Origins of The FKT

On August 25, 2007, 20 miles south of Red’s Meadow, and about 80 miles shy of a speed record on California’s John Muir Trail (JMT), Sue Johnston hit a wall. It wasn’t exhaustion or injury that was stopping her, though. The obstacle was dressed in green and nearly impenetrable.

“I was in the middle of nowhere, with a little Nathan pack on. This Forest Service ranger accosts me and says, ‘Where are you going?! Where’s your permit?’” Johnston says.

Sue Johnston on the JMT in 2007, on her way to setting a women’s record that still stands. Photo by Chris Scott.

She whipped out her permit.

“I was laughing. I said, ‘I started the trail two days ago. I think I’m going to make Red’s Meadow, barring tripping or breaking my leg.’”

Eventually, the ranger relented and Johnston rolled on, arriving at the JMT’s northern terminus in Yosemite Valley in a time of 3 days 20 hours. It was an overall record time for the 221-mile trail.

Two years later, LA-based ultrarunner Brett Maune bested Johnston’s time by six hours, though her record still stands as the fastest women’s time despite efforts by some of the country’s best female trail runners, including Amber Monforte, 38, former Tahoe Rim Trail women’s FKT holder, and Jenn Shelton, 33, who rose to fame as one of the personalities in Christopher McDougall’s Born to Run.

In the trail-running community, however, Johnston’s record is called by a different name: a Fastest Known Time, or “FKT.” FKTs can range from travelling the classic long trails like the JMT or Appalachian Trail, to sprinting up local highpoints like Boulder’s Bear Mountain or Alaska’s Mount Marathon.

 

First FKT

In 1998, Boulder, Colorado, residents Peter Bakwin, now 54 and a retired physicist with the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, and Buzz Burrell, now 65 and brand vice president at Ultimate Direction, tackled a speed attempt on the 500-mile-long Colorado Trail—the first of what would be many adventures together.

In photos from the period, Burrell looks solid, less lithe ultrarunner and more the kind of guy you’d willingly follow into battle. Bakwin appears young and playful. During a moment captured on that 1998 trip on the Colorado Trail, Bakwin’s arms are outstretched in a field of flowers, with an, “Aren’t we lucky?” smile on his face. Burrell, peering over his partner’s shoulder from a distance, looks to be gearing up for battle. Ironically, it was Bakwin who got injured. He dropped after 330 miles. Burrell, however, finished in what they considered a record time of 11 days 16 hours 13 minutes.

The following summer, they began eyeing a record on the JMT. It was a project that required research. However, in those early days of the Internet, information was vague. Even previous speed-record holders had conflicting accounts. Blake Wood’s 1998 article in Ultrarunning recounted his fast time on the JMT of just under five days. But there were gaps—big ones—in the records, including a vast blank spot from a 1948 attempt to the early 1980s.

Burrell and Bakwin faced a conundrum. It was a pretty safe bet that Wood’s time was the fastest ever. But it wasn’t a certainty. So, Burrell started describing Wood’s effort as the “fastest-known time.”

“We needed a term that paid homage to the people who came before,” Burrell says. “We didn’t know what the fastest time was, and so the term was born. By saying ‘fastest-known time,’ you’re leaving the door open for some great athlete who was off the radar and did it in the pre-Internet era.”

 

Bakwin and Burrell Set a Goal

One of the world’s great long-distance trails, the John Muir Trail wends its way 221 miles through California’s High Sierras without crossing a road. In many places, trailheads are a day away. Mount Whitney, the high point of the lower 48, is the southern terminus. To the north, the trail ends at the crown jewel of the National Park system: Yosemite Valley.

Bakwin and Burrell set themselves a goal of four days. It would be a new fastest-known time. For a year, they planned methodically. They dehydrated food, researched support locations and retrofitted their gear.

Buzz Burrell sports a vest with hand-sewn bottle holsters, on his and Peter Bakwin’s 1999 FKT attempt on the John Muir Trail. Photo by Peter Bakwin.

Burrell sewed bottle holsters to the front of his trail-running vest—a design that Ultimate Direction would later adopt.

They set off from Whitney Portal on July 31, 1999. For three days, everything went as planned. Then, just 23 miles from the end of the trail, a fierce hailstorm pounded the duo, forcing them off trail at Tuolumne Meadows.
“We were on target,” says Bakwin. “And then it was like, ‘Oh, well, I guess we’re done.’”

Well, not quite. After a night off, they returned and finished the JMT, pulling into Yosemite Valley in 4 days 9 hours, just off their target, but still good enough for a record—or, more accurately, the Fastest-Known Time.

It was a turning point. Burrell published an article in this magazine in 2001. In the story he wrote, “We did what we had come to do—share an incredible experience, push our limits into unknown territory and traverse one of the world’s great trails.”

Burrell is quick to point out, however, that they were anything but pioneers. “What we did was put multi-day trail running on the map,” he says. “We weren’t really good athletes, but we were at the right place at the right time. We were the spark plug. We showed that this could be fun and cool.”

Inspired by the JMT experience, Bakwin expanded his research and added more findings to a corner of his personal website, asking for others to share information. At first, he focused on the fastest-known times for long-distance trails: The John Muir Trail, the Appalachian Trail, the Grand Canyon rim-to-rim-to-rim and Vermont’s Long Trail. Updates came from around the country. Wanting more collaboration, Bakwin launched a discussion forum at the humble, unwieldy address of fastestknowntime.proboards.com.

“I experience what I would call transcendence,” Bakwin says. “You run and run and run until you fall down, and you’re either done, or some kind of miracle occurs and all of a sudden you feel good. I want the website to be a place where people can share these stories.”

Burrell’s article and Bakwin’s website were catalysts for the FKT movement.  All of a sudden, multi-day trail FKTs were on the map, and trail running would never be quite the same.

 

People Do What Moves Them

Burrell’s article and Bakwin’s website, serendipitous as they were, could not have been timed better if they had been produced by ad-agency execs pouring over reams of marketing research.

GPS watches were just coming into vogue, and Strava was not far behind. Within a decade, both would be nearly ubiquitous, allowing runners around the world to lay down their own FKTs, challenging neighbors and visiting runners alike.

Culturally, trail running was shifting, too. Between 2000 and 2010, the number of participants in trail-running events more than doubled. Professional race organizers became more commonplace, and lotteries were instituted for popular events.

“You show up at a race, you just put on your shoes, grab a water bottle and go,” says Bakwin. “There are aid stations, you follow the markers and you keep going until someone tells you you’re done.” For many trail runners, the organic, brand-free structure of the FKT became a welcome respite.

FKTs also have one particular advantage over trail races: they can take place on routes where large events would never be allowed by public-land managers. Says Rickey Gates, who has held multiple FKTs on routes such as Yosemite’s Half Dome, Colorado’s Four Pass Loop and California’s Mount Shasta. “They’re on courses where you’re never going to have a traditional race for reasons of danger, logistics, legalities or all three.”

“With FKTs, there are no ambassadors or spokespeople,” Burrell says. “People can do what moves them.”

Heather Anderson is one such example. Using the trail name Anish, the 35-year old Seattle-based personal trainer and public speaker has ticked off FKTs on the 2,650-mile long Pacific Crest Trail, the 2,190-mile Appalachian Trail and, this past November, the 800-mile Arizona Trail. Were it not for the need to document her trip to meet FKT community guidelines, Anderson might be entirely unknown.

“I do more social media than I would like to, simply because it’s an important part of documenting the FKT,” she says. “But I don’t like to make a big deal about it. I try to find that compromise between documentation, authenticity and staying true to myself and what I want from the experience.”

However the FKT community is not without shared understandings. Burrell sums up the FKT philosophy: “Own what you did. Let everyone else make up their minds about what it means.”

That sounds simple, but in practice it can get tricky. The difference between a supported, self-supported and unsupported FKT can get confounding. On California’s popular Tahoe Rim Trail, for example, some runners make use of tap water available at campgrounds along the relatively dry route. Are those FKTs unsupported? Right now, the consensus is: no.

“If someone makes a judgement and says you received support, and your FKT doesn’t really count as an unsupported effort, fine,” says Burrell. “Let that person make that judgment. That’s what makes the FKT community strong. Not its singularity, but its multitudes.”

 

The Kilian Effect

As summer 2009 approached, a 21-year-old trail runner from Sabadell in Catalonia, Spain, had his eye on an FKT on a long-distance trail in the United States.

Kilian Jornet had good reason to think he could tick one off, too—the year before, he had won the prestigious Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc and was named champion of that year’s Skyrunning World Series.  Jornet wanted to run trails in the United States, and was trying to decide between the John Muir Trail, Grand Canyon rim-to-rim-to-rim and California’s Tahoe Rim Trail.

 

Jornet and Emily Forsberg training on the Matterhorn in preparation for Jornet’s eventual FKT. Photo by Katie Moore.

“That was the first time I heard the term FKT,” he says. “[In Europe] we used ‘record’ for mountain speed climbs like the north faces of the Alps, and the Matterhorn, and also for long-distance trails such as the Corsica trail and the GR5. [FKT] makes more sense than a ‘record,’ since it’s possible someone has run faster and not published or told it to somebody.”

Jornet decided on pursuing the John Muir Trail FKT but was denied a permit by the National Park Service. Says Bakwin, “They marched in there and announced they wanted to do a speed record on the JMT, and the rangers looked at him and said, ‘No, we don’t support that.’”

Instead, the team turned their attention to the 165-mile Tahoe Rim Trail, where Jornet quickly established an FKT of 38 hours 32 minutes.

Jornet would later go on to own a dizzying array of FKTs like the Grand Teton and Mt. Kilimanjaro.

“Kilian is the best mountain runner in the world. So, when he started doing FKTs, there was instant cred,” says Burrell. “Once he picked up the term ‘FKT,’ everyone picked it up, and the term went all over the world.”

 

Summits of My Life

Jornet continued winning races and ticking off FKTs, notably setting a speed record on Greece’s Mount Olympus on June 10, 2011, and then winning Western States 100 two weeks later. In 2012, he launched “Summits of My Life,” challenging himself to set new FKTs on summits around the world. First to go was Mont Blanc, from the Chamonix valley where he lived at the time.

Killian Jornet on the Matterhorn, on his way to setting a new FKT. Photo by Katie Moore.

Then, on August 21, 2013 Jornet blazed up to the summit of the Matterhorn from the church steps in Cervinia, Italy, and back down in 2 hours 52 minutes, shattering Bruno Brunod’s longstanding record by more than 20 minutes.

Today, all that’s left for the Summits of My Life are Russia’s Mount Elbrus and Mount Everest. So far, Jornet has been twice rebuffed on Everest, first by the earthquake that struck Nepal in April 2015, and later by snowstorms and high avalanche risk during September 2016.

Jim Walmsley on his way to setting a new FKT for the Grand Canyon rim-to-rim-to-rim. Photo by Myke Hermsmeyer.

Jornet appreciates what FKTs add to trail running. “A race is great because you can push yourself against other strong runners. In a race, though, competitors have the same rules,” he says. “In an FKT, every person can make decisions: assisted or not? If so, how much? Pacers or not? It’s also a decision of logistics and experience that each runner gets to feel.”

With Jornet’s FKTs capturing both headlines and the public imagination, it wasn’t long before other trail runners followed suit.

 

FKT Evolution

In 2015, Scott Jurek, 43, set a new FKT on the Appalachian Trail, while millions followed his journey on social media. Says Bakwin, “I think he just promoted the hell out of it. He’s good at that. Plus, he has a shit ton of followers on social media.”

Scott Jurek is all smiles at the summit of Mount Katahdin after setting a new supported Appalachian Trail FKT in 2015. Photo by Luis Escobar.

“The New York Times called and sent a photographer to my house!” adds Bakwin. On Bakwin’s FKT proboards website, the discussion about FKTs on the Appalachian Trail received 55,000 views—nearly 10 times the usual numbers.

In 2016, Utah ultrarunning legend Karl Meltzer, 48, bested Jurek’s time on the AT by nearly 10 hours. “It’s about being able to persevere,” Meltzer says. “You need to mentally prepare. On an FKT like the AT, bad patches happen every day. It’s a mind-boggler. I think I was in search of a project that would raise the bar for me.”

After two failed attempts in 2008 and 2014, Meltzer planned his third (ultimately successful) effort meticulously, and factored in plenty of support. “There’s strategy, crew, logistics and planning,” he says. All of this means one other thing: cash. According to Meltzer, his sponsors chipped in nearly $100,000 to cover the cost of the project.

 

Growing Pains

On the same Sunday in 2016 that Meltzer topped Jurek’s AT record, a woman by the name of Kaiha Bertollini claimed to have bested him by 16 hours.
Bertollini was a blank slate, unknown to anyone in the FKT community. A lively discussion flourished.

Jurek and Karl Meltzer embrace after Meltzer’s 2016 AT FKT. Photo by Carl Rosen.

Bertollini’s evidence was scant. There were other red flags, too: a driver came forward and confirmed that he had given Bertollini a ride around one section of the trail. What’s more, while Bertollini claimed a self-supported FKT, she had a friend closely following the trip and aiding in a related fundraising effort.

“Did she cheat? I don’t know,” says Bakwin. “But her case certainly pushes the boundaries of credulity.”

In the early days of the FKT, everyone knew everyone else. As the numbers grow, though, new names appear, not all of them known to Bakwin or the FKT regulars.  One result is that FKT claims now need stronger substantiation.

Policing can be hit or miss. “Typically, someone will send me an email, saying, ‘I don’t believe this claim,’” says Bakwin. “Then it’s kind of up to me. What I do next depends on the situation.”

Bakwin points out that there’s yet to be a case of cheating that’s been proven. Dubiously fast claims that have been withdrawn after scrutiny? Sure. Bakwin now recommends anyone attempting a new FKT to use a GPS beacon, which transmits data every 10 minutes to a website. Unless you’re tossing it from runner to runner, cheating becomes nearly impossible.

The role of investigating uncertain claims isn’t one Bakwin imagined for himself. “I think if this [sponsorships and media attention] continues to Bakwin. “Like the Matterhorn. It’s not just a trail-running record.”

Last spring, a team of ultrarunners and ski-mountaineering racers ticked off the iconic Hardrock 100 route on skis. Two years ago, the late climber and BASE jumper Dean Potter set the new FKT on a Yosemite Valley loop that included solo climbing Half Dome, then running back to the trailhead.

Meanwhile, Bakwin’s FKT pro boards cruise along. “Red Bull hasn’t purchased the FKT,” says Gates. “I hope it remains this organic, amorphous group. It’s amazing that our lead source and prime documentation of the FKT is in a format from 1995. But, it’s all you need.”

Bakwin’s FKT site holds stories from around the world. In the United Kingdom, it’s fell running. In New Zealand, there are new FKTs on the “tracks,” or multi-day hiking routes. In South Africa, elite trail runner Ryan Sandes has been busy laying down FKTs on Capetown’s popular Table Mountain and on the Drakensburg Grand Traverse, a 125-mile route with no designated trail.

Anton Krupicka has set various speed records on Boulder’s iconic Flatirons. Photo by Fred Marmsater.

Here in the U.S., a new generation of trail runners in Boulder, Colorado, are challenging the FKTs set by trail runner Anton Krupicka on the Flatirons, which include sections of technical rock climbing and rappel descents.

And aside from more technical routes and the big-name trails, there are dozens of regional FKTs of note, too: Arkansas’ 165-mile Ozark Highlands Trail, New Hampshire’s Presidential Range traverse and highpoints like Washington’s Mount Rainier, Montana’s Granite Peak, Utah’s Kings Peak and California’s 14,505-foot Mount Whitney.

 

The FKT Project

With no formal organization, trophies or gold-embossed certificates to frame and hang, it’s poetic that Gates, one of trail running’s most carefree personalities, has stepped in to contribute.

As he roamed the country on his motorcycle ticking off FKTs of his own, Gates started collecting unique belt buckles—one each for what he considered some of the top FKTs in the West, including The Grand Canyon rim-to-rim-to-rim, Half Dome and the Grand Teton. Together with artist and woodworker Elizabeth Thorp, he’s quietly launched the FKT Project.

Rickey Gates FKT Project buckles are framed in hand-crafted wooden cases, and passed from one FKT holder to the next. Photo by Rickey Gates.

The idea is simple: each framed buckle passes from one FKT holder to the next, with the signature and date added with each faster time. “It’s personally driven,” says Gates. “These are all FKTs that I thought that I could get, or that I did get.”

Since launching the effort, Gates has added women’s FKTs to the list. He’s also hoping to expand the FKT’s to include Eastern routes, such as the Pemi Loop in New Hampshire’s White Mountains.

Ryan Ghelfi celebrates after setting a new FKT on California’s Mount Shasta. Photo courtesy of Ryan Ghelfi.

Now, four years after Gates launched the FKT project, the buckles are all out of his possession. “It was cool to pass on that last [buckle],” says Gates, who’s FKT on California’s Mount Shasta was bested last summer by Ryan Ghelfi.

Gates’ buckles are still on the move. Last summer, former Grand Canyon rim-to-rim-to-rim FKT holder Rob Krar passed his buckle to Jim Walmsley, 27, from Flagstaff, Arizona, who bested Krar’s time by 26 minutes, finishing in 5 hours 55 minutes 20 seconds.

“Rickey’s buckle project will undoubtedly hold different meaning to each of us fortunate enough to possess one,” says Krar, 40, also from Flagstaff. “My six hours and 23 minutes below the rim was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. The FKT buckle was a reminder of an event that changed the course of my life.”

Doug Mayer lives in Randolph, New Hampshire. He is the owner of Run the Alps, and owns several FKTs to undisclosed locations with warm croissants in the Alps.

WATCH: Zach Bitter Talks Training, Nutrition and Motivation

Zach Bitter was not a standout athlete in college. But after graduation he found his way to ultra running, and quickly rose to the top of the field.

In 2015, he ran the 100-mile event at the Desert Solstice Track Invitational. His finishing time of 11:40:55 broke the standing American 100-mile record.

This video explores his path from the track to the trails, and how he stays fueled and focused.

Mountain Outpost, The Jackass of Ultrarunning

Three-quarters through the 2016 Quad Dipsea, a 28-mile rain-soaked mudfest on the famed Dipsea trail north of San Francisco, Jamil Coury, 32, of Phoenix, Arizona, and Schuyler Hall, 28, of Walnut Creek, California, hammer down the trail while holding two gilded, dog-sized faux reindeer adorned with bells and holiday ornaments. Coury also holds a camera on a selfie stick to film them.

Earlier in the race, which takes place two days after Thanksgiving, Coury and Hall had paused at key junctures to gulp pumpkin-spiced lattes, consume entire cans of pureed pumpkin and choke down pints of vegan mushroom gravy. They filmed their antics and the digestive discomforts that ensued while offering colorful commentary along the way.

“The climbing is brutal,” a wet, miserable Coury says. Switching the camera angle to film the back of the reindeer’s head while running down slick singletrack, he adds with forced cheer, “It’s Prancer’s first Dipsea!”

Days later, they transfer the footage to their colleague and ultrarunning friend Michael Carson, 30, of Tempe, Arizona, at the Phoenix headquarters of Aravaipa Running, the trail-racing company that Coury heads up. Carson, the company’s videographer, adds a Muzak soundtrack, inserts goofy graphics with pop-culture references and uploads the 11-minute video—dubbed “Quad Dipsea Holiday Challenge”—to their YouTube channel Mountain Outpost.

A comedy show about ultrarunning, Mountain Outpost has gained a cult following since its debut in May 2016. The show has hooked fans like ultrarunner Jimmy McCaffrey of Hamden, Connecticut. “Mountain Outpost is to trail running what Caddyshack is to golf,” he says. “It both celebrates and spoofs our culture, reminding us it’s really awesome but not to take ourselves too seriously.”

Their first video, “Mystery Drop Bag Challenge,” which has garnered more than 20,000 views, features Coury and Hall simulating a four-lap race on a mountainous trail in desert heat while using stuff from random drop bags that ultrarunners had left behind three months earlier at an Aravaipa event.

Related: Watch: Mystery Drop Bag Challenge

Before each lap, Coury and Hall open a bag, consume whatever edibles the bag contains and apply whatever clothing or medical aids they find inside. They become progressively overheated while running in layers of ill-fitting clothing, and sick to their stomachs while eating melted, sugary snacks and gulping warm, expired drinks.

The team also produces a weekly newscast, called Mountain Outhouse, which opens with Coury’s signature line: “I’m your host, Jam Jam, and this is the craziest shit to happen in running this week.” Wearing reflective sunglasses to conceal the fact he’s looking down to read a script, Coury anchors a news show as informative as it is satirical.

In one newscast, for example, Coury succinctly explained how lotteries for the Hardrock and Western States 100-milers work. In another, he poked fun at the “Ultrarunner of the Year” selection process by creating a farcical “Ultra Bromance of the Year” contest with nominees such as Jason Schlarb and Kilian Jornet, who finished the 2016 Hardrock 100 holding hands, tying for first place.

Some fans suggest that Coury and Hall could have been nominated for their bromance, too. “The rapport between Jamil and Schuyler is great,” says ultrarunner Lori Hall (not related to Schuyler) of Denver, Colorado. “I love that they are legitimate runners but can show us the lighter side of things.”

Coury started ultrarunning in 2005 and, in 2015, completed what he nicknamed the “The Slam of the Damned,” four of the hardest 100-mile races: HURT, Barkley (finishing four of the five loops to become the last man standing), Hardrock and Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc. In 2017, he’ll race Barkley and Hardrock again.

Hall, a speedy runner on roads, transitioned to trails in 2014 through Aravaipa’s Arizona-based events. His claim to fame is a world record of 1:48 in the “beer half-marathon,” drinking 13 beers over 13 miles, set in December 2015 at Aravaipa’s Across the Years ultra.

Recently, Hall moved from Arizona to the San Francisco Bay Area to take a job in public health, but he continues to produce Mountain Outpost episodes with Coury and Carson as much as their travel schedules allow.

Were you surprised that the first episode— “Mystery Drop Bag Challenge”—went viral?

Jamil: Yes and no. When we first watched it in the office, we couldn’t stop laughing; we were almost on the floor and all in tears.

That is a tough act to follow. Where did you take the show next?

Jamil: We kept making things, and sometimes we would pour so much time and energy and money into an episode, but it would get hardly any views. We know that if you keep doing it, you’ll have some successes, even surprise ones. “Chasing Walmsley” was our biggest surprise.

Describe “Chasing Walmsley,” your second-most-popular video.
Jamil: Schuyler and I dressed up as [champion ultrarunner] Jim Walmsley and tried to mimic his outfit from Western States, with holes in our shirts.  We went after two of his Strava records in the Phoenix area. We didn’t get the first one, but we both beat the second one.

Struggling to eat large amounts of food while running is a recurring theme in Mountain Outpost challenges. What was one of the most difficult things to choke down?
Schuyler: The most difficult challenge for me, bar none, was Chipotle [which involved running to several Chipotle restaurants in 103-degree heat and consuming a burrito at each]. I love Chipotle, but that day, in those temperatures, and with my minor brush with heat stroke, was the hardest.

While filming, have you ever had to take a time-out and say, “This isn’t funny anymore; I could seriously hurt myself”?
Jamil: Yes. “The Chili Pepper Gu Challenge.” We had a four-lap race and ate chili peppers mixed with unflavored Gu before each lap—a 300-foot climb up a mountain and back down, on a super-hot day. We ended with the Carolina Reaper, the world’s hottest pepper.

I was hunched over, and Michael had to come find me. I thought something serious was going to happen because of the pain in my chest and body.

How would you describe the Mountain Outpost mission?
Michael: In this sport, there’s so much seriousness, so just to see some fun is awesome. We make things that we’d want to see, and it’s great that people enjoy it.

Jamil: For me, this is an outlet to kind of be crazy, where I can literally do whatever.

Actually, that’s not entirely true; we have two videos we had to take off the Internet because we broke some laws.

What were those videos about?
Jamil: One was “The Beer 10K,” where each of us carried a six-pack. We did it in a mountain park, where you needed a permit to drink alcohol. We didn’t have one, and got busted.

Then there was one called “Aid Station of the Future,” where we used a drone and flew snacks and booze to Schuyler out on a trail in a mountain park. We weren’t busted, but pre-emptively took it down.

How did the weekly Mountain Outhouse newscast spin off from Mountain Outpost?

Jamil: After Schuyler moved, we wanted to continue the consistency on the channel. The very first [Mountain Outhouse newscast] was a complete shit show. I decided to do a beer-mile newscast, where I would drink four beers and tell four news stories.

I was poking fun at Sage Canaday because on his old YouTube channel, he did this fake “nip tips” infomercial, featuring nipple guards made out of tin foil. So I ended the newscast wearing just foil. It’s total sophomoric humor to the maximum. The show has evolved since then, and now every episode is scripted.

Going forward, what is ripe for skewering or shining a light on in our sport?
Jamil: Anything where someone is taking themselves or the sport too seriously, or anytime there’s a controversy.

Viewers want to know: what’s your relationship status?
Schuyler: I am uncomfortably single, mainly because I have to explain Mountain Outpost early in the dating process, because I’m going to get googled, and Mountain Outpost is gonna come up.

Jamil: I’m single as well. A little-known fact is I have a child, but I’m no longer with his mother. He’s almost 11 months old. It’s been a hard process, and I’m still working through it.

Michael: I’m the married one of the bunch.

Are you guys making a profit?
Jamil: Currently we’re not. We do turn monetization on our videos, but I don’t know if we’ve made more than $10 a month. We’ll probably spend, easily, $100 an episode on props and things. For now, we love doing this, and we’re fortunate that Aravaipa is keeping the lights on and paying some of the bills.

If Mountain Outpost isn’t generating income, then what makes producing it worthwhile?
Jamil: Making people happy, and making them laugh—that’s really rewarding.

Sarah Lavender Smith is a contributing editor for Trail Runner.

Should You Run Twice A Day?

Look at 100 different training logs from elite road and track racers, and one unifying factor will stick out: most of them are running twice a day, usually two to five times per week. Most recently, 2:03 marathoner Eliud Kipchoge’s training log for the Berlin Marathon became public, showing mind-blowing workouts and long runs. But buried in there was a seemingly simple addition—he would run 35 to 50 minutes slowly (for him) most afternoons after longer morning runs.

It’s not only other-worldly marathoners who are adopting the double-run concept. In road and track racing, it’s more exceptional when an athlete doesn’t do double-run days (like 1500-meter World Champ Bernard Lagat) than when they do. Haile Gebrsellassie, former world-record holder in the marathon, is famous for saying that he ran two times a day every day except for Sundays and Christmas. A few training groups are even known for running three times a day during heavy training.

Why has practice coalesced around running doubles? The answer is unsatisfying: it’s likely a lot of different factors that depend on the individual, and there is no definitive scientific evidence indicating that doubles are the best approach to training for performance.

Doubles are far less common in trail running, even among professionals. Could there be an untapped training secret lurking in the training logs of road and track runners?

Probably not. But doubles could be a helpful addition to your training toolkit, even if you aren’t running a ton of miles.

 

First, let’s look at the potential benefits of double runs.

1. The increased running volume leads to improvements in aerobic development, while reducing injury risk and improving recovery.

Generally speaking, run more while staying healthy and you will get faster. By spreading out training volume, doubles allow runners to run more without getting injured. A 10-mile run probably involves more muscle- and tendon-fatigue than two five-mile runs. A runner who does a 5/5 double might recover better and stay healthier than if he/she ran 10 miles all at once.

 

2. Enhanced recovery and adaptation from the hormonal stimulus of the second run.

Many elite sports, like soccer and swimming, involve two practice sessions a day. One reason cited is that growth-hormone production increases with short bouts of endurance exercise, which could speed recovery and cause quicker adaptations to training stimuli (for example, see this study tracking growth hormone response from different exercise bouts).

 

3. Double runs may aid in glycogen replenishment and improve aerobic efficiency.

As posited by top coach Steve Magness, it’s simpler to replenish energy stores after a shorter run than after a long one. After a seven-mile run, you might just need a big bowl of cereal. After a 14 miler, you might need a whole box. If your goal is recovery, two short runs might be better than one longer run.

Meanwhile, on workout days, doing the second run in a glycogen-depleted state could lead to quicker adaptations. One study found that training twice a day in a glycogen-depleted state can enhance gene transcription related to training adaptations (however, that same study also found it compromised high-intensity training capacity).

Another study showed increased time to exhaustion in resistance training from training two times per day with glycogen depletion (however, that study was focused on knee-extensor exercises).

 

4. Double runs may be more convenient for time-limited people.

While doubles might be most associated with professional training groups, my favorite example of doubling is from amateur U.S. runners in the 1970s and 1980s. In those decades, most recreational road marathoners were teachers, doctors and others running before work and after work. Even “pros” were working back then, and doubling made it easier to get the volume in. Nowadays, even most of us running lower volumes can fit in a 5K at lunch in addition to a morning run. However, for some people, running twice in a day could make it feel more like an obligation, rather than a joy.

 

 

Now it’s time for the million-dollar question: should you double?

As you might imagine, the answer is maybe, in moderation, depending on your lifestyle and goals. Here are five considerations:

 

1. If you are volume limited, prioritize single long runs over shorter double runs.

Up to a certain point, sustained aerobic stimulus is likely better than multiple shorter runs. For most trail runners, a 10-mile run is better than two five-mile runs because of increased aerobic and musculoskeletal stress that spurs adaptations. So when designing your weekly training schedule, the first priority should be sustained aerobic stimulus.

 

2. When first starting to use double runs, add them once a week on a workout day. Then add similar doubles on easy days.

Start by adding a short, easy double after a workout, when the hormonal stimulus may be most beneficial to enhance adaptations. Plus, it may speed up the recovery process by flushing waste products. If that works for you, consider adding short doubles on other days, while ensuring that easy days still achieve their recovery goal (run commuting is a great option for some).

 

3. Don’t do two moderate or hard runs in one day unless you are working with a coach.

Some training programs incorporate two hard workouts in a single day, usually sparingly. Most famous of these hell days are the Canova Special and Specific Blocks, pioneered by coach Renato Canova, consisting of something like one-kilometer repeats in the morning followed by a tempo run in the afternoon in a glycogen-depleted state. However, these types of days are extremely risky for health, and likely aren’t needed unless you are looking for that extra 0.1-percent fitness boost. You can consider adding short strides to a double run if you’re feeling ambitious.

 

4. Never double on a long-run day.

Because the goals of long runs are specific adaptations for resilience and aerobic development that come from sustained work, doubling on a long-run day doesn’t help the primary training goal (and could detract from it by causing injury). 

 

5. All doubles are optional—never do them if you are worried about injury or struggling with motivation.

Since doubles are not a magic elixir required for fitness, it’s essential to only do them when they fit within your life. For my athletes, I make every double optional.

In fact, most pro trail runners don’t do them (possibly because the races are usually longer and hillier, necessitating a focus on sustained aerobic and musculoskeletal stress). But adding a short double here and there could compound some of your training investments by adding aerobic stimulus, improving aerobic efficiency and producing bonus hormones.

Just remember: it’s all a moot point if you’re injured or stressed, so make sure doubles fit in the context of your life. The goal is to love running, and, if doubles don’t help that goal, then they are counter productive.

 

David Roche runs for HOKA One One and NATHAN, and works with runners of all abilities through his coaching service, Some Work, All Play.

Training in Minutes vs. Miles

This article originally appeared in the July 2017 issue of Trail Runner magazine.

Should you quantify your training in minutes or miles?
– Robyn Reed, Minneapolis, MN

If you get a group of running coaches in a room and ask them this question, a sequel to Fight Club will break out almost instantly.

In one corner, a coach played by shirtless Brad Pitt will advocate for time-based training. Coach Shirtless Pitt will say that that running by distance presents perverse incentives to run faster to finish the daily total, which can contribute to injury and burnout. Time-based running makes a runner less aware of pace feedback, avoiding the unnecessary stress of self-judgment from a GPS watch.

In the other corner, Coach Shirtless Edward Norton would say that races are almost always defined by distance, so training by time is not specific enough. When training for a trail marathon, for example, doing a three-hour long run can be a great peak long run if it’s 20 miles. But if it’s only 13 miles, it’s probably not enough.

Related: How Much Mileage Should You Run?

In the end, there is no wrong way to quantify training. My athletes do most long runs and weekend runs by distance, to gain distance-specific stress adaptations. During the week, we usually train by time, since many athletes are time-limited. And all intervals are in time, so that athletes aren’t racing a GPS watch.

If you don’t have a coach, the key is to know thyself. Do you stress about your pace? Then run by time. Do you love crunching numbers? Train by distance. Are you a runner of many different—possibly even split—personalities? Then mix it up based on your time constraints and training goals.

Have questions for Coach Roche? Send them to [email protected]

WATCH: Why I Run

Running is universal. It’s our instinct to run – some would even say we were born to run. While it can be the road to salvation for some and the scourge of existence for others, running changes lives and everyone can do it – there’s no right or wrong way. This simple activity with primitive roots has the highest participation of any sport in the world, and it continues to grow at a rapid pace. From local 5Ks to marathons, obstacle races and ultramarathons through the mountains, running events are on the rise globally.

So what motivates us to wake up at 5 a.m., lace up our shoes and pound the pavement? Why do we disappear into the mountains for 50 miles at a time? Do we thrive on the physical pain, or are we relying on the therapy it provides? To those who live to run and run to live, it means all of these things and more. We all start running for different reasons, but we keep running for the same reason. It gives us a feeling that nothing else can – especially when we add music to the experience.

Jaybird supports athletes from all walks of life in chasing their running dreams around the world. Jaybird also want to hear your stories. Share your motivation for running in a short story and hashtag #whyirunjaybird on Instagram for a chance to win weekly prizes including earbuds and a chance to be featured on our social channels.

Over the next six weeks, Trail Runner will be sharing this series of videos, featuring six runners from six different backgrounds. Stay tuned.

WATCH: Scenes from the 2017 Hardrock 100

The Hardrock 100 is one of the toughest 100 milers in the country. The course features 33,050 feet of vertical gain, at an average elevation of over 11,000 feet, through the rugged San Juan mountains of western Colorado.

The 2017 event saw no shortage of drama: race leader Kilian Jornet fell and dislocated his shoulder early on, while women’s leader Caroline Chaverot got off-course near mile 70 (she still won, despite losing nearly an hour trying to get back on course). Racers also had to contend with rain and hail up high.

This video, by Billy Yang, captures scenes of the race leaders as they battle through fatigue, cold and injury.

Remembering Burro Racer Curtis Imrie

This article originally appeared in the July 2017 issue of Trail Runner magazine.

Red zephyrs of dust whirred from the feet of nervous racers as they anticipated the start of the Collegiate Peaks 25-Mile Trail Run. It was a May morning in the early 2000s, in Buena Vista, Colorado.

A truck pulled up towing a trailer painted with the slogan, “Donkeys, Drama and Democracy.” A rugged man stepped down from the cab. A high-mountain combination of Warren Beatty and Jeff Bridges, he wore a loose, white button-up shirt, American-flag shorts and running shoes. He led a donkey to the registration table and purchased two entries: one for him and one for the donkey. Says his friend and fellow burrow racer, Richard Emond, “There were some races Curtis wasn’t invited back to.”

Perhaps better known as the “dean of pack-burro racing,” Walter Curtis Imrie Jr, of Buena Vista, Colorado, had bred and raced burros since 1974, when he was 28 years old. He had also competed in every single Colorado burro race since then. Imrie passed away in January 2017 at the age of 70.

“Curtis was a one-of-a-kind mountain man,” says writer and runner Brian Metzler. “He had an enormous sense of wonder and a heart of gold.”

Related: Pack-Burro Racing Kicks Ass

Drama

Imrie grew up, the eldest of three brothers, in Georgia. Raised by parents who valued “the well-rounded individual,” the brothers were exposed to literature, religion, public service and the outdoors. Summers spent at a vacation home in Colorado seeded what would become a life-long interest in the West.

Too small for the football team, Imrie took to wrestling, tennis and cross country in high school. Long runs in the Georgia forests soothed his free spirit, remembers his brother Gordon Imrie.

He went on to Northwestern University, where he excelled at his high-school sports and developed a taste for film, theater and literature. By the time he graduated in 1968, he had soaked up the language of Edward Abbey and Jack Kerouac, acted in several theater productions and begun making his own films.

After graduation, he evaded the Vietnam draft, bought a motorcycle, joined a commune in San Francisco and pursued his dreams of being an actor and producer. He “landed the USS Enterprise in Star Trek, juggled cans of soda from a barn-loft window in a Coca-Cola commercial and fished a rushing river in a Pontiac advertisement,” writes Hal Walter, a friend, fellow pack-burro racer and writer. “He modeled clothes on the cover of The North Face catalog […] and performed in the theater in Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York.”

Donkeys

When Imrie’s brother John tragically drowned near the family cabin in 1969, Imrie took over ownership and moved to Buena Vista, Colorado.

It was there, while out for a jog, that he first learned about burro racing. A rancher, Oscar Chapa, pulled up alongside him, rolled down his window and announced, “Boy, you got the legs; I got the ass!”

A few months later, Imrie toed the line of the 1974 Fairplay Pack-Burro Race, tied to one of Chapa’s asses. Right

away he knew the sport suited him: it was a strenuous activity steeped in western culture, and every event was a theatrical comedy of errors.

Pack-burro racing harkens back to 19th-century silver-mining days, and has been a niche of High Rockies culture for decades. The premise is simple: runner and burro are tethered and must run the entirety of the race and cross the finish line together. It’s an idiosyncratic sport with a tough, arguably crazy community.

“Packburroracingitis,” says burro racer David TenEyck, “is a non-curable disease. You learn to live with it and change your lifestyle to accommodate life with burros.”

Soon, Imrie learned he was something of a burro whisperer. “[I] understood their temperaments,” he says in the documentary Chasing Tail. He bred and raised his own burros with enormous success—his particular breed is now a national-class herd.

Imrie became a local legend almost immediately. He could be found wearing his straw hat, burro in hand, nearly anywhere—whether at a traffic light or a 13,000-foot mountain pass.

“He’d find a way, donkey racing, to get ’er done,” says Emond, President of the Western Pack Burro Association (WPBA). “He pissed a lot of people off because they could beat him in a foot race but never in a donkey race.”

But winning wasn’t his priority. He wanted nothing more than to bring spirit to the community. “If you were chatting with Curtis, you’d have 15 feet of lead rope in your hand before you knew it, about to take off on a 29-mile adventure with a burro in sync,” says TenEyck.

Democracy

Imrie was unapologetically himself in every venture of his life, including politics. Amongst a sea of conservative ranchers, he championed the environment, women’s rights and animal rights. The donkey was more than just a racing partner for Imrie; it was symbolic as well. “A donkey, as misunderstood as a democrat,” he said, “is a pretty special animal with its patience and its long suffering.”

He valued argumentation and the democratic process, and tended to “get into it” with friends. TenEyck recalls not seeing Imrie for a “long while” after an argument, and Emond remembers going an entire year without talking. Yet, says TenEyck, “He would always figure out a way to come and say he was sorry.”

Imrie ran for public office six times, often writing himself in as a candidate. Twice he ran for the state house of representatives against Leadville 100 race founder Ken Chlouber. He never won.

As with burro racing, though, it wasn’t the winning he was after. As he says in Chasing Tail, “The winning stuff you forget in about 10 minutes. The real lessons are in trying to get there.”

“Whether we were competing on foot or politically,” says Chlouber, “we always had a lot of respect.” When, in 2010, Chlouber’s donkey of 27 years passed away, Imrie showed up at his doorstep with one of his own burros as a gift.

The Legend

Despite his magnanimous public persona, Imrie was deeply philosophical by nature and held his cards close. He continued his studies of the beat poets and even hosted a weekly radio show called “Poetry and Stories.” Emond admits, “I still don’t know what Curtis did for work, and I’ve known him since 1996.”

Neither Imrie’s time nor his legacy was governed by a single thing: according to his friends, he was a lover of literature, an enduring athlete, a loyal friend, a shepherd, a politician, a showman, an activist, a poet and a true lover of life. His creative efforts and tireless commitment to the people and spirit of burro racing were what defined him.

On the way back from the New Mexico Bataan Death March Marathon in 2012, Imrie was chatting with his friend Brad Wann, media-relations coordinator of the WPBA. Wann remembers Imrie leaning over and saying, “It doesn’t matter how you’re born, or how you die; it’s the stuff you do in between that matters.”