What the Heck Is a “FKT”?

by Shaun Luther

Simply put, “FKT” is the acronym for Fastest Known Time.  FKT, as a term and a concept, was developed by Buzz Burrell and Peter Bakwin, and the backstory is well described in this article from Trail Runner Magazine

Bakwin and Burrell

As is mentioned in the article, Buzz and Peter started a message board to track all the FKT records. That message board has since migrated to the website https://fastestknowntime.com/

Besides being a clearinghouse and repository of FKT attempts, it also has some great content on the people that are attempting some epic routes.

So why is this different from someone bagging a Strava segment? While Strava is a useful tool in tracking and verifying results in a FKT attempt, just being the fastest to run down the block in front of your house will not make the cut for a FKT.  Below are the essential criteria, according to the fastestknowntime.com website.

What qualifies as a  F.K.T.?

–The route is notable and distinct enough so that others may be interested in repeating it.

–Routes may be of any distance or time duration.

–Races:  We generally don’t track FKTs for race routes, since the race websites do that, and race results aren’t normally reported to us. But, an FKT set in a race is still an FKT.

–Routes may be on any surface – road, trail, off-trail.

–We have a few Routes between very iconic landmarks, such as buildings or bridges, but we generally do not accept these because there are usually too many possibilities, and also we have found that most are not of general interest (few repeats).

–The focus is on running and hiking in order to be thorough, accurate, and reliable. Climbing, cycling, paddling, skiing, and other sports are great, and we may establish separate categories for them in the future, but not at this time. One may use any means of self-propelled travel during the FKT attempt, provided that (1) At least 50% of time must be running and/or hiking, vs. other sports, and (2) Ropes may not be employed for more than 10% of the Elapsed Time, and climbing grades 5.8/5a and harder even without a rope are considered climbing, not running or hiking.

–Motorized travel for the sole purpose of linking important features may be allowed, for example during the Colorado or California 14ers.

–If you completed a route but came up short of a new FKT, definitely post a comment on the route page letting everyone know what you did. However, do not submit a new FKT because unlike Strava’s leaderboards, for example, there are no second or third fastest listings; only the fastest, posted chronologically as they were completed.

Perhaps some of you have jumped ahead and did a search for FKTs in Pennsylvania and came across the entry for Blue Marsh Lake Circumnavigation from April 2019. Yes, that’s me, I ran around the whole lake in 3:37:15. Now some will say, “That’s impossible, isn’t it 30 miles or something?”  No, the distance I ran was 17.64 miles.  

For years, there have been discussions about how fast you could actually run around Blue Marsh if you used shortcuts. In fact, the very first Dave & Shaun’s Excellent Adventure was sort of an attempt to see how fast teams could do just that. After reading about some of the FKT routes, I thought I would put a stake in the ground and document a route for the fastest circumnavigation of Blue Marsh Lake.

My first task was to see if what I was planning was even FKT-worthy. I summarized what I was trying to do in an email and sent it off to the fastestknowntime.com guys. I had decided to add some guidelines to this route, since my run wouldn’t follow a fixed and marked trail, and future attempts probably wouldn’t either.  

Guidelines used to determine this route and future routes:

–No swimming. No portion of the lake or tributary streams was crossed that could not be either hopped across or waded across. This eliminates from route consideration the large bridges on Rt 183. There is one exception–the bridge on N. Heidleberg Rd at the very north end of the lake–mainly because to find a place to ford Northkill Creek and Tulpehocken Creek/Union canal above the bridge would force you to trespass on private property. 

–No trespassing. This route was either on park property, State Game Land property, or public roads. This also takes out for route consideration going across the dam at Stilling Basin that is posted with “No Unauthorized Personnel” signs all over it. Also the Old Dry Road Farm property may be out of play. Some maps show it as part of the park, others show it as a separate entity. There are periodically “No Trespassing” signs up on the property. I avoided it just because its status is unclear.

Much to my surprise, Peter Bakwin himself replied to my email and said that the proposed route certainly met their FKT criteria. and it looked like fun. With Peter’s blessing, I set about trying to plan my route.

I was pretty confident on the shortest/fastest route on the south side of the lake. So I spent a few weekend runs in February and March of 2019 scouting out possible routes through the Game Lands on the north side of the lake.  Anyone that has done any trail running with me knows that I don’t have a problem with bushwhacking, getting lost, or getting my feet wet. There was a lot of all three when trying to find the shortest runnable route around that part of the lake.  Topographical maps are helpful. GoogleEarth is invaluable. But both don’t really tell you if that particular hedgerow is impassable or if that green area is just a field or a shoe-sucking swamp. With a route finalized, I set Sunday, April 7th, 2019 as my target date for the attempt.  

April 7th turned out to be a bit warmer than I would have hoped with temps up into the mid 70s with bright sun. With not a lot of leaves yet on the trees, shade was going to be in short supply. Since this was an unsupported attempt, I packed up my smaller Camelbak with about 30 oz of water and a couple of GUs and headed out to Blue Marsh. Since I was going to run counterclockwise around the lake, I chose to start at the Justa Rd. Game Lands parking lot mainly because the deepest stream that was going to have to wade across was Spring Creek, and I didn’t want to have to run too far after that if I didn’t have to. The run itself went pretty much to plan and was actually really fun because of the diversity of terrain. You get a few miles of trails, then some bushwhacking, then some road, then some more trail, refreshing stream crossings, etc. Since this really was all about setting the route, I wasn’t really trying to “race” it.  I just kept a steady effort and tried not to let the temps and sun bother me too much. My water use was pretty close to plan; I think I had about 5 oz left and I didn’t even touch the GUs. The next day I submitted my FKT report to fastestknowntime.com. Since this was a new route, I had to submit the route and then separately submit my run with a short write up along with my Strava data as proof of the FKT. A few days later, I got an email from fastestknowntime.com saying the attempt was accepted.  

So, it’s been nearly a year since my FKT, and no one has improved on my time. I really don’t know if anyone has even attempted the route. I am sure that, within our club, there are many people who could really improve on my time. No doubt. With all the spring races that have been cancelled, this may be the perfect time to use that winter training on a FKT attempt. Have at it.  And in keeping with the whole ethos of FKT, I would have no problem sharing tips and info on the Blue Marsh route should someone want to attempt it.

Side note: While I was writing this article, Jim Blandford did a scorchingly fast solo run on the Buzzard course. Several people, including me, urged Jim to submit the run to fastestknowntime.com. Now there are two Pennsylvania FKTs held by Pacers. And right now I am in the planning stages of another FKT attempt, but more on that later.

Also, for another good read about the attraction of FKTs, click HERE

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