For access to all of our training, gear, and race coverage, plus exclusive training plans, FinisherPix photos, event discounts, and GPS apps, sign up for Outside+.
FKTs, or Fastest Known Times, are exploding in popularity this year as athletes look for solo adventures to replace canceled races. According to NPR, which got the data from FastestKnownTime.com, from March through September of 2019, runners set about 700 FKTs. This year, nearly 3,000 new FKTs have already been recorded.
The premise of an FKT is simple and seems ripe for triathletes to jump on: Cover an agreed upon route in the fastest known time, track and record it, and, boom, you’re done. Of course, it can get more complicated than that, and for a variety of reasons the trend hasn’t caught on as much with triathletes as it has with runners. (Though with the increased need to plan logistics in an FKT, you’d think Type A triathletes would be all over this.)
Partially, it might be because FKTs tend to be done on established running or hiking routres. “Your route needs to be able to be reproduced,” said Coree Woltering, a former triathlete turned ultrarunner—and replicability is challenging when swimming. Though there is one well-known swim-bike-run FKT, Woltering said: the Yosemite Picnic—where you have to bike through the park, swim the length of a lake, scramble up some peaks, and then return.
Partially, though, triathletes simply haven’t adopted the FKT attitude—and the ins-and-outs remain a bit of a mystery to many of us. Going after an FKT is a little more complicated than just chasing KOMs on Strava.
Pro triathlete Alyssa Godesky, who recently set her second FKT on the Adirondack 46 High Peaks, and Woltering, who set an FKT on the Ice Age Trail earlier this summer, broke down what triathletes need to know if they want to go after some Fastest Known Times.
What is an FKT?
While the premise is simple, the specifics can get complicated. There are “supported” and “unsupported” FKTs, which means you can choose to have a crew and support or you can go it alone. Once you get into unsupported territory, purists can become very nitpicky about what counts as support. No stopping at stores, no company, some even argue no phones are allowed.
Both Godesky and Woltering completed supported FKTs, meaning they had crews with them at different points on their journey—which comes with a whole other set of logistics. Godesky tackled the 46 peaks in the Adirondacks, having her crew drive between trailheads while she caught naps in the car. Woltering covered the 1,147-mile Ice Age Trail in 21 days, 15 hours and 35 minutes—with a crew to bring him food (even when that amounted to Taco Bell) and help set up camps.
The other thing that differentiates an FKT from a KOM is that not everything counts as an FKT. You can’t just go out and run around your block and declare yourself the fastest person known to have done that. It’s generally agreed upon that FastestKnownTime.com maintains the list of “approved” FKTs. If you’re scoping out a route, you can submit it—but a warning: It has to be deemed worthwhile. And then you have to submit your data and tracking, with rules around recording.
How to find an FKT
That also means the easiest way to find a possible FKT attempt is to browse the FastestKnownTime website. That’s not the only way, though. You can also explore routes where you live, talk to other ultrarunners and hikers, or peruse internet message boards. Or just make up your own and submit it.
While there are some well-known and well-respected major FKTs, there are lots of smaller ones too. Not all of them are extended multi-day efforts.
“It’ll take you to places you hadn’t thought about going before,” said Woltering. His run down the Ice Age Trail was also a way to show off some of what the Midwest has to offer and celebrate his local running scene.
How to prepare for an FKT
Once you know what route you want to do, the key to planning your FKT attempt is, well, planning.
“You don’t want to show up to an FKT without making your own athlete guide,” said Godesky. To that end, she literally made a binder with spreadsheets of potential projected times, fueling plans, maps and photo directions because of the lack of cell service, and blank pages to record her actual time and progress. There were checklists of what and who was going to be where and when. She even had to plan how to carry extra battery packs to charge her GPS for the multiple days it took, so that she could record her effort. “Once you start your watch, the watch is going the whole time,” she said.
“The biggest thing is just logistics,” said Woltering. While he took a more laid-back approach—only deciding to do the Ice Age Trail at the last minute—having a plan and a back-up plan helps prevent things from going wrong. (Or you end up eating Taco Bell because it’s too late to make food at the campsite, which is fine too.)
And then you need to train. “Being a triathlete is a huge advantage,” said Godesky, because you can use the swimming and biking as recovery days when you’re trying to increase your mileage and get more time on your feet. Plus, triathletes are good at just putting one foot in front of the other and not thinking past the next mile—something that will definitely come in handy if you want to tackle a longer FKT.
One thing triathletes might not be as good at, however: navigating, trail running or hiking, and uncertain conditions. That’s when scoping out your planned attempt beforehand helps. Many athletes spend weeks or months on different portions of the trail they hope to do.
FKTs v. triathlons
While an FKT is very different from a triathlon—you don’t know what you’re going to encounter and you can’t count on set aid stations at set times—there are a lot of similarities too. Just like you were nervous the first time you went on a group ride or to a Masters swim, you might be nervous about this too—but just get out there and go do it, said Godesky. “If you figured out triathlon, you can figure out this,” she said.
Some perks of FKTs:
- You get to pick your weather and time. Play to your strengths, said Woltering.
- You can have your friends and family with you out on course. Recruit them to help crew or man an aid station.
- You can go on trails and routes that you might never get to race on, and do things you might never get to do.
- And you’ll find out just how far you can push yourself. “You don’t have people there constantly cheering and telling you to keep going,” said Godesky. So when you’re deep in the woods and it’s just you, what’s going to keep you moving?
“You realize you can push it longer and harder than you thought you could,” said Woltering. Now get out there and try.