What Is An FKT & How Can You Get Started?
Written By: Ben Mounsey
Trail running has experienced a huge change over the last few years, with a dramatic rise in the popularity of FKT challenges.
But what exactly is an FKT?
FKT, an abbreviation for ‘Fastest Known Time’, is now a commonly used term in the world of trail running. It is essentially a race without organisation and rules, a record set by an individual over a particular course or planned route. Most FKT challenges take place on established trails, e.g. The Pennine Way, although there are a rapidly growing number of unique, personalised routes that have never been attempted before.
It’s easy to understand why this type of challenge has become so popular, particularly given the current global climate and the fact that self-organised challenges are completely free of charge. At present, there are no races being held anywhere in the UK and it’s unlikely that we’ll see them return anytime soon. Globally, it’s a very similar situation, and the few races that have returned, have done so in a very different format and under very different rules.
‘FKT CHALLENGES ARE HERE TO STAY’
Social media, GPS devices and digital mapping software have all contributed to this rapid surge in popularity, allowing runners to plan routes more easily and effectively. Information is quite literally at our fingertips, more readily available and completely accessible to all. Take the Wainwrights Challenge for example. The current record holder, Paul Tierney (see pictured), famously set a new FKT for the route in June 2019. The inov-8 ambassador, summited all 214 of Alfred Wainwright’s Lake District peaks in one go, in a jaw-dropping time of 6 days, 6 hours & 5 mins.
Such is the enormity of this particular challenge, he relied heavily on those who had trodden the path before him. His direct predecessor, Steve Birkinshaw, who held the previous record of 6 days 12 hours 58 minutes, played a huge role in helping Paul to plan his attempt, allowing him access to his route planning, timing schedule and invaluable advice. He even supported Paul on much of his actual attempt. Strange you might think that he would offer so much assistance, given that his own record was under threat. It certainly goes against the competitiveness you’d expect to see in an organised race. But such is the ethos in the world of the FKT - unity, support and respect are all key attributes of trail running etiquette.
The publicity surrounding FKTs has also completely changed. In the past, this kind of challenge would usually go under the radar, relatively unnoticed until a record was broken or a memorable feat achieved. The most famous Wainwright’s record holder, Joss Naylor, who clocked a time of 7 days, 1 hour & 25mins in 1987, certainly did not want, or attract, the same attention as Tierney’s record-breaking attempt last year.
THE RISE OF FKT ‘DOT WATCHING’
It’s clear that social media and other websites have played a huge role in promoting high-profile FKT attempts, engaging members of the running community like never before. Consequently, a new sub-sport of ‘dot watching’ has since emerged. Runners tackling ultra-distance challenges usually carry a tracker, partly for safety and partly as official proof that a route has been correctly followed. This tracking also provides live entertainment, with huge virtual audiences glued to their computer screens, utterly captivated by a moving dot on the screen as they constantly ‘hit refresh’ to see the latest update on progress.
‘FKTs HAVE RIPPED UP THE TRAIL RUNNING RULE BOOK’
FKTs have well and truly ripped up the trail running rule book. Chasing times completely breaks the conformity, structure and rules of organised races. It gives individuals the freedom to tackle a challenge whenever they like, on any given day, at any particular time. This flexibility in planning and execution is particularly advantageous when it comes to managing your attempt around external factors such as the weather or work commitments.
But this level of freedom also comes at a price. Official races are organised to provide us with rules and structure, both essential and paramount to our safety. Kit-checks, medical forms and emergency details are all examples of the necessary things we need to provide to race organisers in order to help keep us safe. After all, running in extreme outdoor environments can often leave us feeling exposed. The hills are dangerous places, trail running does not come without risk. Anyone considering an FKT attempt must do so with careful consideration, assessing the risks and ensuring they have all the necessary planning in place.
It’s vitally important that anyone attempting such a challenge does not put any extra pressure on our emergency services, especially given the current circumstances in the UK. The Mountain Rescue website, for England and Wales, provides detailed up-to-date information and advice on staying safe in the outdoors.
HOW TO GET STARTED WITH FKT CHALLENGES
Anyone in search of FKT inspiration, doesn’t need to go far. Quite literally, the Go Far website has an extensive list of all popular and well-established ultra-distant routes in the UK, carefully organised into separate regions. Any successful record attempts can be submitted to the organisers who manage and update all virtual leader boards. Most importantly, the site also provides detailed information about individual routes, ideal for help with logistical planning and advice for long-distance challenges. Many of the popular ultra-running forums on Facebook, for example, are also worth joining, as members of these groups are always helpful, offering invaluable support and advice.
For anyone looking for a new trail running challenge, the possibilities are endless. There has never been a better time to discover and plan your own FKT attempt, no matter how big or small. This type of challenge has undoubtedly transformed the world of trail running forever. And in a world full of uncertainty, one thing is very clear, FKTs are most definitely here to stay.
Find out more about trail running on our hub, or head to our Trail Store to make sure you have all the kit you need to get started.