While it sounds more like an abbreviated swear word then something enjoyable, FKT stands for Fastest Known Time and in this bizarre year these three words have become the main focus of the trail running world.
The concept is simple; run the fastest along an agreed and recorded route and you’ve set an FKT. A solo race against time rather than competitors alongside you. You have all the control; you choose when, the crew or lack of and how you undertake it. You run alone for hours in the peace of nature, then get home and post about it online. A private effort for the public focussed world.
The act of setting FKTs or speed records as they used to be called is nothing new, some of the records that the elites are only now beating were set in the 1970s and 80s when all you got for breaking the record was a pat on the back and a pint. But FKT-ing started to gain attention outside of the running world back in 2017 when Killian Jornet scaled Everest in an earth shattering time of 26 hours, which resulted in articles in most leading outlets talking about this mythical title of FKT. In the UK it gained more attention with short documentaries being released about epic FKT attempts. Nicky Spinks’ completion of the Double Bob Graham Round encapsulates the growing appeal of FKTs perfectly. The 49-year-old farmer became only the second person in history to have completed the 132-mile course, in a time of 45 hours 35 minutes, which includes over 16,000 metres of ascent. It sounds superhuman, but the film went to great effort to highlight that Spinks is anything but, showing that if you have the grit and determination you can achieve something spectacular.
During this pandemic FKTs have really come into their own. With regular racing a faded memory, the elites in the trail running world have created incredible sporting moments away from the fanfare of traditional start lines. Damian Hall’s Pennine Way is a great example; he conquered the 420km route and beat John Kelly’s seemingly untouchable time of 2 days and 16 hours by 3 hours, just 8 days after John had set it. Prior to John the record had stood since 1989. A seemingly regular footpath across a beautiful part of the UK acted as the backdrop to one of the sporting highlights of the year. I can understand why the elites have moved to FKT setting, they can fulfil their sponsors need for promotion in arguably a better way than races and the athlete gets to pit themselves against the toughest athletes (alive and dead). No prize money on offer but the respect of your peers and potentially more sponsor money are up for grabs on these lonely trails. Run alone in the hills and mountains has gone mainstream.
The wonderful thing about Fastest Known Times is essentially anyone can set one. Sure you probably aren’t going to be able to rock up to the Pennine Way and set the new FKT but you might have a local footpath or route that hasn’t had an FKT recorded on it which means all you have to do is finish and you’ll have that mythical title too.
I headed out in August to set my first FKT, hopefully the first of many, along the Wychwood Way and here are my tips on setting your own Fastest Known Time.
Do the research
The easiest way to find the route thats right for you is whip out a map and head to FKT’s website (https://fastestknowntime.com). You may already have a route in mind and thanks to their incredibly easy to use website you can search through the routes that already have FKT set. They also have an interactive map so you can scour the globe for that ideal route! If the route you want to do isn’t listed then you will need to submit the route for approval.
If the route you want to do already has a time set and you think it is beyond you right now to beat, then don’t give up hope as there are different categories of FKT for every route. There are Supported, Self-Supported, Unsupported and Teams all of which can have their own time title on the same route. I would list all the criteria for each of them but their website has very clear and concise definitions (https://fastestknowntime.com/fkt-guidelines).
They are also very good at replying to emails, my next attempt is a tricky one in terms of logistics so I have been firing them weird questions and they have been quick and helpful in reply.
Submitting a Route
This can be done after you’ve gone out and done your run but I would suggest submitting it before just encase it isn’t accepted for whatever reason. Would be heartbreaking to head out and do your 100 mile route only to find out it doesn’t count because it isn’t a verifiable route!
The easiest way to do that is to find a gpx file for the route online. These are gps route files that can be used on most devices. In the UK we have an amazing website called The Long Distance Walkers Association (https://www.ldwa.org.uk) which has a mountain of useful information on footpaths and routes as well as downloadable gpx files which you can use to submit.
Plan it, Enjoy it!
As I was doing my FKT unsupported I spent a few days laying out my kit and calculating how much water and food I was going to need for the 37 miles. If you’re doing a supported route make sure your team is well organised and contingency plans are in place! What I found during my FKT was that the route wasn’t well signposted in a lot of places. I’m not the world’s best map reader but thankfully I use the app ViewRanger which is a fantastic mapping app that includes OS Maps so I never got lost.
Submitting your Time
Once you’ve finished the route, had a shower and eaten two pizzas like I did your thoughts will turn to getting FKT accepted. What you will need to send over to them is the following: the data file (GPX), a link to your Garmin connect, Strava or however you record the activity, a trip report that you fill in on the site to say how it went and some photos. The photos are not only to prove you’ve done it but so others can get inspired seeing how stunning your run was. Now you wait, usually takes about 1-2 days to get checked by the team and then you’ll get that all important email tell you that you have set an FKT!!
Don’t get disheartened
So about five weeks after I set my FKT on the Wychwood Way I checked on the route as I couldn’t remember what time I finished it in. I clicked on the page only to find out I had been beaten by two hours three weeks after running it! I should have been annoyed that someone had beaten me but I actually felt happy. Happy that someone had seen my challenge and headed out to beat it, that someone else got to enjoy the beautiful route because I had posted about it. I thought I’d be disheartened but instead I was just excited that I had started a little challenge of my own that others can take part in for years to come.
Most of all enjoy yourself; while we aren’t able to really travel or race big events now is a fantastic opportunity to see stunning areas in your country and set yourself a challenge that will be remembered by you and the FKT website forever!