Chasing the FKTs

There are quite a many acronyms that roll seamlessly easily off the tongue, then there are those that contain such strident consonants that demand all the hooting and hollering. F! K! T! As if in celebration we describe this acronym.. but what the heck does it mean? The three letters that have been gracing headlines of hundreds of recent blog posts and instagram stories: Fastest Known Time. 

At a time when folks need to take a deep breath, slow down for a minute and take a good long walk in nature – why the heck would we want to speed up our endevours? For bragging rights? Perhaps self-gratification? A sense of new adventure or fulfillment? Is it an ability to quantify the results of your training regime? Heck, I don’t know why people want to ‘own’ these things.. or do I?

Many folks take on the attempt of a Fastest Known Time on their own, solo; but that isn’t written in stone – the FKT certainly can be undertaken as a team effort, but that’s the catch 22 – the team attempted FKT is only as strong, as capable and swift as their weakest or slowest member, which is likely why most enthusiasts choose to take on these self-created events completely on their lonesome.

Since your FKT attempt is completely up to you – which route you take: a loop.. clockwise or counterclockwise? a traverse.. north to south or south to north? The beauty of this game called FKT… You make the rules! Do you want to try something on your home trails or pick something far away and allow yourself to get psyched up for months in advance while prepping yourself, drooling over maps and gear lists. You could even go so far as to base an entire destination vacation around your attempt!

Will you go un-supported, supported, or self-supported? 

Do you prefer to work in a group where each member shares the daily tasks or do you have trust issues and like to take on everything yourself? If you prefer a solo journey.. you don’t necesarily have to be alone, you still have options in this wicked game! Do you want the support of friends or family near by to ready supplies and smother your toes in vaseline or would you rather drop all of your supplies yourself, in advance of your trek?

All of these factors will help determine how much gear and re-supply you have to carry, which in the end will decide how far and fast you can travel – generally the longer you plan to be on the trail, the more you may want to consider dropping some extra food, water or clothing along your route! In a completely un-supported journey out into the forest, you may need to think about how exposed you want to be when sleeping under the starts; a hammock, minimalist tent or quick/light emergency bivy can always work for a few days, but never forget that this all adds weight to your pack – and always consumes valuable real estate, decreasing the extra food or water in your pack.

How will you document your trip? 

By far the easiest way to write your amazing trip in the books of history is to record yourself via GPS (satellite) watch, which can then be uploaded in a matter of seconds to any number of popular activity platforms (ie: Strava).

Do you prefer to journal? Make it a point to document your experiences, highs and lows at the end of each day (assuming you are doing a multi-day trek!). For those youngsters who have taken to solar power, it may be easier to break out your phone or GoPro and do a Vlog of sorts recording your endevour in a video format to bring home.

Do you have to document your trip?

Well.. technically no! This is one hundred percent your journey, you make the rules! Don’t want to tell others about it? Don’t! You may not get credit for owning the fastest known time on the route you just destroyed, but you will always have your own memories to recount your incredible effort put forth!

Not a runner? Many folks don’t like to run, don’t hike.. totally okay! Again.. this is your FKT attempt: run, bike, hike, kayak, fly, ski, rollerblade.. whatever sport you may fancy, do your sport to the best of your ability and no one can ever say you are wrong!

Not a summer person? No problem! Since this is your trek, I state yet again: You Make The Rules. 

You pick the season. You pick the weather. Did you wake up with a bum ankle the size of Rhode Island? Put off your FKT kick off for a day, week or month! While you may lose your aid if you chose to be supported.. this is completely up to you, just do what feels right – you probably won’t have your absolute best day out there if you have to force the effort anyway!

The best part (in my modest opinion..) of picking your own FKT attempt? The cost! 

How much you spend will depend entirely on you, do you need more gear to undertake this attempt? What about those pesky entry-fees into a State or National Park? These fees (hopefully) are minimal, but what is really awesome about your FKT..? The fee to undertake your Fastest Known Time is.. free. There is no charge to put your name on this acheivement!

Lastly, how do you actually track your accomplishment? Keep a favorite finishing photo and keep completely humble about your knock-out FKT. But should you want to compare and share it with the rest of the world there is a blog-chat forum-turned website out there now known as: fastestknowntime.com

Do you live and breathe FKTs and strive to beat every one of them out in the record world? Then you may want to check out the podcast (by the same name) that the website hosts have forged!

So what about me? I need to write this quickly and share my epic adventure before someone goes out and beats my time.. which is just one side of accomplishing (and documenting!) something like a Fastest Known Time; when someone finds out what you did, naturally.. they congratulate you, then they want to go out and destroy your time and make it their own. It’s a never-ending disease of back and forth, becoming faster than the next guy, really.

 

FKT: Mad River Notch Loop 

I picked this for many reasons, lets see if I can name them all..!

As most know, I have hiked and ran quite a bit around the White Mountain National Forest in all seasons, in fact.. I cannot decide which I truly prefer! I love the winter for the quiet, the solitude, lack of crowded trail heads, and the snow is just an insane amount of fun to slosh around in, cruising down a snow-covered rock shute is one of the closest to actually flying under my own power that I could possibly imagine! Spring is great to see all the green leaves unfold and new colorful life that the winter thaw births. I know summer for warm sun and a time when the black flies are beginning to taper away from my beloved hillsides. Autumn is rad because of the artists pallette of bursting yellows, oranges and reds; but unfortunately results in ankle snapping rocks on the trails being covered with these lovely bursts of color!

Of all the routes, loops, circuits, point-to-point traverses that are well known among climbers and mountain adventurists on the east coast.. why choose something no one had heard of? Actually.. that was my reason precicely. I wanted to do something I had never done! Upon reading and researching routes that hikers had taken on, I never once discovered that anyone had actually ran this loop! All reports were involving backpacking; every trip report I found boiled down to one person who had done this loop as a multi-day backpacking trip!

As for the weather, it is just toward the beginning of Autumn so the extreme heat of summer afternoons is simply not a factor in this FKT attempt. I began this route several times and proved unsuccessful, for my final attempt I decided to start just at the break of day (an hour earlier than previous weeks), but without the need of a headlamp. Honestly, I really didn’t care what the weather was like – I didn’t want to attempt this over moss-covered slick rocks in the rain, but had that been what the day dealt.. that would just be one of the conditions that I would have to contend with – not every day is a bluebird day here in the mountains!

How much gear would I decide to bring? 

Just enough, that’s all! Armed with my less-than-ideal Altra Superior 4.0’s (the grip is an absolute nightmare on any wet rock, I just didn’t have my Altra King MTs at the time!) on my toes, Altra gaiters to keep pesky sand, rock and pine needle bits out of my shoes and Injiniji toe socks to keep my toes from mashing together into one large yucky fleshy mass over the mountain miles!

I decided to not go out on a limb too much, I kept with clothing I knew – an FKT attempt is (in my humble opinion..) not the time to experiment with new fabrics and techy things. While I may have reeked of week old, sweaty running clothes – I was comfortable and that’s all that mattered! I knew straining over the three mountains and many miles would put enough hurt on my body and muscles, definitely did not need to add to the torment with chaffing fabric!

A few other ‘must-haves’ that stay in whatever running vest or pack I decide to adventure with is my Sawyer water filter, which has saved my ass on several occassions now – so take my advise and don’t ever assume your 40oz of water or spiked electrolyte junk is going to be enough, pack a small (reliable!) water filter for any outdoor trip! My compass and a bear bell also stay in my vest: know how to use your compass if you are going to carry it, hope that you won’t need it, but especially when alone in the woods, be ready to use your compass! Lastly, the bear bell: while some claim that it does not detract wildlife from checking you out.. it does not require batteries and it’s a little piece of mind for me as it is always jingling in my pocket! 

What do people eat on their Fastest Known Time attempt?

Whatever the heck I want! Realistically.. whatever I know works! I am clearly no expert in the nutrition field, but I know enough to know what works: and for me, that is real nutrition that comes in the easy to carry, 99.9% mess free Muir Energy (think: real fruit, real nut butters, real molasses and trace amounts of salt..that your fatigued body really needs!) and dates. I carry about 1/2 pound of just plain dates because they settle excellently in a stomach that (by the laws of running) does not want to digest anything!

Just from my experience – I know my body can only consume nutrition on the ascents. While climbing or running uphill, naturally (I’m realistically not that fast..) I have to slow down to keep the risk of cramping or ‘going out too hard’ down. If I need to walk a hill to keep my heart rate from spiking, this is when I eat, this is when I drink water – or my favorite: coconut water!

Since reading a topographic map, or an elevation profile of a person’s route does not realistically do their adventure any justice.. what was it like during my day? Like any run in the mountains, highs and lows around every corner, it felt like a long day but once it was over.. it feels as if the run truly flew by.

Beginning on the seasonal Tripoli Road, I decided to park this time at the Osceola Trail head lot and start my day with the dirt road run prior to hitting the shoulder of Tecumseh. I wanted to stop and take so many more photos on this foggy morning in the forest – the greens were never so green and the pine needle laden trails never appeared so warm and lush as they did this morning.

I could actually see the trail now, as the past several attempts were in the rain with a very wet (+6″ deep puddles) trail. The rocks were easier to bounce off of, muscles felt good on the inclines and before long I had topped out at the mild summit clearing. Today, I was in ‘go-mode’, so a stop at the summit was not in order. Down the Sosman Trail I bounded and began to encounter my first hikers of the day, wishing them well, most head my bear bell from far away and gave me plenty of room as I cruised by.

Fancy-footwork was the name of the game for the several mile descent off Tecumseh, most of this trail has been reinforced with man-made stairs that, luckily were not super slick this morning – I just tried to be extra light and quick on my feet.

Into the parking lot, I knew where to go and slowing down was not on my agenda! Back into the woods along the crosscountry ski trails would take me over to the Livermore parking lot and trail head where I would catch the old logging road for a short stint.

I had missed the trail for Greeley Ponds in the past, cutting off too early.. well not today! I knew where to go after all of my previous screw-ups. I may have found images of the Greeley Ponds trail after hurricane Irene, and it was certainly not a pretty sight – but what a trail I was on now! The newly graded trail allowed for maximum cruising and easy foot work as I still tried to glimpse around the forest for anything big and shadowy moving out amongst the trees.

I had been to one edge of the Greeley Ponds on past hikes, but this was spectacular – cliffs on my left, drop off into the pond on my right and a hard packed trail below my feet with just enough roots to need to keep my fast-twitch muscle fibers alert and ready for any last second corrections.

I refueled my belly some before hitting the final intersection and beginning the short but quad-busting ascent up East Osceola. I had only been on this trail during the winter, so today it really brought me joy to see the trail in warmer wearther, to see what really was under that snow! And what was under that snow? A steep and rocky trail that’s for sure! Both hands were hired now to hoist myself up the slick iron hued jagged rocks – I couldn’t help but notice how amazing the Altra Superiors do on jagged rock such as this – as long as they have anything to grip, they crush it!

Just prior to topping out at the East Osceola cairn marking the high point, I had my first scare of the day when a woman came running out from the trees – my mind heard her first and believed she was any kind of animal out to eat my soul.. we laughed it out and wished each other a great day once I saw she was not a moose on the trail!

I always forget how far down into a col the trail over to Mount Osceola seems to be, but after some muddy steps and more epic views looking at my final destination and beyond, I was back on the ascent. I remember upon moving to New Hampshire I had read some trail reviews about “The Chimney” between East and regular ol’ Osceola being super tough and needing a re-route and such; it wasn’t bad the day that I climbed it in winter (some ice, but do-able!) and it certainly wasn’t bad today! Once again hands were employed, some fancy steps were placed and with about 2 minutes of hideous grunts and groans (sorry to the ladies out there on the trail!) I found myself topping out and back on flat land heading to Osceola’s open summit.

The summit is nice and open, plenty of room for hikers to spread out and eat their PB&J sammies – today we were all in the clouds. I’m sure some were upset by the lack of views, this never phases me – I actually quite like the eerie feeling of being in a cloud: it’s a different feeling internally than summiting on a clear day with vast views in every direction, it’s the ‘not knowing’ what is out there that intrigues me! Plus, I didn’t stay long enough to care – one aid stewart asked me how far I had come, I told him my plan for the loop and received “Helluva hike – great choice!”.. as if he was the one soul who had undertaken this route in the past.

Beginning my trek/run down, back to my car at last and very content with my decision to skip the summit antics as I passed puppies, one after another – and none of them on leash. Some families even asked if their dogs were seen up ahead – wanting to let into them about keeping their dogs on leash and yadda ya.. I bit my tongue and continued on my way.

I must have passed 50 people beginning their trek up the mountain as I was finishing my descent, and the parking lot certainly reflected this as the cars lined Tripoli Road in both directions. When I see this, I will never complain about waking up early to start a hike or run in the White Mountains at or before sunrise!

I could have teared up when I saw my path level out and now become the classicly groomed entryway from parking lot to forest and travelling henceforth to my car: I stopped my COROS watch, 4 hours 23 minutes 55 seconds. Done and done.

That night, after submitting my .gpx file out of my watch, a brief write up of my adventure and some stats, I received an email from my new friends at fastestknowntime.com – I had done it. I dreamt of running this route, step by step for weeks leading up to this moment and while I know holding this record is only for the moment – as it will be beat, I will enjoy my accomplishments for now!

If I left you with any questions – let me know!

I can be found all over (when I’m not roaming the hillsides) – email, instagram, facebook, or just comment right on here!

If reading this makes you want to take on (not my route!) your own FKT, let me know! I’d love to hear about it – working towards it, planning, I love it all and would enjoy hearing about it!

Happy trails and lovely running, cheers!

Erik


Overall stats for the FKT:

Recored with COROS Pace

  • 17.07 miles
  • 4hr 23min 55sec
  • 5,787′ elevation gain
  • Mount Tecumseh: 4,003′
  • Greeley Ponds: ~2,300′
  • East Osceola: 4,156′
  • Mount Osceola: 4,320′

 


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