An Immodest Proposal

[Editor’s Note: This piece is written by guest contributor Sandy Stott. Sandy lives in Brunswick, Maine, where the waves are often taller than the hills. So, most trail days, he has to imagine his mountains. He is the Accidents Editor for the mountain journal, Appalachia, and the writer and editor of The Roost, a blog that thinks about Henry Thoreau’s foot-won wisdom and wildness.]

I come from a trail-running era before GPS, and also well before watches could hold what used to take a mainframe. That also places much of my running in a time before fastest known times (FKTs) arrived, breathing heavily on this spot or that. But all that doesn’t mean we didn’t, on occasion, hotfoot-it along trails, reaching finally some aim point and bending then, hands on knees and saying, “That was FUKT!”

Really? You avert your eyes. Need he be obscene?

I hasten to explain: FUKT, despite its aural imitation of, well, you know… stands for fastest unknown time. And here we leave the land of aural jokes and step into the terrain of existential footwork. How really does one understand what it is to run FUKT?

Long before time got divided into ticking increments, people often ran for their lives–sometimes, they were running away; other times, they were running in pursuit. Both runnings were vital, the first as escape from falling prey to other predators, the second as a running down of prey. Our ancestors are said to have been impressive foot-folk who could outwit a lion (on good days) and outlast an eland (also on a good day).

The measure of both sorts of running was survival. If you were good, you lived on… to do it again. And, if you were really good, you might make a name for yourself. “That Rorke,” some tribes-person might say, “he sure can run. That’s two elands this moon.” No one measured it, of course, but Rorke became the tribe’s running record holder. “That Rorke,” they began to say, “he is FUKT!”

Well, the agricultural revolutions came along, and food got slower, and from all those easily caught surpluses, we contrived all manner of conveyance; soon, even the fastest Rorke was only just that, a quick-Rorke, but no better fed than all the rest of us.

Still, the quick-Rorkes, who flowed from the old gene pool, felt their legs twitch; they seemed ill-suited to the slow retting of weeds or the labored scribing of words or the cobbling together of machines. And so, these Rorkes began to run on their own. Light kept whatever time they needed, and they tried to be back by dark. “Let’s run to that crag and back,” said a usual Rorke. And they did. First one back ran FUKT.

Well, you know what’s coming. Yes, it’s the era of increments slivered ever finer and positions ever more finely parsed. Watched over by unlidded satellite eyes and tracked over precisely gridded terrain, we’ve dropped our vowel. There’s no U in FKT, and so it’s always some other-Rorke atop an ever-growing list of fastest known times.

Except if you run long enough in the hills. Don’t we all, finally, want to slip free of time, to be another-Rorke intent still on running FUKT?

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • How significant is speed a factor in the running you regularly do outside of competition venues?
  • What do you think of the FKT phenomenon that is becoming more popular in trail and ultrarunning? What effects do you see it having on our sport?

There are 13 comments

  1. alicia

    I always find it odd when people try to tell other people how they should or shouldn’t enjoy an activity–for example, the long distance hikers who tell us we shouldn’t run on trails because we’ll miss all the sights, or the road runners who say that we shouldn’t run ultras because they’re too slow. Surely it makes more sense to enjoy your running in whatever way you see fit and recognize that everyone else should do the same?

    1. Meghan Hicks

      Alicia,

      Thanks for commenting. Are you referring to this article with your comment? I struggle to squeeze any judgement statements out of this piece of writing. I see it as a somewhat simplified/’storified’ but clever and playful description of why some people’s reasons for running fast have shifted over the ‘eons.’ Something along the lines of, ‘We used to run fast because we needed to. Now we run fast because we want/like to.’

      1. alicia

        Yes, it looks to me that the last two paragraphs are fairly clear in their negative opinion of increasingly smaller increments, GPS tracking, and the reporting of times. The second-to-last paragraph gives the current state of FKT tracking, and the last paragraph gives what the author believes is a “better” way to run.

  2. MikeTebbutt

    Ditto what Alicia said.

    I do not really get the point/modest proposal here. I am not sure if I am as old as Sandy, but I am old enough to have run before GPS watches and certainly before boasting about everything you do in life on the interweb. Most of the time I hate the rapidly changing world as much as the next old curmudgeon, but what is truly “FUKT”, is if we are not open to progression and when the old guard tries to squash the ways of the new guard.

    FKT’s are not a phenomenon. They have been around for centuries(or longer), we just now have a catchy acronym for them.

    1. MikeTebbutt

      Sorry, I just looked up the definition of phenomenon and that actually does apply to FKT’s, but my point is still the same.

  3. Meghan Hicks

    Alicia, Mike, Jeff, all,

    Really interesting your interpretations: as editor, I appreciate your comments and your takes on the piece. Thank you.

    I read the intent of the article differently, and not in a ‘this way is better than that way’ manner. To me, the author’s ‘immodest proposal’ is that the way some of us run now, though monitored by different technologies and time increments, is not that different from how some people may have run in the distant past. That the running fast is a shared, common denominator, despite differences in needs/wants/reasoning for fast running and how we now define it.

    Mike,

    The way I read the piece, the author seems to be describing the very fact you point out, that he thinks FKT/FUKT-style running may have been around for a very long time.

    1. MikeTebbutt

      Meghan, I don’t disagree with you and I bet Sandy and I would get along great out in the woods and likely have many similar opinions about how we like to go out there and get after it. I’ll just say that, the way it is written makes it a little confusing to me what the intent of the article really is.

      Thanks for Irunfar and all that you guys do!

      1. Sandy

        Alicia and Mike and Jeff,

        Thanks for reading my piece and responding. What a writer intends and how s/he is taken often vary, sometime widely. In any event, I meant to pass no judgement. I was after a little fun with a new acronym and, as Meghan points out, a sense that once we ran for survival and now we run…well, for survival, even if it’s a different kind. Blessedly, whatever the force or spirit that configures our make-up left in need for speed on foot, even as each Rorke among us defines speed differently.

        Sandy

  4. John Morelock

    I was rolling that “how significant is speed…” part around in wherever things roll around. Last year I paid attention, did the needed work for a couple of weeks, and, with great trepidation, one afternoon I detoured to the known two-mile stretch. It took almost enough energy to bring back the headaches of racing days–running never created headaches; racing almost always did. At the end of the two miles I looked at the Timex Ironman watch (having that on my wrist sheds light on how unserious my running is) and smiled at 18:12 in an unmusical sort of way. Speed, in a relative sense, is there, but it is no longer worth the work. I poked the ‘Reset’ button.

    The next day I returned to the trails with no concern for timing anything other than how long I am out there and do I need to turn toward the car (she has been know to leave without me). I will never see a subforty 10k again–never entertain leading the pack and looking over my shoulder for hours again. Nowadays I stay alert for any other runner, a rarity where I run, so as to get out of their way. Time is of more importance to me than speed. We (she “runs” too) must have our time out there. We do not hurry through.

    I respect the achievement of an FKT, but…

    John Morelock

    1. Sandy

      Thank you, Travis. One of the things I like about FKTs is the way they can encode some of your history on a trail or loop you keep coming back to. Here’s to today’s trail.

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