An Immodest Proposal

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?
Sandy Stott

lives and runs in Brunswick, Maine, where he chairs the town’s Conservation Commission. He writes for a variety of publications and has a book, 'Critical Hours—Search and Rescue in the White Mountains', which published in April of 2018, is now in its second printing, and was selected by Outside Online as one of its best books for Spring of 2018. He may be reached at [email protected]