FKT: Tara Dower - Mountains to Sea Trail (NC) - 2020-09-30

Route variation
"new" 1175 mile route
Gender category
Start date
Finish date
Total time
29d 8h 48m 0s
GPS track(s)

I began the Mountains to Sea Trail at 4:50am on top of Clingmans Dome on September 1st 2020 with the intention of setting the fastest known time. Before beginning, I knew I needed to accurately track my progress on the trail in order to set the record. I used a combination of a SPOT Tracker Gen 3, my Ambit 3 watch by Suunto, and reports of my days journaled on Instagram for the public to see. The reason I used all those methods was that my tracker is old and sometimes can't find satellites well. That is where my watch came in handy and filed in all the points where the tracker seemed to miss me. Additionally, according to the MST website and my personal contact with Friends of the MST there have been several detours on the trail this year that added milage but slightly took me off course. They still consider this the trail but for the safety of hikers, they rerouted some areas. You can confirm this with Jim Grode who is one of the route setters of the MST, his contact information should be on Friends of the MST website. 

I actually was planning a regular thru-hike of the MST but when COVID happened I knew I could not rely on trail angels that helped restock, house, or take you to legal camping. Doing the trail without these trail angels is very difficult to do legally and without adding many extra miles. Like I said I didn't want to put myself or them at risk so I thought of implementing a friend to follow me around in a car as I hiked. The idea of trying to set the FKT came shortly after that with a quick Google search of the current FKT. I found that the current FKT was set in 2012 by Diane Van Deren when the trail was 900+ miles. Since then Friends of the MST have added nearly 250 miles. Noone had attempted to set an official FKT of the new 1,175-mile trail yet. I thought you never know until you try so I decided to run, hike, and walk it around the same pace that Van Deren did in order to push myself. With a history of long-distance running, I knew I had the mental fortitude and understanding of endurance sports to give it a good attempt. I also had a lot of resources that provided tips. I hiked 40 miles with Mercury during her FKT of the AT, I spoke with Warren Doyle many times, I got advice from my boss Jennifer Pharr Davis and her husband Brew. I was also in constant contact with Betty Brown and Jim Grode from Friends of the MST to understand the trail and best COVID precautions while on the trail. 

I ran, hiked, and walked the Mountains-to-Sea Trail with a support team following me in vehicles. Most of the time it was me and Ryan Thomas who was my main support crew member driving my old Buick that broke down way too much. I had friends who also came out to offer support with food and company. For about 14 days of my 29-day adventure my friend and trail partner Rascal came out to keep me company on the trail. She ran, hiked, and walked with me and completed around 400 miles herself. I resupplied from the support vehicle that met us around 5 times a day. I also got filtered water from the support vehicle.

In between beginning this journey and finishing at Jockey's Ridge on September 30th at 1:38pm, I experienced a lot. The mountain section of the trail caused a lot of physical pain. On the second day, I developed knee pain and initial symptoms of Bursitis in the ankles. Around this time I ended up doing more hiking than running because my legs and toes were so swollen and in pain. In the mountain section, I lost 3 toenails from infected toes and on my birthday I hobbled into our campsite at the end of the day with shooting pain in my ankles. With a regime of ice, stretching my IT bands A LOT, and reduced running I left the mountain section feeling a little better. I then was beginning the Piedmont section which introduced me to the roads I would need to navigate for many more miles on the trail. At first, these roads were all country but by the second day in Piedmont, I almost got hit by a speeding vehicle near Elkin that shook me up and made me wonder if it was worth it. Luckily with encouragement from my support team I kept going even with the knowledge that I would face many hundreds of miles on roads. In good spirits, I made it through 100 miles of trail in the Raleigh area and entered the Coastal section where road walking was aplenty. I kept getting up and going every morning, focusing on my goal with intent. Unfortunately around this time, I began to see the developments of malnourishment. My brain was in a constant fog and I couldn't answer in simple sentences, losing lots of weight, and I got lightheaded going up a slight incline or running for more than 10 seconds. My face, lips, and gums were practically white and my sister in law believed I was also iron deficient. That made sense because I am a vegetarian and haven't gotten the best foods out on the trail. The idea of eating repulsed me and I even worked hard one night to get fueled up but my body rejected it and threw the food up. But still, I got up every day and walked with whatever energy I could manage. We adjusted my diet after a short day where I experienced a lot of fatigue and fogginess. A few days later I was feeling way better but still could not run. The coastal section was long and hard but I finally made it to the Ocracoke Ferry and Hatteras Ferry that would introduce me to beach walking and the final stretch. The beach was difficult to walk on but a nice relief from the constant cars, highways, and prying eyes. I finished at 1:38pm on top of the tallest dune in Jockey's Ridge State Park surrounded by family and my support crew. 


As I look back there is a lot I learned and want to implement for another hopeful FKT in the future. I was so new to this way of thru-hiking and it was so different from my regular hike of the AT in 2019. I'm hoping this experience provides me and many others a better understanding of FKTs and the MST.


If you need any other info to verify my attempt, I would love to provide that.