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Inside the FKT Movement with FastestKnownTime

We had the chance to sit down with Allison Mercer, Director of Community Partnerships at FastestKnownTime, to discover the latest trends in the space.
mountain ridge united states
Image via Jen Day Denton

This article is part 1 of a two-piece feature on FastestKnownTime, you can find part 2 here featuring Nathan Broom, a regional editor at FastestKnownTime.

What comes before competing in a race with hundreds of runners? What comes immediately after an easy run on your local loop from your front yard? The answer is an FKT. Now, you might be asking yourself: what is an FKT? Don’t worry, we had the same reaction when we first heard this acronym and we scratched our heads. So, let’s start from the basics.

FKT stands for Fastest Known Time and it refers to the fastest known time recorded on a noteworthy trail or route. Here in Europe, we use the world ‘record’ which has an absolute value. But, who can tell you that nobody ever runs that route faster without recording it? Some of the local old guys might have run it faster but GPS watches did not exist yet. Using the term FKT is somehow safer and more accurate.

Karel Sabbe vi alpina
Karel Sabbe set the FKT on Via Alpina in 2021
That was the first time I heard the term FKT. [In Europe] we used ‘record’ for mountain speed climbs like the north faces of the Alps, and the Matterhorn, and also for long-distance trails such as the Corsica trail and the GR5. [FKT] makes more sense than a ‘record,’ since it’s possible someone has run faster and not published or told it to somebody. Killian Jornet, 2009

FKTs were born before any race, with climbers challenging themselves on the fastest ascents around European and American peaks since the nineteenth century. They exist before races. While mountaineering is a sport based on FKTs due to the absence of formal competitions, trail running gravitates around races nowadays, but FKTs conquered a growing niche within one of the fastest-growing sports in the world.

The FKT movement has been formalized during the dawn of the Internet in the late 90s thanks to Peter Bakwin who, after attempting some FKTs on famous routes like The John Muir Trail, wanted to share and discuss his experience with fellow runners. That day the first version of was born. “I want the website to be a place where people can share these stories” recalls Bawkin. Looking back more than 20 years, the primordial Internet website created by Bawkin was able to connect trail runners and surface the FKT movement to a shared audience. If before runners were doing their thing and chasing an FKT for their own pleasure, now they were competing and learning from each other. At the same time, trail running as a sport doubled its size between 2000 and 2010: races participation increased, races became bigger than themselves and interest grew exponentially through sponsorships and early social media activity. FKTs were in the right place at the right time and they took off.

Buzz Burrell Peter Bakwin JMT
Buzz Burrell and Peter Bakwin on the John Muir Trail
I think it is a way for people to go outside their comfort zone and explore new places. With a race, you have specific pressure, but with FKT you can do it without fearing failure on a public platform. Allison Mercer, Director of Community Partnerships

FKTs occupy a special place between running for the pleasure of running and racing in formal events. Some might even say that FKTs are the pure form of trail running. FKTs can happen anywhere: they don’t need aid stations or race bibs. Some of the most famous FKTs, like The John Muir Trail or the R2R2R go through areas where races are not allowed to be staged for reasons of danger, logistics, legalities, or all three. This is one of the main reasons why the FKTs movement is more developed in the US compared to Europe, where races are generally allowed in the most scenic and iconic locations around the Alps or Pyrenees.

Within this sub-culture, FastestKnownTime emerged as the informal governing body of FKTs becoming the official record of all the noteworthy FKTs attempts in the US and around the world. “The most famous trails have their own record-keeping and tracking - as Mercer told us - We are grassroots operations so we only get the routes/records that people send us, so it is really limited. We are looking to increase engagement and record keeping as we go.” Despite this, the FastestKnownTime website is filled with more than 5,000 routes ranging from a few kilometers to more than 8,000. It can become the perfect rabbit hole where you lose hours going through the routes in your area or planning your own attempt that you might never attempt.

Courtney Dauwalter Collegiate Loop
Courtney Dauwalter Collegiate Loop FKT Attempt in 2022

If the first 10 years of the 2000s saw growth in the sport as a whole, the pandemic was a booster for FKTs. With races being canceled around the globe and people being stuck at home, runners of all levels re-discovered the beauty of just going out in nature and running. Elite athletes embraced the FKT movement during the lockdown increasing its popularity. Now, years later, athletes like Courtney Dauwalter regularly fit an FKT attempt in their race calendar - last year she set the FKT on the Collegiate Loop for example. “We [Fastestknowntime] still get 20-30 submissions on average a week, which has gone down since the height of the pandemic, but it is still a large amount with new routes being added weekly” Mercer explained.

Not only elite athletes are on the hunt for an FKT, but amateurs too: “Bars are consistently being raised in unsupported and multiday activities. People aren’t afraid of a challenge and taking these FKTs to the next level”. This explains part of the beauty of competing asynchronously against the time set by someone else years or days ago on your own. The pressure of competing in a race is not on and can free up your mind while on your attempt. You don’t have to worry about someone else passing over you or respect time cutoffs. You can play your FKT attempt by your rules: supported, unsupported, or self-supported, clockwise or counter-clockwise, with no mandatory gear or set starting time.

Joshua Perry Pacific Crest Trail
Joshua Perry set the FKT on the Pacific Crest Trail in 2022

Elite athletes helped spread the FKT movement around the world, even on the other side of the world as Mercer recalled We see a lot more in Australia and hope it grows in other countries where outdoor recreation is encouraged.”

Thinking about the ideal future state of the sport, Mercer pointed out that the movement suffers the same issues as competitive trail running: lack of participation from women and countries outside the US and UK, where the sport is more mature. Mercer hopes that the constant visibility on social media and the development of the sport as a whole can address these issues. Fastestknowntime content is committed to addressing these topics, from regularly featuring attempts from women to highlighting routes from all over the world.


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