Jacquie Mannhard had long heard her fellow trail runners talk of fastest-known times. The prospect of tackling a gnarly route relatively unsupported had tickled the Boulder-based distance runner’s fancy for years, but she’d never gotten around to looking into it further.
Then the pandemic struck.
It was April when she got the first notice: “Given the uncertainty and severity of the situation,” the Silver Rush 50 Run in Leadville was off. Then “due to COVID-19” the Golden Gate Dirty 30 near Black Hawk followed suit. It was clear her racing season was going down the toilet, but that itch to test herself against fellow athletes remained.
“I realized the races were all being canceled, so I checked out the FKTs more seriously,” Mannhard said.” I thought it would be fun to do some summer objectives, and FKTs are the most reasonable way to compete virtually.”
FKTs, fastest known times, are just that: the fastest run or hike time recorded by anybody — ultrarunner or casual jogger — for a specific stretch of trail. Tackle a route but come up one second behind another runner? Well done, but don’t bother posting. “There are no second- or third-fastest listings; only the fastest [times], posted chronologically as they were completed,” reads , a database tracking the speediest traverses of 2,328 routes worldwide.
Pre-COVID, FKTs were popular primarily among elite athletes “bored with running,” said Colorado trail running legend Buzz Burrell, who co-founded the FKT website. “Now it’s Tom, Dick and Sue. It’s just everybody.”
Runners from Canada to Croatia are lacing up their shoes, queuing up their GPS watches and hitting the trail. Worldwide, runners have snagged more than four times as many FKTs this year as last for the March 1 to July 16 time frame. In June and July alone, Burrell’s team logged 450 worldwide records, accounting for nearly 20% of all the FKTs the site has tallied since 2017.
Indeed, given that FKTs are typically solo attempts often on local trails, they present an ideal competitive outlet in the era of COVID-19, when everyone is encouraged to stay away from others and remain close to home.
“Races are essentially illegal right now,” Burrell said. “With a FKT, you can be out there and be socially distanced. It’s totally legal and totally safe to throw down and put your mark up.”
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