The FKT or Fastest Known Time has become a massive deal in the ultrarunning world. Daniel Neilson dissects the pros and cons and offers advice on attempting your own.
FKT is in danger of sounding like a New York fashion label or the latest Bay Area app. But the idea of FKT or Fastest Known Time has become one of the biggest phenomenons in endurance racing, mountaineering, ultra running and in almost every self-powered outdoor pursuit. Yet, it is not without its controversy.
The FKT is essentially a speed record on a given route. Visit fastestknowntime.com
, and you’ll probably find someone has recorded an FKT near you, whether that’s the Dominican Republic or Saudi Arabia. In the UK alone there are registered FKTs for the Ribble Way Long Distance Path, the Lee Valley Way and the ‘Salisbury Plain Circumnavigation’. In the first half of April 2019 alone, three British and Irish FKTs have been recorded: the Wicklow Round (Paddy O'Leary in 16hrs 27mins 20secs), the Dorset Coast (Daniel Williams in 23hrs 57mins 30secs), Windsor to Buckingham - the Royal FKT (Scott Jenkins in 8hrs 5mins 32secs) and the Capital Ring around London (Simon Fitzmaurice in 7hrs 2mins 32secs).
The same website also gives guidelines. The attempt should be ‘notable and distinct enough so that others may be interested in repeating it’, ‘routes may be of any distance or time duration’ and all with a focus on running and hiking. There are no official races. FKTs are also distinguished between supported, self-supported (stashing food etc.) and totally unsupported. It has to be verified of course – GPS routes, photos, detailed descriptions.
It’s been argued that it is the ultimate egalitarian sport, a chance for anyone to attempt anything against anyone.
The term Fastest Known Time is first thought to have first appeared back in 1998 when writer Blake Wood wrote in Ultrarunning about Peter Bakwin and Buzz Burrell’s John Muir Trail completion in under five days. At the time, it was a kind of journalistic get-out: the fastest known time. It may have been run quicker, but there was no evidence. Peter Bakwin went on to run fastestknowntime.com
Run forward 20 years, and trail and endurance running are booming. Social media, plus GPS enabled phones and watches, allow athletes to gain a following, get attention and of course, record their records. Runners like Heather Anderson who recorded FKTs on the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail has become well know because of her achievements. And then there’s Kilian Jornet, a man who has done more to popularise the term than anyone else. His Bob Graham Round, his Everest climb… they’re pounced upon by the world’s media. And they can, because the tools are there, along with the appetite. If you’ve got a massive social media presence, an interesting FKT can be picked up. If it does, there’s sponsorship, perhaps a few articles or even a book to be had.
Want to set your own?
It was Buzz Burrell who also set out some common sense guidelines for setting your own: Announce what you’re attempting in advance, let people observe your attempt, and record everything you can. It’s the latter, something that will hold up to scrutiny, that will get you listed. Satellite trackers are a must on the popular routes, regular photo stamps, people watching you can all help you establish an FKT.
But with the growth of FKTs also comes risks. Inexperienced runners attempt routes way beyond their capabilities, and the support of a race organisers isn’t there. Others decry yet another incursion into our outdoor life of competition. Running doesn’t have to be a race, hiking perhaps should be a slow activity. Or, people should just do what they want and FKT it. What is clear is that the FKT is not going away any time soon.
Now I’m going to record the FKT for the South Downs Eight Bells To Plough And Harrow Circular. Actually, make that the SKT.