Fastest Known Times

Attempts at “Fastest Known Times” have become an ever larger part of trail and ultrarunning culture. This is certainly something that individuals have been doing for a long time now, but in the age of instant communication via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc, I think the popularity of these individual time trials has blown up in the last few years. So much so, that a year ago UltraRunning magazine recognized an individual time trial as the Women’s Ultrarunning Performance of the Year. Beyond this, nearly every serious mountain running “fan” seems to know who has the R2R2R FKT, or the JMT, TRT, AT, PCT (just the fact that people know what these acronyms stand for is in large part due to this age of Internet communication).

As a runner there is an obvious draw to these kinds of outings. It’s essentially a way to “race” against previous individuals, and against a certain trail or terrain, without the logistical difficulties or the financial cost of a traditional race. Beyond this, the individual time trial also gives one the opportunity to “race” on trails which will forever be off limits to any kind of official event due to permitting and/or liability issues. I myself have run a small handful of routes (all in Alaska) with the primary purpose of seeing how fast I could do them in comparison to known previous attempts. There’s something very simple, pure, and energizing about doing so. If taken seriously these runs can have the intensity of a race with the solitude and simplicity of any long run by oneself out in the wilderness.

All of this said though, there has always been something that doesn’t quite sit right with me in regards to the fastest known time trend. Perhaps it’s because I spend a lot of time in Boulder where there seems to be a fastest known time for every possible route within 50 miles of town. For me this seems to have the effect of making the “wilderness” around here seem much less like true wilderness, and much more like a city park obstacle course, where everything has been “figured out” or “conquered.”  Beyond this, though, I also feel like the entire notion of “racing” against a certain trail or against people who have run a certain trail in the past is kind of odd.

Again, this is something that I have done a handful of times myself, but it has always felt a little bit bizarre to me to do so. I think this is because there is such a collective energy to racing that is brought out by sharing that experience with several other like-minded people on the same trail, at the same time. To me this collective energy is the biggest reason I have always liked racing. If you take away this collective energy I think it’s hard to recreate your own “race.” Individual time trials and fastest known time attempts are obviously different than races, but when you go out and run a trail as fast as you can, with knowledge of how fast others have run it in the past, and then you publicize the time in which you ran it so as to be compared to everyone else who has run it, is it really that much different than a race? Of course, there is no one else out there doing it at the same time as you, something that in my mind is the main defining characteristic of what racing is. In this sense you end up with this odd dynamic in which you are clearly racing, but you are racing against the recorded history of the past, or against a certain trail or mountain, rather than against other individuals who are out there at the same time testing themselves against you. In this sense an individual time trial is clearly not a race, and at the same time in cases with a prominent precedent it clearly is a race. So, which is it? At the end of the day it might not really matter one way or the other, but see how this can all start to feel like a somewhat odd and confusing thing?

For better or for worse, racing is a very contrived thing. There are times when this is what we want as runners, but there are also times when we want the extreme opposite of this. We want to go out and run free of competition, free of an agenda, and free of other people’s experiences. Obviously we can choose to do this on any trail at any time, but I do think that as more and more routes around the world become “races” (whether actual races or through well established FKT’s) it becomes a little bit harder to do this. It’s not just folks who are going out trying to run FKT’s that are influenced by the culture. There are certain trails that have come to be known in the trail running community by their individual time trial histories, and virtually any run on that trail is going to be compared to some degree with that history. Much the same way that each year that a race is run will be compared to the history of the previous editions of that race. Running the Grand Canyon is to some degree a different experience for nearly everyone who runs it than it otherwise would be without the well documented history of individual time trials on that trail. Obviously the effect it has on any one individual is up to that individual more than anyone else, but certainly some of the sense of adventure, some of the sense of solitude, and some of the sense of individuality has to be effected by the reality that you can go online and read this entire history of what is in essence a several decades old “race” from rim-to-rim-to-rim (as well as shorter and longer versions: R2R and R2R2R2R2R).

Certainly I understand that humans are inherently competitive with each other and with ourselves, and I am certainly not immune to this competitive nature. I recognize that there have been some incredible FKT’s set all over the world throughout human history, and am in awe of dozens of these. As stated above, I have made a few attempts at FKT’s myself, and certainly don’t have any issue with anyone who has ever done so, but I do believe that the FKT trend, and the growing desire to make one’s accomplishments public, which is so easily done in this age of communication, is making it harder and harder for trail runners to experience many of the world’s most appealing trails in a truly raw, organic, and perhaps sacred way. The real irony here is that so many of us who attempt these FKT’s do so because we feel that races are too contrived to be the outlet for all of our competitive vigor. The irony with this is that in promoting this FKT trend we are helping create a situation in which more and more routes essentially become quasi-races, and thus more contrived.

Here in Boulder I have seen the effect that this trend has on the people who run the trails, and the effect that it has on me when I run on the trails, and I think it has a definitive effect that can’t be ignored. Nearly every route has become a number and a story of someone else’s experience on that route. This can be an exciting thing, and often is, but it also has the effect I talked about above of making everything seem “conquered,” “figured out,” and contrived.

I’m not saying that I don’t think people should go out and run specific routes as fast as they can, and that they shouldn’t be proud of their accomplishments, but I do wonder if this is really a trend that we want to promote into a prominent sub-culture within the larger trail running community. In my mind when a route becomes an established race it becomes a little less mysterious, a little less raw, and a little more contrived. To a smaller degree I think the same thing happens when a route is labeled with a FKT. Perhaps what we need are a few more “Fastest Unknown Times” and a few less Fastest Known Times.

There are 117 comments

  1. Mic Medeska

    I was really interested in FKTs when they were something small, something only the elites were doing and it gave you something to compare your own runs to. (Ben Nephew dominates anything out here in CT/MA) But they've lost some sparkle now that I see a FKT popping up for every trail and even segments of trail. I want iconic FKTs, such as the "R2R2R", not the "R2Skeleton Point but only using a headlamp, road shoes, and 6 oz of water." And I want all athletes competing at that small handful of trails, let them pick their best day, best route to the top, etc, and just go for it. Let's say the Presidential Traverse in the White Mountains gets to be one of four routes in NH, and just leave it at that.

    Anyways. 4 minutes and 11 seconds. That's how long it took me to read that article. FKT is currently mine.

    1. Andy

      Although 4:11 is a very stout record indeed, I should let you know that I was on pace for new FKT of 4:07. But I got lost and had to read the third paragraph twice, not to mention some nasty blistering on my scrolling finger. I don't know how you elites do it.

  2. pdc

    I have probably 50 or so CRs/KOMs on strava. Most of them are pretty meaningless (eg bench to tree), but there are a few that I take pride in. As a slow guy who is above average on technical terrain, these "records" boost my confidence and push me to do more. I also like the fact that I might be showing others the trails less traveled.

    Its all good. Just don't take it too seriously

  3. Patrick Chamberlain

    Just because there is a FKT for a course does not mean you have to race it everytime you run. I think there should be some judgment used in FKT's in that the routes should be fairly iconic. But I do not understand how knowing what the fastest time on a route does to take away from the fun of running it. FKT's are a way to make the sport of trail and ultra-running reach more people and continue to grow. We have the unique ability to compare ourselves to anyone that has run a route and answer questions of who actually is the better athlete. Unlike say basketball where people can argue for days over whether Michael Jordan was better than Labron James. The truth is you can't prove it either way ever. Running has always been timeless in this way.

  4. Luke Garten

    With Strava, even just my cross training on a road bike has "mini races" or FKT's throughout my typical routes. I can't do a hill climb around Auburn without knowing how fast some guy has posted his time up that hill. You can either pay attention to those statistics and let them push you to let you know how your fitness is doing or you can just leave the watch at home and just enjoy your ride.

    You don't have to look up those times and you don't have to time your routes either.

  5. Brett

    Methinks this is much ado about nothing. To each his own.

    I think most all of us have our own personal best times on our most frequent training routes. Most times I run, I am aware of what paces I am running. Sometimes I am on a training run, and sometimes I am pushing against the watch. Whatever floats people's boats.

  6. Dave T.

    As soon as a route gets run, even for the very first time, it becomes a little less mysterious, a little less raw, and a little more contrived. There is no avoiding it. Likewise, people ware watches and they time themselves. There is no avoiding it and it is a ton of fun.

    BTW – the R2R2R, and most of the other major FTK routes, have lacked mystery and rawness for a very long time; long before people began tracking FTK in a formal way.

  7. Darian

    I agree with Luke; leave the watch at home. Also cut down on the running blogs you read as well. Make it your own experience.

    1. pdc

      What if making it your own experience means wearing a watch? For some of us the collection and analysis of data is what makes us who we are. Some people actually like complexity. Not all of us are so called minimalists.

  8. Michael

    Well said. It's easy to get sucked into that mode of thinking when you're constantly surrounded by it. However, I take a moment of reflection and recall my original reasons for being out there.

  9. Yeti

    I think we should just run however it makes us happy but sometimes that seems to get a bit confusing. If "the scene" is getting you down I say: ditch the watch and the scene, run wherever your heart desires and your outing will never be contrived or competitive again. Instead, it will be mysterious, raw and individually meaningful most every time. Someone out there will always be faster,every inch of the earth has been trod upon by many millions of feet, the sooner one can accept that fact, the sooner they can get back to why most of us started running trails and wilderness areas in the first place: fun. We tend to lavish upon FKT's, races and time trials so much value and honor, so don't, don't reward them so much and they shouldn't affect you in the slightest. Sometime's ignorance(of time and others)is bliss.

        1. pdc

          Your earlier comment rubbed me the wrong way. I apologize for the snark. I just think the contrived/authentic thing is a false dichotomy. Its just running.

  10. olga

    Speaking of Boulder, Tony K. has surely a mix of "wow, I love this s%$#", and a time to the second day in and day out for 3 routes he does every other day (or is it every day?).

    In my absolutely personal opinion, there are runs for a watch with a timer, and runs for whatever. As far as "known and popular" routes go and their recognition, I rather "official" recognition be kept to the races. Everything else can be shared as experiences, yes, with times, but not as "records".

  11. owen

    I think you have to be paying close attention to that whole FKT thing to have it affect you? Maybe it is different for an established, famous runner but for average Joe I really don't think they would feel that completing a R2R would be somehow compromised because someone has run it faster before.

    Following a trail of any sort is contrived, because it's a trail. I think people get a lot of enjoyment out of competing/measuring against each-other's efforts, but by the same measure, you can simply not check and just get out? It's strange as most of your posts Geoff are about your appreciation of simply being out in nature, so maybe it's people pushing this FKT stuff at you because you are world class, that creates an amplified effect, whereas its easier for a regular dude to just not look, and no-one will badger us about how fast someone else has done it?

    1. Evan

      I don't know- I'm maybe an above-average runner, but far from elite, and usually one of the first things someone asks me (if they have any history with sports) after I tell them about a long run is some form of "oh cool. what's the fastest that's been run?" or "how fast did xx run it?"

  12. Speedgoatkarl

    I really think FKT's started on routes (such as the Grand Canyon) that we are not allowed to run a race on. It's always interesting in my opinion to see how fast someone can run across the Grand, Zion, whatever, but it really means nothing. No awards, no glamour, no nothing. "It's just running", I think some kid said that a while back….

    1. Craig

      Amazingly, this is exactly what I was thinking. FKTs originated as a way for people to 'race' a course that wasn't open to having an official race. While that has morphed over time, the most popular FKTs are still on routes where a race isn't allowed (as sited in Karl's comment). I also think FKTs are one of the purest forms of racing. It's not only against history, but yourself, usually with little or no support. I say bring it on. If you don't like FKTs, don't go for them and don't follow them. It's as easy as not caring.

      1. art

        my guess is that FKT's existed long before ultra running and National Parks existed.

        the need for speed seems to be intertwined with the history of man.

        only back then they were all day or multi day affairs, not the silly bench to tree boasts that are growing exponentially.

  13. Jill Homer (@AlaskaJ

    I'm interested in the concept of FKT if only because that's what the entire bikepacking community uses to gauge performance on particular routes. I enjoy the set-up of planning low-key, self-supported "races" with the stipulation that if the date doesn't work for you, you can go out and ride the route any time. Even if it's just "the best I can do on this particular trail," I appreciate the concept of individual time trials.

    I'm also on Strava. I used to enjoy the program until I received yet another one of those e-mails informing me that I lost the CR on a 0.23-mile long trail climb in Pennsylvania. Now I mostly ignore Strava because the scope is ridiculous, but I too used to be fairly proud of my 9th-place standing on a popular Bay area road climb. It would drive me to push a little harder on this route every time I went out.

  14. brian

    I think it would be cool if someone set an FKT, but it was never discovered until 20 years later when they passed away and someone found their gps watch. It would be like an old painting and could be worth some money. By jack handey, jk

    1. art

      " . . . and someone found their GPS watch "

      very funny, you must be, uh uh , how old ?

      things like this regularly happened before the dawn of the internet and GPS watches.

      just one example is John Rosendahl's 1988 unsupported JMT FKT (since broken) that was somehow mostly forgotten and ignored because the internet didn't exist.

  15. Basit Mustafa

    Well said, Geoff! You codified in words a feeling about the wilderness of trail running I love and how racing & FKTs et al interact with it.

    You have inspired me to work harder on my SKT projects. It might *SEEM* easy to put up a 30/min/mi pace across the Mall of America parking lot, but resisting the need to speed up to avoid those 15 passenger church vans is harder (and more dangerous) than you think.

  16. Van Horn

    FTK sits right with me. It is a way to race but without race-day jitters, official start times, and face-to-face competition. It is fun.

  17. Aaron Sorensen

    FKT's may be popping up everywhere, but they are all shorter, (I know I don't give a crap) routes.

    The real routes that started the FKT's in the first place haven't grown much at all.

    Back in the day, almost every FKT was over 6 hours and most at least 12.

    How cares if there are a 1000 sub 3 hour FKT's.

    What I'm not seeing is more 24+ hour FKT's popping up.

    There is no Yosemite to Tahoe record or pretty much anything new since the beginning of FKT's. This is what I would like to see more of.

    100 milers are just races, but an FKT when you are getting into the 2nd night is more than just a race. The amount of dedication it takes to be doing these is huge.

    Still not too many people are doing them.

    Do I like it this way? No. But I also don't like the sub 3 hour FKT's on every trail.

    What I am really surprised about is that people are not doing 100 or even 50 mile routes, to see if they can beat a CR on their own. This just proves that a race is what people what in terms of how they stack up. Even an unsupported 100 mile route hasn't even surfaced.

    So let everyone have an FKT on the local trails. It has no importance to me, and would not take anything away from that trail when I run to trail on it.

    I just wish FKT's had brackets so that the local sub 3 hour trails would be in a corner of their own without taking away the ones that matter.

    Just my 2 cents.

  18. Evan

    I think there is a time and a place for everything. I agree with Geoff in the contriving nature of FKTs in some circumstances. When living in Aspen last summer, Rickey Gates set a new 4 Pass Loop FKT. I knew I couldn't touch Rickey's time, but Lance Armstrong also ran it with him, and was considerably slower (5:40 I think?). I set out on a mission to beat Lance's time and put that damn cyclist in his place. All said and done, I went out too hard, under-fueled, blew up, and didn't get it. No big deal normally, but having that time goal and being focused on pushing myself the whole time took me away from being present in the moment. I wasn't able to enjoy my trail experience and surroundings like I normally would have, and if you don't know already, that trail has some SERIOUS scenery. Trail running, and especially the long run, is about exploration, adventure, and experience for me, and unless I'm racing, I rarely care about time at all. But to each his own!

  19. Paul

    FKT information is no different than any media. It really only applies to those that are interested. When someone attempts to diminish it's value I question thier motive. To keep it "pure" in the ultrarunning community should we not bother posting results of races at all or simply just list Geoff's win at Western as a finisher as if by posting his win we have diminished others experience or accomplishment? Most of us are interested in results. If a local guy derives a source of pride from having the fastest time up the hill in his backyard, whom is he harming? Only you can decide for yourself if is important. Should we really be concerned with keeping this information hidden with the idea we are somehow keeping trails sacred? That's ridiculous.

  20. hapatrails

    Interesting article Geoff, you really fleshed out the factors and issues behind the concept of FKTs. The idea you really codified well for me was of the sense of "conquering" involved in FKTs. The "conquering" mentality extends across trailrunning in general, but with FKTs, there really does seem to be a sense of "bagging" the route. The K is important.."known", as in, this is the most important time amongst the subset of people broadcasting their times or monitoring others. I think I'm understanding a little better why and how you're using the term "contrived" here…FKTs risk becoming a self-selected group of people having conversations amongst themselves, and in doing so, becoming less relevant to those outside of the group and inherently limiting the bounds of conversation.

    I also have to think that runners that are drawn to FKTs are inherently achievement oriented, and tend to want to quantify or mark their achievements for themselves and others. "Ran through Zion NP" doesn't have the grit that "2nd place FKT Zion Traverse, X:XX, 2009" does.

  21. Logan

    I 100 percent agree with Geoff's beliefs on this subject. And I might add that the opinions on this subject depend on the individuals reason's for running in the trails and mountains in the first place, which I feel mine nearly mirror Geoff's to an extent.

  22. Trygve

    This is meaningless. If there's a trail, it means that somebody has been there before. And somebody has probably run the trail before. If you want to go where nobody else has been, then you're too late. Well, maybe you'll find some remote spot in the jungles of Papua New Guinea where nobody has ever run before, but apart from that, people run on trails. And people like to run fast on trails and even see how fast they can go if they give it all. What difference does it make to you and me if we know how fast people have run a specific trail or not?

  23. Mark

    While I can understand setting FKT for longish trails, when it comes to short stuff (I know it’s relative) it seems to me quite petty-minded and bounded up with a bunch of specific traits of character. If you run to get away from fiercely competitive corporate culture and run to experience the aesthetic side of life, bothering with FKT is transplanting the former to the latter. Do we have to bring track&field culture into wilderness? Thanks Geoff for your excellent article!

  24. Stu

    The biggest problem I have with FKTs is that they tend to devolve into switchback cutting and other shenanigans that are detrimental to the wilderness in which they are run. Two elite ultrarunners in particular come to mind. Erosion and plant degradation are a real problem, particularly in wilderness areas close to metropolitan areas (e.g. Boulder) and new routes, however faint, tend to get picked up and re-used by other trail-goers. As stewards of nature, we need to adhere to the "leave no trace" philosophy and tread as lightly as possible. Shortcutting is not cool.

  25. Rich

    With every article from Geoff, it sounds more and more like self-justification for some sort of competitive void.

    Other than a few people who are really into it, I don't think people think of FKT's as anything more than challenging themselves and having fun.

    "but I do wonder if this is really a trend that we want to promote into a prominent sub-culture within the larger trail running community. "

    I could be completely interpreting the messages over the past few years, but, we went from "not enough competitive races out there" in one blog post/article to "big races stink, more people should run less known races with not set distances" to "fkt's are too competitive and are ruining the mystery and rawness of running"

  26. Ben Nephew

    Are you saying that people that like FKT's have different reasons for running trails than people that don't? Is it possible they have more reasons? For people that do a lot of FKT's, what percentage of their running time do you think they spend running those FKT's?

    1. art

      people who primarily prefer FKT's do have different reason's for running trails than people who primarily prefer catered organized races.

      there is of course cross over among many, but I'm speaking to primary preference. not saying one is better than the other, but definitely different motivations.

    2. Logan

      Ben, this is a very simple comment and agreement made on the side of Geoff on his beliefs on the subject of FKT's. My response does not have to have some drawn out technical answer hence the exact reason that I believe Geoff, myself and others with our same opinion on the subject are on the trails to begin with, to preserve them and hold them in personal regard, within our own conscience. So, yes, I am saying that people who feel the need proclaim and put so much worth and print into "FKT's" and their importance are on the trails for a different personal reason than Geoff, myself and hopefully many others. Simple as that, no more explaining is needed on my behalf.

        1. Logan

          Running is an action. Do you follow me? Yet trail running, road running, track and field running, etc. seem to "generally" have very distinct characteristics within each of those modes of running and members that bring road runners, trail runners, track runners, etc together. Quite odd huh? If you, or Ben, has not noticed this, Adam, then maybe you are disconnected, which I guess is why I am having to explain this further in the first place, or incapable of understanding why it seems like certain behavioral and cultural characteristics seem to be all drawn towards eachother as they are in different running circles. Point being, I agree with Geoff, nearly 100%, and I believe it is because we generally step onto the trails for some of the same core reasons and that is why I simply agreed with him.

      1. Ben Nephew

        I am not smart enough to understand this simple statement, hence the desire for greater detail. So you differentiate between the motivations of someone posting times on site that gets a handful of hits, and someone who has an entire blog dedicated to themselves and their running? How is having a blog with race reports not evident of a need to proclaim similar to the FKT site. Considering that races have published results, someone posting race reports would be putting so much worth into proclaiming a FKT that has already been posted. Peter and Buzz set up the FKT site so that there would be a place for runners to post race results for courses that don't have races. I'm thinking the whatever the reasons my friends do FKT's (money, fame, career), it's a safer route than some other runners that are celebrated for being out there just for the love of the trails and are often injured.

        How much worth do people place on FKT's? Wouldn't answering that require specific knowledge of somone's lifestyle, morals, as well as motivation? Sadly the way you generalize reminds me of recent tragic events that have affected all runners. Well, I would say all runners, but others would say a different group of runners.

        I review manuscripts regularly, and sometimes authors respond to questions and/or criticism by claiming they don't need to provide additional support for a comment. Those papers end up in the trash.

        1. Logan

          Unfortunately Ben I think it is actually that you are too "smart". Remember, you read "manuscripts". So I will take one for the team and bow down. Take care my friend.

  27. Ben Nephew

    Don't joke about that, it actually happens in New England. Look up the history of the Hut Traverse and Presidential Traverse and ask some NH locals about them. I'm waiting for Jack Handey to post a FKT for the Long Trail, while wearing Limmers and carrying a full pack.

  28. Matt P

    You know, I tried to like Geoff's piece, but I have to agree w/ Trygve that a trail, a path, a road are all human creations. Individuals don't make trails, nor do they grow out of the ground; trails and paths are collective endeavors. We are wired to be social creatures, and a race–or a FKT–are just different ways of expressing that desire to connect. No big whoop.

    All that said, I'd agree with Geoff that for me, at least, a race is a preferrable venue for bonding with others. FKT's seem a bit cold & abstract compared to the joy of stampeding through the woods with a few hundred of my fellow nutjobs. I find enough solitude and wildness in training. (Then again, it's not like I'm setting any FKTs either, so what the heck do I know.)

  29. Lstomsl

    Sounds like a Boulder problem… Here on the west slope I can honestly say that I don't know of a single FKT on any trail I run (Durango area). Perhaps I just don't know where to look. Probably because I just don't care, but also there are far more trails and far fewer people and nobody is really that competitive. I suspect that is the case for for most places in the west with a few well known exceptions….

  30. Ben Nephew

    There are a number of stereotypes about FKT's being promoted in this discussion. I'm not sure I'll directly address all of them, but I think some alternative experiences need to be discussed.

    My main reason for doing FKT's is to be able to race in areas where races are not possible. Limiting FKT's to famous routes is not necessary to make sure these routes maintain their significance, whatever that means. The Boston marathon is more famous now than when it was one of the few marathons in the country. The Northern Presidentials will still be nasty no matter how many FKT's I run in CT.

    Only long FKT's matter.

    I could just say that besides ultrarunners, most runners respect all distances, and some even respect field events. In addition to this, there are several months of the year that the bigger routes in the Northeast are not accessible, and the nature of the parks in our region make longer routes rare. When they do exist, they may involve a mix of roads and trails that some do not prefer. For myself, I would rather spend most of my weekend with my family than a multiday, or even moderately long FKT. I also prefer running fast as long as possible to running slow as long as possible. Some of the FKT's I have posted were to highlight trails that some may be unaware of. Others were aimed at adding to the number of longer sub-ultra trail races in my area.

    You can't enjoy the trail when you are running fast or racing.

    I spend much more time hiking some of the trails where I have FKT's with my son than running them. I enjoy the hiking and the running as fast as possible equally. I've taken a camera a few times on FKT attempts, and I find the stopping to take pictures more contrived than just running the route. While some like to take their time and enjoy views, I get the greatest pleasure from running fast over very difficult terrain. I don't need to have photos from most of my FKT's because the intense effort and challenging terrain tend to burn images into my brain. I enjoy the beauty of a section of actual trail, looking down at it, more than many views along the way. This doesn't have to relate to competition at all. It is more related to the reward of doing something well that you have spent a great deal of time practicing.

    Races are social, FKT's are anti-social.

    Many of races I have done have involved running with a few people for a very short time, and then spending the vast majority of time running by myself. When I race ultras, there is usually little time before the race to socialize, and I usually have to leave before many of my friends finish (or they are long gone after running a shorter event), so races aren't all that social to me. In contrast, I've met several people through FKT attempts that I would never meet at races, or we end up talking much more due to the FKT's. I do most of my training alone, and all of the group runs I've been on recently were FKT related scouting trips in Rhode Island.

    1. Adam WIlcox

      "Not accessible" in winter? :P

      I kid, and I agree with many of your positions. To me, the beauty of FKTs is their disorganized nature. If people want to belittle the importance of FKTs or imply that you're somehow doing it wrong (going too fast, not enjoying the scenery, blah blah blah), well that's up to them. The peanut gallery can dole out or withold recognition and respect as they wish, but they'll never stop me from enjoying the mountains in whatever manner I please. Live free or die, and such.

      And if they do want to stop me… well… catch me if you can!

      1. Ben Nephew

        Good point on the winter runs. I'm just bitter because I don't live up there. With the photos, I can just steal pics of FKT's off your blog, that's the real reason I stopped bringing a camera!

    2. Aaron Sorensen


      I just think a race is a race is a race. If you want to push yourself on a 25k trail and call that an FKT, I just don't understand the point. Just do a 25k race.

      I get that many of these FKT's are on classic routes or areas that trail races cannot be, however I agree with Geoff that you are turning that trail into a race.

      When I first attempted and FKT they weren't called FKT's and there was no FKT website. You had to plan, get ready and train for months.

      Now, I go out in my backyard, do a known trail and call it an FKT.

      This is what I just do not care about. It may inspire someone to get off their butt and attempt it?

      Again, when FKT's came around they were the long and classics. Now there are so many backyard FKT's that the whole idea of the subject is what Geoff is writing about.

      This is why I believe most FKT's should be off in their own corner for the yuppie 10k runners that think it's cool to check out.

      Just run a 10k for God sakes.

  31. waunderer

    I agree. While I respect what Geoff has done competitively and how he has handled the sudden inability to compete with grace, I find his recent posts on iRF to be contrived, mountains of molehills, stuff.

    Run. Run fast. Run slow. Run solo. Run with others. Run free. Run prescribed. Race. Jog… whatever.

    Run the run the day gives you. Run the run you seize, today.

    1. jamie

      No worries Olga. Im glad you liked it! I shared it in the hopes of putting a bit of fun in this conversation. As said before.. its just running. Or in our case dancing with toucans on our heads!

      1. olga

        I shared it on every FB page and running club I am in:) This is what I love the most: the combination of going to a race and doing your best while with a number of others doing the same (their best) against the clock, and then doing some crazy sh%^ solo stuff nobody knows about and swearing your head off – but because we're in shape to race our best, we can embark on this crazy stuff. It's a solid relationship I won't be giving up any time soon. FKT or SKT.

  32. Andy

    ++, well played indeed. This whole post and stream of commentary, probably much to Geoff's surprise (chagrin?), has been a real hoot.

    FKP – funniest known post. Who woulda thunk?

  33. Drew Gunn

    It sounds to me like the problem Geoff has is hanging around in Boulder! Things are always a bit weird and competitive there. I've run R2R2R and some other well known routes, and the FKT did not detract from the wilderness experience near as much as the well worn trail and hordes of people. All this crap is in our heads, and we make what we want of it. By the way I think Andy's FKT's on The Grand and Longs Peak are super inspiring. Reality is highly subjective! Or I might just be really crazy. Happy trails to all.

  34. Aaron Sorensen


    Well said.

    As far as I know, up until 1 or 2 years ago, most local 10K runners have no idea what an FKT was?

    Now the routes are getting shorter so you have a whole slew of "non ultra" 10k runners going for these. Of course it's going to grow.

    If the interest is there and it's getting people off their butts to try something new, that's a good thing.

    As far as changes to any longer FKT's nothing has really changed much.

  35. Greg

    To me fkt = course record. They just happen to be done on a course without an official race.

    It is absurd to think that someone else's fkt or course record could somehow detract from my running experience.

    If it did bother me, I'd take a long look in the mirror to figure out why.

  36. pdc

    I think maybe what is needed here is a concrete example of an illegitimate fkt. Some of you probably know the "boulder scene" and are aware of the routes that are at issue.

    but sure don't and maybe that's why its so puzzling to me that some of you seem so bugged about it.

    Come on…name the names of these yuppie interlopers! Lol

  37. AK

    I've always thought that Buzz Burrell–incidentally, a co-originator of using the term "FKT"–had the most insightful, relevant thoughts on the topic:

    "It is all about relationships: with a small slice of our natural world that you must get to know and understand better than anyone else; with yourself as you have to find your own motivation, your own technique, and your own way; and with your community, as there is no better reward than respect from people you respect."

    That pretty much sums it up for me. If you go into the mountains in a way that gives respect to yourself, the route (the land), and to the larger mountain community, you will ultimately earn respect, of which I think we all desire, at least a little bit.

  38. Geoff

    There's a big difference between an inherent desire to push ourselves and the desire to push ourselves and then make sure that as many people as possible know how fast we were able to go. i certainly have no issue with people running anywhere they want to and running hard anywhere they want to, but i just fear that we're turning too many routes into competitions. I

    1. Rob T

      But, it's only a competition if YOU make it a competition. That's the beauty of it. If YOU want to run a route, you can. It's not a race. You don't have to pay any mind to time at all. But, the next day, someone else might feel like being competitive, and "race". Be it himself, or a FKT. That's also the beauty of it. It's a race that's always there, or…not, depending on what your mindset is. Don't worry about other peoples mindsets on routes they run, and why, and then FKT's virtually don't even have to exist in your world.

      1. Geoff

        Rob (and others that have brought up this point),

        I agree completely that any individual can choose to not be affected by this trend (or any trend), but I think this misses the broader point of the article. I wasn't really raising the point of the individual's standpoint in all of this (i don't think i did a good job of conveying this in the article). I don't have a problem with any individual's who attempt FKT's (as I indicated in the article I have attempted a handful myself and will, health permitting, quite likely attempt some in the future). I think there is something really appealing and pure about going out and running as hard as one can simply to see what they are capable of. And on the flip side I totally agree that anyone who doesn't want to have any relationship with the FKT/individual time trial culture of trail running can very easily do so. The larger topic that I was trying to bring up though, is what effect is this trend having on the trail running culture as a whole, and what effect will it have going forward (because let's face it, going out and running a route as fast as you can has been around longer than any of us, and the FKT designation/notion has been around for a long time as well, but the popularity and public visibility of FKT attempts has skyrocketed in the past few years)? it may be that this trend really doesn't have a serious impact on trail running culture, it may be that it has a largely positive impact, or it may be that it has a largely negative impact. most likely it is some combination of the three. This was the question I was trying to raise.

  39. Geoff

    history doesn't work this way. once things become a documented part of the past, and become part of a culture's identity (even if it's a small part of that identity, and even if the culture is a fairly obscure culture) you can't just pretend it doesn't exist. Sure, any individual can pretend it doesn't exist and have their own individual experience ignoring the past as they see fit, but i'm not talking about everyone as an individual here, i'm talking about the effect that FKT popularity has on the entire trail running culture. the competitive aspects which have grown out of this are really exciting and really inspiring in many ways, but i also think this is creating a mindset among the culture as a whole that leads ultimately to more and more routes being viewed as competitions or as something that we set out to conquer. I'm not saying this is definitely a bad thing, but rather something that i think is worth thinking about.

    1. art


      to try and speak to what I think your concerns are :

      I see the increased popularity in FKT as only good for people, both individually and collectively. the competition is going to be there, FKT or not. I see FKT as encouraging autonomy and selfsufficiency among many who are used to being spoon fed their adventures in catered races. I don't think FKT increases any sense of competition in the community, rather it helps redirect it to venues that require new and more independent skills.

      All good in my eyes.

      however, I do see FKT as potentially bad for the land if the upsurge in usage of trails and wilderness is not handled with respect and care.

  40. Geoff

    Rich, it seems like you are implying in your last paragraph that each of those ideas are contradictory to each other. I don't see it that way at all. I feel as strongly about any of them, despite any of the others. They're really not related to each other at all. I love big time races, and think there should be more in our sport (although there are several more now than when i first wrote about this); I love quirky races that don't fit the typical mold and think there should be a lot more in our sport; and i am concerned about the "turn every trail into a competition" mindset that to a small degree seems to come out of the the FKT trend. In my mind these three things have no significant relevance to each other.

    1. Logan

      Unfortunately Geoff, this article seems to just be falling on deaf ears. It is being taken as fact instead of your personal opinion. But so goes the world circa 2013.

      1. pdc


        Geoff wrote the article to stimulate discussion. He said that he was concerned about the trend. Many people agreed. Many people said it was nothing to be concerned about. We were all sharing our opinion just like Geoff.

        Anyway, I for one enjoyed this thread. Thanks Geoff!

        1. Anonymous

          Good note taking. I unfortunately just said the same thing yet you feel the need to post in the contrary in reply? Why I don't know. I enjoy the discussion but it does not take a rocket scientist to realize the majority of these replies have been taken out of Geoffs intentions in regards to context.

  41. Buzz

    Thank you AK for the call-out! It was great re-reading those thoughts, as it brought back that incredible feeling of being footloose and free in the wild places of the world, a feeling that cannot be replaced by any other experience we may have in our lifetime.

    I tried reading the Comments and then Geoff's essay, but … I couldn't get thru it … I couldn't figure out what people were talking about … like, is there a problem? Don't we all go out there and do what works for us? Isn't that good enough, as long as we are always honest, respectful of the environment and others, and commit to living our dreams?

  42. lstomsl

    Well said AK and Buzz. The more I think about it, however, the more it seems to be a bit silly. I mean it almost begins to be a bit like climbing. Who had the first ascent? Did they do it with enough style and class to be respected and accepted by their peers? (see compressor route on Cerro Torre) What are the rules anyway? Can I have my dog carry my food and water so I am unencumbered? Can I stash an aid bag? What if I change the route a bit, can I claim a FKT on that specific route? And in the end, isn't it all on the honor system anyhow? Do we just accept peoples word in a world where people in other sports spend millions of dollars for a bit of competitive edge? (See compressor route on Cerro Torre again)

    Just like there are climbers obsessed with getting a first ascent, there may be runners obsessed with an FKT. But there are many others who are just out there enjoying the mountains and simply trying to perform with style, and grace, and respect for their personal pleasure and who care not a whit if anybody knows about it or not.

    It all seems like a descent into obscurity and detail and controversy. Which is the opposite of what draws me to trail running. I'm sure I could claim many FKTs if I had bothered to record them simply because of unusual routes. Also there are many places I commonly run where I've never seen another person. Or I could claim an FKT on the Copper Canyon/Grand Canyon double simply because I've done them both in a week and I don't know anybody else who has even though there are many, many people capable of blowing my time out of the water.

    If you can't be fast, be obscure. Thats my new motto….

  43. PB

    Remarkable discussion. I've done many ultra races & many FKT style runs as well. I confess that I'm generally more drawn to the FKT stuff. Maybe I'm antisocial??? What I like about FKTs is that you get to do a route that resonates with you personally, and in many cases the planning aspect is much more involved (& important to success) than just showing up & running a race. When Buzz & I first did the JMT we really had to figure out how to do it – there were few accounts that we could find of anyone doing something similar on that route. I always wanted to try things that I didn't know I could complete. After running a couple 100 mile races I knew I could do that, an just getting a faster time didn't really float my boat. I've done FKT things that took 5 hours, others that took 5 days, and everything in between. I've done super-classics, and I've done some (in Boulder!) that some people might consider "illegitimate". I certainly don't agree that just because a route is short it can't be an FKT. Every place had its "test pieces" – let's see who can run up that hill the fastest. To me some of the most impressive FKTs are less than 3 hours – like the Grand & Longs Peak (less than 2 hours!) I think "bench to tree" obviously doesn't count, but the Mesa Trail (a mellow 7- mile route) definitely does – heck it's one of the most popular & important recreation trails in the country, of course it counts! Ok, that's a few random thoughts.

    1. Geoff

      Buzz and Peter,

      Great to get some FKT heavyweight's to weigh in on this. Thanks for taking the time. Enjoyed reading your thoughts. As I said in the article and in some of my responses to comments I think there is something very appealing about doing routes outside of racing, and trying to do them fast. I agree with the things you touched on Peter about why you are more drawn to FKT attemps than to races. it might sound odd considering this article, but I am also, at this point more drawn to FKT attempts than I am to races. the reason I felt compelled to write this piece though is that I think that the FKT culture (due to it's rapid growth) is taking on a very different personality and ethos than it once had. Not to say that this is a "problem" or something that anyone needs to try to do anything about, but I thought it a relevant topic to discuss. obviously i'm not the only one who has an opinion about this. Thanks again for sharing yours.

  44. Ryan Ghelfi

    Nothing in the world not to like about FKTs. It's like a totally free race, usually logical in relation to the given terrain. FKTs are going to blow up, and best part is no one will be around to see it happen.

  45. Once a ranger

    Great discussion. There are pros and cons with everything and I agree running shouldn't always be a race. But there is a certain mystic associated with some of these efforts–especially those that have a solid history behind them. In such cases FKTs are about celebrating those that pushed the limits before you and setting a benchmark for those that follow. Yet, at the same time, and with much of running, its still deeply personal.

    In 2004, Jock Glidden reflected on his 1973 Grand Teton speed record:

    "I took no shortcuts so the contest would be standard and the Park Service would have no grounds for complaint. Friends were at the trail head to witness my finish. My round trip time was 4 hours and 11 minutes. This bested Hawks and Holyoke by 1:11. I now believed them, but would others believe me?

    That fall I sent a short account of my speed record to the American Alpine Club journal. It was rejected as being irrelevant to the traditions of American alpinism. Perhaps the editor was right; what I did was neither mountaineering nor running. Yet it was both. Anyway, it is what a nordic racer might do in the summer time.

    My record stood for eight years but then a Ricks College student eclipsed it by 24 minutes and others lowered the time even more. Well, so what? Everyone should have a FOL [feat of a lifetime]. The more absurd the better.

    Now my FOL exists only in memory. From Dornan’s bar in Moose, Wyoming, I can still gaze out the picture window at the Grand and connect the intangible with the tangible I see. Such reflections make my beer taste better, they enhance the appointed years I have left."

  46. eric hodge

    the big hitters came in and made their points, so i sort of feel like not even making mine at all anymore… but then i realized, that is sort of my point.

    what i mean is: the idea that any piece of runnable terrain can have an FKT associated with it, YES, even the places I RUN, as a inexperienced and slow loper give me both the excitement of measuring myself against the stoutest of the stout and the disappointment of the same.

    there is something about my own personality that cannot let go of the fact that a particular segment (strava talk) or route has a "best time" associated with it. no matter how slow i try to run it, or how much i say i'm just going to enjoy myself and run my run… it always comes into mind. am i going to PR on this section? am i going to move up the list today, or am i going to be way off where i was last week (or whenever).

    so, while this comment isn't as valuable as the others, i've made it… because i cannot help myself… just to see my name on this list. did it hinder my enjoyment of this thread? hmmm….

  47. Sean

    Dakota likely has all of our Durango FKTs, or more appropriately, our FUTs, anyway. (Shh, don't let the others know about our far more trails and far fewer people.)

  48. Sean

    You're definitely really crazy, but that is an independent variable, as it has nothing to do with Geoff's article, Andy's FKTs, or the subjectivity of reality.

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