On FKTs

The Fastest Known Time concept has gained some popularity recently. I’ve been an enthusiastic participant for many years setting a few FKTs of my own, some of which have since been eclipsed and others remain as of this writing.  As the sport grows and FKTs become more competitive I’d like to share some of my thoughts on FKTs. I likely haven’t made my last serious attempt at an FKT, but it may come as a surprise that achieving maximum speed in wild and rugged places has never been my priority and likely won’t become my style moving forward. My mentality has always been to enjoy the scenery as much as possible and I wouldn’t have it any other way. For me this means I’m achieving times that are substantially slower than if I were actually racing, and this trade off is fine with me. The volume of experiences I’ve had in rugged and wild places in the mountains far surpasses the temporary satisfaction I get from setting a fast time. In virtually all cases I’ve eschewed focusing on the granular details of splits and time goals, and instead focused on things like where is the most dramatic angle or when and where will the best light be for photography. Aside from one FKT, I’ve always carried a camera and used it liberally. Anybody who follows my adventures understands that photography is a huge part of my enjoyment in the mountains and good photography takes time. For example, on the High Sierra Trail and Rae Lakes Loop FKTs I took hundreds of photos. If I wanted to go much faster I would start be leaving my camera at home. However, when it comes to making that decision, I’ve always chosen to spend my time adventuring to new places with my camera and spending the time to take good (in my biased opinion) photos.  In other words, I would rather spend my time designing new routes than follow in somebody else’s footsteps. “Beating” a time, whether it be my own or somebody else’s, has never really been a great motivator for me and it’s something I spend less and less time thinking about the more I’m inspired by visiting places that are off the beaten path.  Make no mistake, moving fast in the mountains is an essential part of my style. It enables me to experience as much wild and rugged scenery as possible. However, the journey itself is my award and if I were to pass through each adventure with my head down only seeking a time at the end, the visceral experience between me and nature would be lost. Turning wilderness routes into hyper competitive exploits runs counter to most of the reasons why I go to the mountains in the first place. If I were into beating other people for the sake of athletic competition, it seems the appropriate place is always going to be an organized race competing against peers in an environment where the variables for each participant are the same. I’ve raced extensively in the past but in recent years I’ve chosen to pursue the adventures with all of my free time (when I’m not working full time as an attorney). It took me awhile to discover that my competitive fire does not match my fire to explore and adventure to remote and wild places. They likely never matched, but once I understood this about myself, the races started to feel predictable and domesticated. After taking time to prepare for a race I needed to get back to the wilderness to experience the kind of personal inspiration that racing could not provide. For me, battling brush, creek walking and scrambling up peaks, all of which contain little actual running, are not ideal preparation for a trail or ultra race, but it’s what I wanted to do. To perform to my capabilities I knew that I needed to train specifically by running on trails. However, this type of preparation for a race and the race itself started to feel like a sacrifice when my heart wanted to be out exploring remote and wild corners. If I wanted to travel, it wouldn’t be to a new race venue, but instead to a new corner of the Sierra or the Ventana. Eventually the realization was that I should do what makes me most happy with my free time, which in my case is exploring and adventuring in the mountains. 

My journey continues and I’m sure it will evolve and manifest in different ways which is exciting. For instance, I’ve taken great enjoyment in a recent project to explore and catalog the hidden waterfalls of Big Sur. In many ways this project is an ideal expression of my desire to explore as many of these falls are undiscovered or have not been visited by humans in decades. Everybody has different reasons for racing or attempting FKTs and I’m not judging anybody’s reasons or decisions, only sharing my own personal perspective and what motivates me to get out into the mountains. If I were to give any advice, it would be to care less about the affirmation of others and what they think you should be doing and instead follow where your heart leads you.    

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17 thoughts on “On FKTs

  1. Other than the fact that I have never been fast in races or in the wilderness, your words ring true. For me it is all about the adventure and exploration of some place new in the most efficient way possible and being able to document that journey in a way that I can always look back on it and experience the joys over and over. Thanks for always fanning those flames for me through documenting your journeys. I still have plenty if your Washington reports on my bucket list.

  2. Thanks for writing this, Leor. I think most of the people who read your blog probably feel the same way. So I must ask, what prompted you to write this?

      • Thanks Luke. The answer is kind of lame but I will share at your insistence 🙂 I don’t have much blog material right now since the recent string of adventures has entailed some “non-public” land or discoveries that I want to be kept a mystery. In order to fill the void I felt it was a good opportunity to write about some topics I’ve been thinking about for awhile now.

      • Haha, thanks Leor. That’s quite a bit less scandalous than I was cooking up in my mind 🙂 . Yeah, winter time is a bit tougher to keep content up. Sorry to insist! Cheers, L

  3. Great post and what a fantastic personal journey as well. Thanks for sharing.

    I am sure that you have posted before, but what camera do you travel with?

  4. What you do is awesome, and it comes across as something you really love doing, and we all benefit by it. You are wildly in a class by yourself! These are not FKTs, but NEILBETDTKTs (Nobody Else Is Likely Brave Enough To Do These Known Times).

  5. Having intermittently played the FKT game over the past few years, I appreciate your writing about your take. Most of what I do in the outdoors is “fitness tourism,” for which I don’t bother to keep track of the times. Sometimes I try an FKT to test myself, but more often I do so to show that an objective is not as hard as people are led to believe. Always, I keep in mind the gaps between what I can do, what the best competitors (Jornet, Steck, Krupicka, Clark, Jones, etc.) can do, and what truly world-class endurance athletes (Olympic marathoners, TdF cyclists) could do if there were enough money in the mountain running game.

    I’m just some middle-aged guy with decent genes. Try what I do, then go faster and farther.

    • Thanks Sean. Your decent genes are good enough to make you a legend 😉 When it comes to moving fast on technical terrain its a very select group that match your abilities. Hope to meet you someday.

      • I should be out in the Cascades and Sierra this summer. After following your blog for inspiration these last few years, it would be fun to team up for some long runs/scrambles.

  6. Thanks for all your posts. It’s good to have these places to look forward to.

    Competing in FKT is completely different than moving fast in the mountains. Moving fast not just allows more time and space for exploration, it also is safer in that it minimizes objective danger.

    Of course, saying that as a slowpoke just means I gotta train better 🙂

  7. Pingback: Ultramarathon Daily News, Thurs, Jan 14 - UltraRunnerPodcast: Ultramarathon News, Podcasts, and Product Reviews

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