, anywhere) that are less traveled.
Consider route variations as well, such as only doing the uphill portion, or downhill portion, or, multiplying the route. Quadruple Pikes Peak anybody? Creativity is the only limit here. You could even combine routes or FKTs, such as the fastest combined time to do Humphrey’s Peak (Arizona’s highest) to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. Tweak it for what’s available in your area.
There is always the option of creating your own route and doing an OKT – Only Known Time. The wilderness is huge! Explore it!
Train to Run the FKT
Consider the distance, elevation gain, and conditions you might encounter. Try to replicate training on similar terrain and conditions. This might involve lots of hill training, heat training, or toughening up your feet.
You can start your attempt at any time of day, which may make certain sections of the route more or less challenging when you ultimately reach them, depending on weather conditions, day and night, etc. Consider where you will be and when, and if starting in the middle of the night might benefit you. This might mean doing more night training than usual.
Study the FKT Route
Use resources like Google Earth, Gaia, Caltopo, and blogs of people who have done it before to help you dial in all the details. Gaia is a smartphone app that will allow you to import a GPX file of the route and access it offline. We’ve used it before and it is quite reliable. Caltopo is a free online site to draw out a route online and download it as a GPX file for you phone or watch. There are numerous layers and imagery options to use on the site as well.
Make note of how far it is from waypoint to waypoint. Since the route won’t be marked, if your technology fails, you’ll have a good idea how far you have to go. Look for things like potential wrong turns, cliffs, other landmarks for navigation, crew stops, underfoot terrain, or bail-out routes to make sure you cover all the bases. It’s always better to be more prepared than you need to be.
Free 30 Day Hill Training Plan!
Know Your Style
There are a variety of styles in which FKTs are attempted. You’ll want to pick the one that fits you the best.
Unsupported: This style means you pack all your own stuff and carry it with you the whole time, never accepting outside assistance from crew or pacers or external resources. It is a primal and authentic way to experience the landscape around you, but demands the most from you as an athlete, and will also test your ability to plan and execute myriad logistics.
Self Supported: This style means you carry what you need, but are only supported by your own efforts or resources that are equally available to anybody else. You can ask for help from strangers or resupply at stores. This is common on long trails and multi-day efforts.
Supported: You can accept any kind of aid at any time from crew or pacers so long as you are moving by your own effort. This usually means you can carry less weight, but, distractions from crews and the comfort of stopping could blur the benefits of the previously mentioned styles depending on the route.
Go For It!
Send it! Above all, have fun. Regardless if you FKT or not, it will be an experience and an opportunity to learn about yourself. The route is always there when you are ready for it if you need to come back, and regardless, you’ll have some great stories. Let us know what you are FKTing below!