On April 30, 2022, at 11:46 am, I crossed the finish line and set a new record. Except that there was no actual finish line. There were no spectators other than my wife and some family. There was no medal or post-race celebration.
I had just set the Fastest Known Time for Historic Gold Camp Road, a 34-mile route running from Victor, Colorado, to Colorado Springs, Colorado. My name will go on a webpage with my time beside it and will stay there for days, weeks, months, or years until someone bests my time.
Welcome to the world of the Fastest Known Time.
In this article, we will explore the world of Fastest Known Times, or FKTs as they are known. In this article, we will address:
- What is a Fastest Known Time?
- Why have Fasten Known Times risen in popularity?
- How do FKT work?
- Famous FKT routes
- Famous runners who have set FKTs
Let’s get to it!
What is a Fastest Known Time?
A Fastest Known Time is a race that a single person, or small group, is taking part in at a time. It’s kind of like a time trial on a particular course.
You might be thinking, “This sounds just like the KOM function on Strava.”
You would be correct in that regard. However, FKTs were around for almost a decade before Strava was created.
A lot of Fastest Known Time routes are places it would be difficult or impossible to host an actual race.
The Rim-to-Rim (R2R) in the Grand Canyon is a prime example. It would be impossible to obtain permitting to have a race from the south rim of the Grand Canyon to the north rim. However, individual runners can time themselves and upload the results to the Fastest Known Time site.
To submit a FKT there are a few requirements for a route. It must be at least 5 miles long or have at least 500 feet of climbing.
FKT routes can be really short or really long.
A popular FKT near me is the Manitou Incline. At .86 miles, this is one of the shorter FKTs you will find. However, the route climbs 1900 feet in this short span. To add to the difficulty, the start is located at 7,000 feet of elevation.
Why have Fastest Known Times risen in popularity?
In March of 2020, the whole world slowed to a near halt. COVID-19 took its grip on the world, and nearly everyone and everything was affected.
For the running community, races were postponed or canceled outright. This led to a lot of athletes who were trained and peaked for races, but no races were available to run.
FKTs exploded during this period, with runners taking on courses near them to put their training to good use.
According to explorersweb.com, 4,500 FKTs were set in 2020. That’s an increase of 350% over 2019. There were also over 400 routes added during that time.
There are other reasons why FKTs are so popular.
One of the great things about FKTs is how low stress they are compared to a race. You don’t have to be at a specific place at a specific time in order to run one.
Also, unlike races, they are free to run.
This is especially nice if you are just having an off day. At a race, it stings when you have to drop out or stop because you aren’t running well. You paid a lot of money to compete, and it just wasn’t your day.
With an FKT, if you’re having an off day, you can just stop and try again another day. No money was lost on travel or race fees.
How Do FKT work?
If you are wanting to try and set a new FKT, there are a few things you should know.
- First, you want to go to the fastestknowntime.com and find a route. You can also submit a route to be added to the site.
- Second, you need to state your intention ahead of time on the route page. While not completely necessary, it is a show of good faith.
- Third, you need to decide which method you will be using to complete the run. There are three that you can choose from:
For unsupported attempts, you are required to carry everything you will need with you and receive no outside help from anyone.
Because of this, unsupported runs typically will not exceed 8-12 hours in duration. It’s too difficult to carry enough food and hydration for longer runs.
For unsupported runs, you can drink from natural water sources and use public restrooms. You can only have spectators at the start and finish.
Self-support attempts allow a runner to drop caches of supplies to pick up during their run. This could also just include buying stuff from stores.
Self-supported attempts can be much longer than unsupported runs. Some individuals have even done longer trails, like the Appalachian Trail (over 2000 miles) self-supported.
For a self-supported time to be verified, it must be faster than an unsupported time on the same route.
Supported runs are typically multiday affairs where a runner has a crew following them and attending to their needs.
Some routes feature multiple runs in different styles. For instance, the 50-mile Rim to Rim to Rim (R2R2R) in the Grand Canyon could be completed in any of the three methods mentioned above.
For supported runs to be verified, they must be faster than any self-supported attempts on the same route.
- Fourth, upon successfully completing the route, you will need to submit information to the site in order for your attempt to be verified.
For verification, you need to submit your GPS info to the site. You will also link your route if you upload it to Strava, Garmin Connect, or another online training platform.
Next, you will write a trip report, being as specific as possible to explain what happened over the course of the run. Here is mine from my recent attempt:
I started in Victor at 6:50 am. The weather was in the mid-20s, so I had to throw on some arm sleeves and mittens to stay warm. The first few miles were uneventful as I found my groove. I took some water at mile 3, a lemonade Huma gel at 6, and Nuun Endurance at 9. I slowed some around 12-13 as I ate a Honey Stinger, and the road went slightly uphill.
There were a few cars that passed me at this point of the road, but ultimately I was by myself for most of it. I made the turn off the main road and went around the gate just after mile 20, where I missed the turn on my previous attempt. I drank some more Nuun at 15, took a Raspberry Huma gel at 18, and more Nuun at 21.
I was walking occasionally after 21, my legs feeling the distance. I hit 21 miles right around 3 hours and sent my wife a text letting her know I’d prob be another hour and 45 mins so she could pick me up at the finish. At 24, I took another Honey Stinger and pushed so I could PR for the marathon. I hit the marathon at 3:46:51 and continued on.
I shed my arm sleeves and mittens around this point because it had warmed up sufficiently. There were several hikers and mountain bikers on the no-car portion of Gold Camp. I saw some mountain lion prints in the tunnels. I took my last gel right at mile 30 as I was hitting the parking lot for Seven Bridges.
There, cars joined back up, and it was a bit of a cluster as I started to push to make sub-5hours. I hit a 7:55 mile for mile 31, but it took a lot out of me. The final stretch on the asphalt was rough, but I kept pushing to finish in under 5 hours.
I round the final turn to see my wife and friends waiting to see me finish. I jumped up, slapped the stop sign, and stopped my watch to finish out the run. It was a great run, and I think I’ll definitely try it again.
Lastly, adding pictures showing you on the route is great evidence that you were there and completed the route.
There are some routes that require live tracking in order for the attempt to count. These are the Premier Routes.
Famous FKT routes
The most famous FKT routes are undoubtedly the Premier Routes. Since these routes are so popular (and generally multi-day affairs), it is required to notify the site ahead of time if you are attempting to set an FKT. You must also carry a device that allows live tracking.
The Premier Routes are:
- Appalachian Trail, east coast
Famous runners who have set FKTs
FKTs aren’t just for the weekend warriors. Several professional runners and athletes hold one or more FKTs. Some of them include:
Clare Gallagher is an American ultrarunner who has won both Leadville 100 and Western States 100 trail races. These are some of the premier races in the country.
Kilian Jornet is one of the biggest names in ultrarunning. He is known for feats like his 7 summits project and winning the Western States 100. He also holds numerous FKTs around the world.
Jornet has set fastest known times up some of the seven summits, like Kilimanjaro and Aconcagua. He has also set records on some of Europe’s most famous mountains like the Matterhorn and Mont Blanc.
Anton Krupicka is a Colorado-based endurance athlete. He has won numerous ultramarathons, including the Leadville 100 twice.
Known for linking up bike rides and long runs, Anton holds the FKT for many of Colorado’s 14ers (mountains that equal or exceed 14,000 ft of elevation). These include Longs Peak (duathlon from Boulder), Longs Peak (duathlon from Boulder, Winter), and Mt. Elbert.
All of Anton’s FKTs are unsupported, making them even more impressive.
Jim Walmsley needs no introduction. He holds the course record for Western States 100 and has won it multiple times. He ran an unofficial world’s best for 50 miles. He was named UltraRunner of the year four years in a row.
In addition to these accolades, Walmsley has set plenty of FKTs. Most of these are near where he trains in Flagstaff, Arizona. He has the FKT for the Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim and Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim. He also holds the record for the fastest ascent and round trip for Humphreys Peak, the highest point in Arizona.
Cat Bradley is an ultrarunner based out of Boulder, Colorado. She has numerous wins to her name, with one of the most impressive being Western States 100.
Joseph Gray has been voted the greatest mountain runner of all time by the World Mountain Running Association. He has won the USA National Mountain Running Championships and the World Mountain Running Championships.
It should come as no surprise that an athlete of this caliber would hold several FKTs for the mountains of his home state of Colorado. Joseph Gray has set FKTs for the Manitou Incline, Mt. Elbert, and the Boulder Skyline Traverse.
Now that you know about Fastest Known Times, are there any in your area you want to try? Find routes near you and let us know in the comments!
If you are looking for the best way to choose a race, check out our article How To Choose Your First Ultramarathon.