(Courtney Holden is the journalist who wrote this piece, and who once each month is profiling the Female Fastest Known Time Of the Year award winners! Each woman will provide their own unique perspective in their own voice, for these terrific person-person conversations. Thank you very much Courtney, and for Part Three this month, thank you Mikaela!)
Mikaela Osler was awarded the #4 Female Fastest Known Time Of the Year Award for her FKT on the Colorado Trail, where her time of 10 days, 12 hours, 36 minutes bested the previous Self-supported time by a massive 4 days, 2 hours. (Mikaela was in an exact 3-way voting tie with Kaytlyn Gerbin and Alyssa Godesky, who will be profiled next). She is on this podcast, and a map and summary are in this article.
Definitely read Mikaela Osler’s trip report a the bottom of her FKT page - her smile shines through (and you can learn what yogi'ing is). Here she gives us the backstory behind that trip—including the harsh internal monologue—and describes the people, experiences, and beauty that have taught her what she’s capable of.
What was your entrée into running?
I did Girls on the Run as an elementary schooler. That was the first 5K I ever did. And then I did cross county through middle and high school and I was so bad at it! I wasn’t really interested in being a good runner. I hated it! But I kept doing it. I was running 30-minute 5Ks in high school. I just wanted to go out there and chill with my friends. I didn’t even consider myself a runner. I didn’t consider myself an athlete.
And yet now you’re killing it on the trail!
I grew up in a hiking family. I did a lot of hiking and backpacking. My dad did the Appalachian Trail in 1981, and so I’d grown up with this idea of backpacking and doing a long trail in my head. And my mom is also a big backpacker. Before I was born, she led youth trips. Backpacking is a more chill form of athleticism in some ways. You can take breaks! It’s not competitive. It’s not aspiring to be the best. I was doing it because it was a fun thing to do. I was able to see myself as a backpacker.
You’ve done the Triple Crown of the Pacific Crest Trail, Continental Divide Trail, and the Appalachian Trail! You’re definitely a backpacker! At what point did you go from hiking to fast-packing?
I got on the PCT, and having all day to hike, I realized I could go far doing this. That was the first time I ever I traveled 30 or 40 miles in a day. I had always wanted to be the type of person who was just about the journey, but when I get out there, I start to think, ‘What if I did two 50-mile days in a row? Wouldn’t that be cool?’
I do FKTs for lots of different reasons, but it’s just super fun! There are things about it that are stressful. I have to get to town in time for my next food. Or I’ll be thinking, ‘Am I going to get zapped by lightning on this ridgeline?’ But, I’m a teacher and a grad student, so it’s a fun break from being stressed about grading and papers. It transforms the stresses we have in daily life.
Did setting a women’s FKT on the Colorado Trail feel like a break?
There were so many things I wasn’t sure I would be able to do when I got on the trail, like hiking at night. I was coming off of a knee injury. I hadn’t really trained. I wasn’t acclimated to elevation. I wasn’t sure what I would be capable of. It was exciting to see what I could find out about myself.
What did you find out?
Physically, I need a lot less sleep than I thought I did. And I’m really afraid of the dark, but I realized I could exist in the night.
And the other thing I found out was that I am so mean to myself. I love running, and I think it has given me such a sense of myself, like I can do anything. But I’m aware that growing up as a girl, you’re taught to hate your body. I think that plays out really toxically in women’s lives. I connected to that negative self-talk that I wasn’t good enough, I wasn’t trying hard enough. But the further I got into the Colorado Trail, if I would see someone, I’d hike fast until I caught up to that person. I realized my body was able to walk really fast. I was just having trouble mentally getting myself to do it—but I definitely was doing it! I hadn’t slept in 10 days! I learned a lot about my own negative thought patterns.
And yet reading your trip report, there’s a sense of playfulness, even joy, that comes through as you describe your time on the Colorado Trail. How did you overcome those inner demons?
I met a lot of people, especially a lot of women, who were super encouraging and helpful and kind to me. There was a woman who was limping along the trail, and I was limping emotionally, and I gave her my last Ibuprofen because she was really injured. I needed to take a 15-minute nap, and I asked her to wake me up and make me keep hiking. I went to sleep, but in this half-sleep state, I heard her strike up a conversation with this guy at the trailhead. I woke up, and said, ‘Oh, but I want to snooze,’ and she was like, ‘No, you have to wake up. And I got you a cookie.’ That was a really good cookie.
Looking back over those 500 miles of the Colorado Trail, what was the best part?
At night, at the full moon, hiking through these alpine landscapes and looking out while everyone else is asleep—I would have slept through that. I wouldn’t have seen it. It’s just a super special thing I never would have done if I didn’t have to do it because I was pursuing an FKT.