Fastest Known Time
Fastest Known Time
Words by Tom Hill
Competition just might be one of the most basic of human instincts. While it is a long way from the be-all and end-all, there is very little in life that as a species we haven’t sought to do faster, better, bigger. Pick any two points on the map and someone, some time has probably tried to race between them. And perhaps the purest form of comparison is the race; first across the line wins.
Sometimes though, a race doesn’t work. Maybe the logistics of staging it are too difficult, maybe the route is just too damn hard to draw enough entrants, maybe those who are attracted to the challenge want to test themselves against the clock rather than each other.
What now? Fastest Known Time. Pick a route, or a defined start and end at least. If you are of the competitive sort, you might want to share your time and compare it with others. Whether that’s hunting for Strava KOMs/CRs or the Bob Graham Round. The BGR might even be the OG FKT (that’s probably enough abbreviations for one sentence); not that it was known as such at the time of course. Successful attempts on the 66 mile, 42 peak Lakeland running route have always been recorded. Billy Bland held the fastest time from 1982 until 2018, when some young whipper-snapper called Kilian Jornet popped up and knocked an hour off. Just a couple of weeks ago Beth Pascall set a new women’s record, and the fifth fastest time ever.
2020 – Year of the FKT?
Beth’s amazing achievement was sandwiched between the news that John Kelly, then Damian Hall (Ambassador for Lake District based running brand inov-8) set fastest and faster still times along the 268 mile Pennine Way. Elsewhere, pro cyclist Lachlan Morton set a new FKT on the Kokopelli mountain bike trail. Oh, and our very own Fresh Air Heads, Sarah Gerrish and Andrew Lindley completed their own FKTs for the Morecambe Bay Limestone Round, and riding the Peak200, respectively. By the time this story is published, I’m sure other records will have been set.
It doesn’t take much imagination to work out why there seems to have been an increase in FKT attempts this year. As Covid-19 has led to races being cancelled, the calendars of those who would normally compete have been left empty. It’s easy to see how an FKT attempt might help scratch that competitive itch. In a world where “social distancing” has come out of nowhere to become the norm, it’s hard to imagine a better way of avoiding much of the population than running across the barren Pennine moors in the middle of the night.
I’ve been drawn in watching some of the attempts as they unfold, following the blinking tracker dots of runners, or looking out for Twitter updates of progress. While it’s desperately sad that so many races haven’t been able to run this year, as a passing observer, stories of FKTs hold a far greater allure than who won such-and-such. Let me explain why…
Some FKTs carry a greater cache than others of course. As fiercely fought as the KOM on my local segment, Dodging the Doggers, is it doesn’t have quite the same weight as the Bob, Pennine Way or riding LEJOG.
Maybe that’s part of the beauty though – an FKT attempt is as much about the personal challenge as the end result. There’s no winning or losing in the same sense as a race. The time on the clock doesn’t tell the full story. It doesn’t note the weather, the conditions under foot or wheel, or hiccups along the way. And while an FKT doesn’t have to be long, most tend to be endurance challenges. Hiccups do happen along the way. Attempts are as much an eating, navigating, (not) sleeping challenge as they are a run or ride.
An antidote to razzmatazz
There’s also a modesty to its name. Fastest Known Time. Not fastest time ever. Not World Record. Of course, some of that is in recognition that someone could have completed whatever the route may be in a faster time and not felt the desire to share their accomplishment; however likely – or unlikely – that might be. I think there’s more to it than that though. It’s a nod to the simplicity of the challenge, an antidote to adjudicators, sponsorship, television rights and razzmatazz. Just someone testing themselves, seeing what their body and mind is capable of. Apparently when Beth Pascall completed her Bob Graham, finishing at Moot Hall in Keswick a local publican brought her out a pint.
By definition, there is only ever one FKT per route, and the vast majority of people who have completed the Bob are simply happy to complete the challenge within the arbitrary 24 hour cut-off. Anyone can have a go though. How many people have played football at Wembley, or swung a cricket bat at Lords? If the will took me, I could emulate Damian Hall’s run tomorrow (at a significantly slower pace), standing in Kirk Yetholm with the Pennine Way stretching away from me. Maybe that’s what makes the FKT so appealing to the bystander. They are at once completely accessible and mindblowingly impossible.
I’ve sometimes observed an inverse snobbery towards those who are motivated by speed. How can you enjoy the route, landscape, sense of place when you are pushing through as quickly as possible?
There have certainly been times when I’ve been racing or training hard that I have made a mental note to revisit a certain place when I’m in less of a rush. But, there have also been those times that I would only ever have experienced as a direct result of pushing beyond the normal. Running through cloudless, star-filled night skies; the joy of dawn after many hours of darkness; the wonderful comfort found in deep fatigue with a finish line in touching distance.
Make no mistake, those who are attracted to FKTs have as deep a love of the outdoors as anyone. As if running 268 miles in two and half days wasn’t hard enough Damian Hall picked up litter along the route of the Pennine Way as he ran, keen to make a positive impact on the trail that had inspired his attempt.
From the horse’s mouth
Ultimately, as someone never likely to be setting records myself, these FKTs stand as inspiration – a reminder of what the human body is possible of. But, why listen to me chatting away about them when we can hear directly from a few record holders? We had a quick chat with Sarah, Andrew and Damian about their recent successful attempts, their personal motivations and the whole experience.
It’s almost enough to motivate us to go out and give one a go. Almost.
Sarah Gerrish @sarah_gerrish
Morecambe Bay Limestone Round female FKT holder
Trail run | 55 miles + 13 summits | 11h 24m 13s
"For me getting the FKT was more about the personal challenge. The Bay Limestone Round is a very new; only set up during lockdown so at the moment the list of those who have completed it is fairly small. I'm not the kind of runner who wins races and smashes records so this was a bit of an opportunity to get in there while the challenge was still fresh. I have no doubt that the time is not going to stand for long."
"The round was set up by a family friend and initially I was keen to support what at first glance looked like a really lovely route. In my case I was able to set off from my door to the start line, a mere mile away and if need be get a 10 minute train ride home at the end. I also had my eye on doing a Bob Graham Round this summer but due to logistics and where I live training over lockdown hugely lacked the ascent that I needed for such a challenge. The Bay Limestone Round really tapped into my comfort zone and suited the running I'd been doing lately."
"To be honest I didn't really set out with the intention of getting the fastest female time, my main priority was just to have a great day out and try to enjoy it as much as possible. A couple of days before my attempt the female time was reduced to 11h 29m which felt a bit unachievable for me. My initial thoughts were to aim for 12 hours with a more realistic time of between 12-13 hours. It's hard to predict how these longer days will go and aches and ailments can sometimes surface unexpectedly. Fortunately, I felt good for the vast majority of it and on the most part was running reasonably strong. When I was close to the end a bit of adrenaline must have kicked in as I realised it was achievable and it was a case of get my head down and keep running!"
"I had a few lovely surprises along the way where, thanks to my Open Tracking tracker fellow club runners, past round runners, family and friends were able to join me on the day either for some miles or shout support from random locations. The only minor issue I had was drinking too much in the first half and I ended up feeling a bit sick around three quarters through!"
"I had been training with OP bars so I was keen to stick to having something that I knew worked for me. When I did a recce of the route I did so in two halves and actually managed 30 miles on just one OP bar... big up the Bara Brith! Although I should say I don't encourage this approach and I was definitely hangry by the end. For me the OP bars are easy to nibble away at."
"On the day I carried a margarita pizza, a few OP bars, banana, crisps, some sweets, one water bottle and one electrolytes bottle (as the day was warm). My husband also met along the way with food top up and juice. In reality, I ate only a small portion of what I had prepared but thanks to the nudge from support runners just kept nibbling away, little and often."
Peak District MTB route | 225km | 13h 02m
"I chose to chase the Peak200 FKT after a friend had mentioned the route. It’s fairly local to me and I’d seen that there had been two recent FKTs on it recently. I mainly saw it as a way to get rid of the competitive hunger during lockdown. I’d looked at various self-supported challenges (the Peak200 is completed with a self-supported ethos - riders are allowed to use shops along the route but no outside assistance is allowed) and every time I looked at them, I always thought they were just too big and that the endurance guys had something I didn’t! My only real motivation for riding during lockdown has been chasing Strava segments and I started to see this as essentially a huge Strava segment."
"It was actually only the day before that I thought I'd have a go at the FKT. I’d planned an impromptu day off and the weather was looking good, so I thought, 'why not?'. My start was slightly delayed when I slept through my alarm!"
"It was by far the biggest challenge, riding over 10 hours - going into the unknown. The route was awesome. It passes through both the Dark and White Peak and took me to a few parts of the area that I’d not seen before. It really inspired me and I’ll definitely look into attempting more of these now."
"There were some other new challenges for me. I’m used feedzones and bag drops when racing. Getting enough food and water from shops/cafes on or nearby the route at the right time and with minimal faff took a lot of mental energy. It’s also the first time I’ve had to carry a face mask with me on a ride!"
"Psychologically it was hard knowing how easy it would be to sack it off and head home. I guess it’s one of the challenges that is unique to this sort of event."
"Outdoor Provisions are perfect fuel for this kind of long, endurance riding. It helps that I find them really tasty - particularly the Parkin flavour. I ate them on the bike, along with carb drink then grabbed the odd sandwich, Coke and water along the route."
Damian Hall @ultra_damo
Pennine Way FKT holder
Trail run | 268miles | 2d 13h 34m
"This is my fifth FKT, but I think probably my biggest running achievement. It means more anyway. I hiked and wrote a guidebook for the Pennine Way nine years ago and remembering reading about Mike Hartley's incredible run then and thinking it was well beyond most humans, including me. But as I got more and more into running I thought about it more and more. After setting an FKT on the South West Coast Path in 2016 I started thinking about seriously about the Pennine Way. Lockdown meant no races and I was out of excuses not to try. To me it's the big one, in the UK. There are longer trails, but this was to my mind the most competitive and prestigious record on a National Trail. I was hugely daunted by it."
"The run felt wonderful. I feel so grateful to my amazing team of pacers and road crew, who were just incredible and I very much owe the record to them. And when people turn out to run with you and even better still, people who aren't interested in running, turn out to cheer you on, that's an amazing feeling. Plus the reception in Edale is probably one of the best moments of my life. Thank you all so much."
"It’s so different to racing and in some ways it’s better: you get to control many of the variables, start time, date, where your aid stations are, and so on. But then I guess you have to organise that yourself too. So there's a lot more to think about beforehand. But that's all part of the challenge and the fun."
"Sleep depravation became an issue, especially on the second night. I'd had three power naps in the day (one unsuccessful; totally about 40mins sleep), but predictably still felt v tired during the night and desperately wanted to lie down again. I was lucky I had Nicky Spinks with me, who wasn't keen on me having a kip. When the sun rose, I felt brill again."
"I ran the Pennine Way without animal products (which is easy) and without creating plastic waste (which is not), so I was desperately searching for vegan food in compostable wrappers. So I was very happy when I found Outdoor Provisions! I also drank a lot of tea and my favourite sandwiches were nut butter and banana, and humous and avocado."