What Makes an FKT?

AJW's TaproomOver the past week, a group of Virginia ultrarunners had a spirited online discussion about an iconic fastest known time (FKT) route in Central Virginia’s beloved Shenandoah National Park. The route is the 105-ish-mile Appalachian Trail section, which traverses the park and contains some of the most actively traveled training grounds for Virginia ultrarunners. Having completed the route myself as part of my 50th birthday celebration back in 2017 (not as an FKT attempt), I was quite interested in the discussion.

In the course of the conversation, much of the dialogue centered around what exactly the route is and, specifically, where it officially begins and ends. The Appalachian Trail effectively enters Shenandoah National Park in the north a few miles east of Front Royal and exits the park at Rockfish Gap just east of the town of Waynesboro in the south. The most notable FKT attempt to date was Matt Kirk’s traverse of the park in under 24 hours back in 2004, but little additional information exists about the route or it boundaries. As such, in the course of the conversation, I was asked what I considered to be the ‘cleanest’ route.

In my birthday run, I began in the north at the place where the Appalachian Trail crosses U.S. Route 522 east of Front Royal. Technically, this location is 3.5 miles north of where the trail enters the park but since there is no road access to that particular place, I started at the road crossing. I also ended my run 3.5 miles short of Rockfish Gap because I was tired after 30 hours and that last 3.5-mile section is miserable. All this being said, in the course of the conversation and in an attempt to determine the most accurate route, the group essentially divided into four ‘camps:’

The Purists: The purists argued that one should simply consult a map of the park and where the trail enters and exits the park that should be where the start/finish of the FKT is, plain and simple. Others suggested that this might not be the best route to go as those boundaries sometimes change over time. From there, entered…

The Logicals: The logicals argued that the route should start and finish essentially at the nearest trailhead/road crossing to the entrance/exit as this gives people a common start/finish point for future attempts and keeps the route clear of future changes in boundaries, trail reroutes, and more. However, from that discussion the voices of a third group appeared….

The Localists: The localists argued that the local trail users at each end of the route are typically the most well-equipped people to answer these questions of start/finish points as they have the most intimate trail knowledge of the area and also are also privy to area lore and legend. As such, their local knowledge should trump any maps or road crossings. Finally, a lone voice in the wilderness emerged….

The Practicalist: “Wouldn’t the best thing to do be to just walk into the park and ask a ranger where the Appalachian Trail enters and exits the park? Those people work there and should know best.”

Ultimately, we all realized that there was room for all of our opinions and as such we quickly realized that this discussion was a wonderful part of our great ultra tribe. Being able to talk through this stuff with people to whom it actually mattered was more important to us than any one outcome. It also got us all thinking about what it is that drives people to attempt long, self-organized explorations. For me and my Shenandoah National Park birthday run, I was motivated by a love for the land, a desire to share my love of that land with the world, and to attempt an effort that would stretch me. I accomplished all three regardless of where I started and finished and, in the end, at least in my case, that’s all that really mattered.

Bottoms up!

AJW’s Beer of the Week

Basic City Beer CompanyThis week’s Beer of the Week comes from Basic City Beer Company in Waynesboro, Virginia near the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail through Shenandoah National Park. Basic City brews a fantastic wheat beer called Mandara. This traditional hefeweizen is slightly fruity and smooth and eminently drinkable at 4.7%. A great choice to slake your thirst after a long day on the ‘AT.’

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • Did you participate in the same online discussion as AJW?
  • What really is better than discussing and debating route nuances with a group of ultrarunners?
  • When it comes to defining a route for FKTs to be pursued upon, how important do you consider specific, agreed-upon parameters for the route?

There are 6 comments

  1. Trip Biscuit

    glad to see Basic City getting some love. they’ve been upping their game lately and are now firmly one of the best breweries in the area, in my opinion. cheers!

  2. The Woodsman

    It’s always nice when there is some kind of trailhead kiosk/register at each end. Makes for a pretty obvious start/finish. Sounds like that isn’t the case here.

  3. Cam Munik Ayshin Enthew Z. Ist

    Too much use of “as such” as a connective adjunct untethered to any obvious antecedent and any obvious target of predication. I might as well just.

  4. Ian McAlpine

    Thanks for the many great articles, POV, and beer recos. Hope you don’t let the comment trolls get you down, always look forward to these

  5. Sean Donachy

    Ha ha! This was just awesome. Watching that discussion unfold helped me to realize even further how invested I and so many others are in our local lands. So cool, and really hoping JA goes for the attempt!

  6. Lightning

    I’m more interested in the fastest unknown times. How fast were people running routes before the internet, when there were mostly no organizations gathering times and start/finish locations (at least that I knew of), and people were maybe just writing notes in training logs, if that?

    I came across a brisk Half Dome up time in my old training log from 1991. Started from Housekeeping Camp, because that’s where my family always stayed back then. I made it brisk only because I started 2 hours before sunset and wanted to make it up and down without carrying a headlamp/flashlight (because I didn’t have one with me). Ended up stumbling down in pitch dark towards the end. My time (I kept uphill only) was not a FUKT, but it’s fun to think about what I could have run then if I had known about FKTs as I was in 29-30 10K shape then, and I definitely would have gone for it, if I had knowledge of a time to break/where to start/finish.

    I have similar thoughts about Strava KOMs. They are really KOMs only for the latest generation of runners. I wish it was around in the ’90s – I would have had more fun with it then.

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