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A Summer of FKTs
What have you been up to this summer? For some competitive runners in the Bow Valley, it’s been all about chasing fastest known times.
By coincidence, local ultra runners Liz Halleran and Leif Godberson both have whiteboards on their walls. They use them to set their goals and track their training programs, but when the COVID-19 pandemic set in, race directors started cancelling events and Liz and Leif were left with a lot of white space. They quickly pivoted to chasing FKTs -- fastest known times -- up and down the Bow Valley.
The idea of the fastest known time is simple. Run a notable route -- let’s say to the Mt. Lady MacDonald teahouse -- and track your time. If you achieve the FKT, you get to share your results with the world and wait for the next challenger to beat it. There are a handful of loose guidelines about FKTs, but the key expectation is that runners follow the honor system.
RunUphill posts local FKT’s on a chalkboard at the store and online on our web site, so you can always find out about local routes and current records.
Runners Peter Bakwin and Buzz Burrell helped to popularize FKTs when they set up fastestknowntime.com, a web site designed for runners to track and share their FKTs. Trail Runner magazine reports that Bakwin and Burrell have witnessed an exponential increase in FKTs because of race cancellations. In July 2020, they received 566 verifiable FKTs -- that’s almost four times the 151 FKTs they received in July of 2019.
Liz and Leif aren’t strangers to traditional running races. Last summer, Liz won the 2019 Canadian Death Race. This summer, COVID-19 scuttled an ambitious race plan that included an elite entry at the Calgary Marathon 50K and a coveted spot in the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc CCC. Leif claims that he uses trail running to train for his mountaineering season, but placed second in the 120km event at the 2019 Golden Ultra. He had planned to run the Sinister 7 and the Minotaur Sky Race in Crowsnest Pass this summer.
Instead, Liz completed the Banff 3 Peaks Challenge, a route covering 70 kilometre and 4,670 metres in elevation, briefly holding an FKT of 12:19:33. She also finished the trip to the teahouse on Mt. Lady Macdonald in 43:31. Meanwhile, Leif racked up a whopping six FKT’s including the Rockwall in 6:03:00 the Rundle Traverse in 5:51:12. He says, “You know, years before I had done it in mountaineering boots with ropes and a rack.”
Impermanence is a fact of FKT life so those who embrace need a vaguely Buddhist outlook. Unlike running races in which the winner holds the title for a year or more, FKT challengers can come after your record any time they want.
Image supplied by Liz Halleran
Liz, who admits she’s a little type A, likes the competition. Of her biggest challenger, Ailsa MacDonald (another frequent flyer on the RunUphill chalkboard), Liz says, “She's someone that I really look up to… She's been just tearing it up and, and setting FKTs on almost every well known route in the Rockies this summer.” She adds, “Since she's come through, she's just been setting really competitive new times, ones that really rival a lot of men's FKTs. I think that the female side of the sport needs that because ... there are less women out here.” She says that about the runner she lost her Banff 3 Peaks and Mt. Rundle FKTs to.
Leif, on the other hand, makes it sound like FKTs are a casual way to test his fitness. “You have a weekend free or a day free and you know you've kind of been banking up all this fitness and it's kind of nice to just go do something to push a little bit just to see where you're at,” he says. Really? Later, he admits, “Oh, yeah, I absolutely love competition.”
And as the summer comes to close, Liz and Leif are looking forward to an opportunity for some much needed rest. While FKTs are the sort of challenge that a runner can take up on their own time, they’ve been out most weekends chasing new challenges and now they’re feeling the effects. Says Liz, “I'm ready to take some downtime now, and not have a plan. I think it's really important to take a few months every year, of not having a plan, not training for anything.”