You’ve probably heard the word unprecedented an unprecedented number of times this year. It’s been a year for superlatives; mostly bad ones, but some pretty freaking awesome ones too. Basically every race was cancelled (that’s bad). But the lack of formal competition drove elite runners to shatter records for the Fastest Known Times on iconic routes (that’s freaking awesome). This form of solo, against-the-clock, competition is basically made for 2020 and there were hundreds of new records around the world. We picked six of 2020's best FKTs, spoke to the athletes who set them and asked British artist Owen Delaney to help illustrate how impressive these runs really are.
The TRT FKT
At 170 miles, even the fastest known times on Northern California’s Tahoe Rim Trail (or TRT) involve some serious sleep deprivation.The men’s FKT of 37 hours and 12 minutes was set by Adam Kimble this July, breaking Kilian Jornet’s 11 year old record. Adam said, “My toughest moments on the Tahoe Rim Trail came during the nighttime hours when I was lacking energy and feeling the miles under my legs. Multiple times I wanted to throw in the towel, but instead, I told myself to focus on ‘one more step’ until I made it to the next aid station with my crew. Soon enough, everything started working in my favor, and hours later, I stood at the finish line appreciating the fulfillment of an ‘impossible’ goal I almost gave up on!”
This year, Adam has focused on making the best of a difficult situation, including using his open schedule to attempt this TRT FKT. “That mentality has kept me having fun, even in the face of race cancellations, wildfires and smoke, trail closures, and so many other challenges. It hasn't always been easy, but I've done my best to frame it with a positive outlook!”
Corrine Malcolm broke the women’s supported FKT in October with a time of 44 hours and 51 minutes. But the wildfires in California almost thwarted her goal. “I initially intended to set out on the TRT at the end of August, but got shut down by smoke. I moved the date to September and then our national forests were closing down major trails [due to extreme fire danger],” she said. When the perfect conditions finally came in late October, Corrine wasn’t sure if she was prepared to challenge the FKT and had shifted her focus to just complete the run. “It was so incredibly hard to have to restart so many times, I joked that I was really really well tapered by the time we started on that Sunday morning.”
Across nearly two full days, Corrine overcame almost every challenge a runner can face. “I was so far ahead of schedule I beat my crew to mile 41 by 10 minutes. I projectile vomited at mile 52. My pacer thought he had lost me at mile 56 when he stopped to filter water and I continued up the trail into the sunset. I started visually hallucinating around hour 32 (I had never run for over 22 hours before this). I couldn’t eat much on the trail after mile 80 because my throat hurt so much from the dry air and dust, and it wasn't until mile 100 that I switched fuel sources to more liquid calories and instant mashed potatoes when I saw my crew... but I never wanted to quit, and I never thought that I was going to have to stop.”
FKT From Sea to Sea
The Mare a Mare Sud is the shortest ‘sea to sea’ crossing of the French island of Corsica, making it a popular hike for tourists who will usually do it over five days, staying in hotels along the way. It’s not as popular as its cousin, the GR20 (crossing north to south), but it’s at least as stunning! Vincent Viet, an outdoor enthusiast based in Annecy, and Guillaume Peretti, a native of the Island and local legend, didn’t have time to enjoy the accommodations as they blazed the 51 mi (83 km) trail in a record-breaking 10 hours and 4 minutes.
“The cancellation of races and the lockdown were not setbacks but rather moments to think about new challenges. To take the time to do things I've wanted to do for a long time. Opening a map, drawing a line, analyzing the elevation and imagining myself running,” Vincent said.
Not only did the duo cover the ground in record time, they also did it in the hottest part of the year. A heat wave sent temperatures over 40 °C towards the end of their run. Vincent remembered, “The last climb was also the hardest, nearly 900 m of elevation after 60 km [of running] and above all a thermometer that was only going up. The last kilometers were quite difficult and we had to stay focused to keep the course and not get lost despite the stifling heat and fatigue.”
Guillaume said, “My primary motivation was to continue to practice my passion for the mountains with less pressure on the time, but still keep this will of surpassing myself.” Creating this FKT project helped the duo stay motivated through a challenging year.
Japan FKT Journey
This year, Japanese ultrarunner Ruy Ueda set out to run an FKT in every prefecture of Japan with the launch of his Japan FKT Journey. Since September, the Skyrunner World Champion has been pioneering FKT routes throughout Japan and creating segments out of them for other runners to challenge. He had planned to move to France and compete in the Skyrunning World Series this year, but instead he took the opportunity to thoroughly explore his home country.
“The most difficult challenge of this year was maintaining motivation,” Ruy said. “Things were especially tough while the country was put under a state of emergency, and it wasn’t until that situation was lifted and I was able to go back into the mountains again that I felt my body and my motivation coming back. And of course when that time came, I wanted to motivate all the other runners across Japan — which is why I started the Japan FKT Journey.”
One of Ruy’s most impressive runs is an out and back record on Oyamakake in Akita, a province in the north of Japan. The 20 km run starts at the statue of Namagahe and from there it’s all out up the mountain. “You get a panoramic view of the sea from right before the highest point of the route. It feels like you’re taking a straight dive into the sea climbing down on the return trip,” Ruy said. Just before the summit is the Kintori Hill (which loosely translates to ‘the ball grabber’). We’ll let Ruy explain that one. “It got its name because the hill is so steep that you have to stare at the balls of the guy in front of you climbing up. No joke, it’s literally that steep and the terrain is also incredibly technical.” Maybe that explains why Ruy went after this FKT solo?
Check out Ruy’s activity.
Reaching For The Sky
The competition for the Boulder Skyline Traverse FKT heated up this year after it was designated a ‘Golden Segment’ that would win the record holder entry (including travel and lodging) to the Golden Trail Championship race in the Azores, Portugal. The 17 mile route has nearly 6,000 ft. of elevation gain and is entirely above 5,000 ft., making it a fitting qualifier for the skyrunning championship. According to its page on fastestknowntimes.com, the men’s record was broken eight times and the women’s fell six times in a mix of supported and unsupported runs this year.
Bailey Kowalczyk claimed the women’s record in September after suffering a sacral stress fracture in May – her second in six months. “While this fracture crushed me, it taught me more than I ever could have imagined. Coming back from this injury required a level of mental and physical strength that I had yet to encounter. Getting knocked down once in a year sucks, but twice was an eye opener.
“I was forced to confront many weaknesses and places in my training and life that could have contributed to this. Some of these demons were really tough to face head on and would not have been addressed without this injury. I have learned how to treat my body correctly through many life ‘faceplants,’ and this was one that has kept me motivated through the hardest runs. Every time I put my shoes on, I am beyond grateful that I can even run, let alone explore the beautiful world we live in! I’m excited to continue to test myself, races or not!”
Joe Gray, the men’s FKT holder, expressed a similar gratitude when asked what has kept him motivated this year, “Simply being given air and life is motivation enough for me. Life isn't promised so I try to make my time worth the living.”
Das Watzmann-Überschreitung Übermensch
At 2713 m the Grosser Watzmann is the highest peak standing entirely within Germany, making it a popular climb. Most will choose the least technical ascent (which in this case means it simply doesn’t require roped climbing): The Watzmann-Überschreitung, a 26 km loop that takes most hikers between 10 and 14 hours. There’s a lodge halfway up the mountain that hikers will often stop at to break the journey into two shorter days. Anton Palzer had no need for an overnight stop when, earlier this summer, he set an FKT of 2 hours and 27 minutes.
Anton described the route in four parts, “One: 2000m straight up to the summit of Hocheck - all out! Two: The traverse of the Watzmann ridge. Technical, exposed and you shouldn’t be too shaky or tipsy from the tough uphill. It definitely is a no fall zone! Three: The long downhill to the Wimbachgries, 1100m straight and steep down. The fourth and final part is the flat out 10k back to the starting point. It’s slightly downhill, mostly on a nice gravel road and here you gotta hurry up, ignore the pain, cramps and just go all out!”
Although he wasn’t able to take in the scenery on this run, the German ultrarunner lives near the Grosser Watzmann and trains on it regularly. For him, this year was an opportunity to get to know his home trails even better. “I used the race free time for a lot of training at home and I have to admit I really enjoyed that time. Being home is something special for me. During a normal season I spend a lot of time traveling around for camps and races, so there’s not too much quality time at home with my family.”
Farthest Known Troutman
OK, this one isn’t an FKT in the traditional sense of the acronym, but it’s pretty freaking awesome. Flyathlon combines running and fishing and iRunFar Editor-in-Chief Bryon Powell has taken the ‘sport’ to a whole new level. “Once Covid-19 cancelled my two big races I had planned for the year, fly fishing really kept me inspired. Specifically the Troutman Challenge, which requires running at least a marathon, climbing at least 3,000 ft., catching the Colorado Grand Slam of Trout (four fish of distinct species), and drinking a 12% beer all within 12 hours. Scouting for Troutmans brought me to remote places I'd never been and my 12 attempts made sure I got out there for long days in the mountains.”
For his most recent attempt, Bryon upped the ante with the world’s first Troutman 100. The rules remained the same – he just added in some extra miles before and after. “I came into my first fishing location having run 45 miles on pavement over the previous 8 hours and both my glutes were spent after so much continual running. I thought I could cover a marathon over the next 12 hours to complete the Troutman, but was all but certain my day would end there at roughly 70 miles.”
The first couple of fish came relatively easy, but one of the species Bryon needed to catch for the challenge just wasn’t biting. “After hours of trying to catch a cutthroat trout in Chalk Creek, I made a last ditch effort to catch one in Baldwin Lakes. I'd have to make good time in order to fish the high lakes before dark. I pushed hard and was surprised by how much of the rocky, 2,400 ft. climb I ran over the next 80 minutes, which included a few fishing attempts in the creek along the way. Fortunately, I caught my final fish of Troutman in one of the lakes.”
Night fell not long after that. He’d caught all his fish, but he still had 30 miles left if he was going to complete the first Troutman 100. Bryon’s motivation came from his bigger mission. His attempt was raising money for Running Rivers, a Colorado non-profit that seeks to maintain healthy freshwater ecosystems and had originated the idea of the Flyathlon. “After dark, somewhere in the early 80 miles range, my motivation flagged. Fortunately, I remembered someone had pledged a dollar for every mile I ran, so I kept on going.”
While we are all eagerly awaiting the return of traditional races, it’s been awesome to see how runners have used FKTs and adventure runs to keep themselves motivated. Which of these routes gets you the most fired up? Do you have a favorite FKT we didn’t mention? Join The Strava Club and let us know!