On August 15, 2017, Allison Macsas and Mallory Brooks ran the 93-mile wonderland trail unsupported in 29 hours 12 minutes, marking a new team unsupported FKT. Their time was almost two hours faster than Candice Burt, who set the solo female Fastest Known Time (FKT) in 2012.
The Wonderland Trail circumnavigates 14,411-foot Mount Rainier, and features 22,000 feet of vertical gain through glacially carved valleys with cascading waterfalls and spectacular wild flowers.
Macsas, 32, and Brooks, 33, both of Austin, Texas, are members of Team Rogue—an advanced road-marathon training group, and though they’ve dabbled in trail running for a few years now, many have probably never heard their names.
Road to trail
Macsas first came to trail running in 2012, when she ran the Leadville Silver Rush 50 as a college reunion. She had never run at altitude before, and it was her first time ever trail running. She was happy simply to finish. A year later, in 2013, she ran the Leadville 100 and placed 66th.
That same year Macsas and her fiancé Gabe Steger started Rogue Expeditions, a tour company that offers running trips all over the world. But, says Macsas, “I really don’t feel like I am into ultrarunning.” She has been running as a semi-pro road runner for six years, and hasn’t competed in another trail race since the 2013 Leadville 100 (instead she’s been focusing on setting a new marathon PR, which she did at the 2017 Vancouver Marathon, in 2:39:41).
Brooks, on the other hand, comes to trail running from a climbing background. She attended the University of Colorado and was primarily a rock climber, until a friend convinced her to enter the 2006 Pikes Peak Ascent. Her only previous running/hiking experience had been as a means to reaching remote climbs. But after Pikes Peak, she was hooked.
Since 2006 she has run the Palo Duro Canyon, 60 miles of the Canadian Death Race, the Grand Canyon Rim to Rim to Rim and the John Muir Trail. She has also run around a dozen races in the 50-60K distance and a few 50-plus mile races.
She runs primarily on the trails and is Rogue’s head trail-running coach. Along with her husband, Brooks founded Spectrum Trail Racing, hosting rugged races across their home state of Texas.
Brooks and Macsas met through the Austin road-running scene in 2014, and first adventured together a year later when they completed the Grand Canyon Rim-To-Rim-To-Rim Trail.
“I mentioned it to Allison, and she seemed excited and ready to commit,” says Brooks. “I love people that say ‘yes’ first and think through the details later.”
Brooks first dreamt of the Wonderland Trail when she and her husband Jason climbed Mount Rainier—they lived in Washington for a little over a year. “Our move back to Texas made me yearn to experience that beautiful peak again,” says Brooks “This time dancing around her, not charging towards the top.”
The area is particularly special for Brooks, who first visited Mount Rainier National Park when she was 16 with her father and climbing mentor, Marty Schmidt. “He taught me to respect the mountains and to crave spending time doing something that scares me,” she says. “We lost Marty to an avalanche on K2 a couple years ago. I can’t help to think that he would be dancing and hollering at the news of our adventure.
A story of success
On the morning of August 14th, an eerie cloak of mist enveloped Mount Rainier and a chill was in the air. The pair started their watches at six in the morning.
“Our goal time was 28-30 hours,” says Brooks. “We didn’t want to just barely break the record. We wanted to set a new bar.”
The previous summer they had scouted 56 miles of the route (clockwise), so they were familiar with the terrain and obstacles that lay before them. On the morning of this year’s run, they set off counter clockwise, in order to cover the unfamiliar ground with fresh legs and alert minds.
After a brief hiccup, getting lost in the first mile, they ran smoothly over the technical terrain, hopping over huge rocks and roots.
By midday the mist had lifted from Mount Rainier, which was “framed by a seemingly endless field of wild flowers,” says Brooks. “Although we were focused on moving fast, we never turned down the opportunity to stop, look up and take it all in.”
At around mile 25 they reached a snowfield. “There was only one sketchy crossing where [the snow bridge] had melted out underneath,” says Macsas. “We had to be very careful crossing because it looked like the whole bridge could collapse at any minute.”
As night began to set in, the duo dodged field mice that scurried across the trail. Brooks’ body was telling her it was time for bed. “I couldn’t imagine getting through the night,” she says. But after a few chocolate espresso beans she started to perk up, just in time for the infamous South Mowich River crossing.
At midnight they arrived at the frigid, fast flowing, river, which was 40 feet across. They had heard that the bridge had washed out a few weeks prior, and were anxious to tackle the raging water.
“As it turned out there were a bunch of trees down across the river that we were able to get across on,” says Macsas. “If we had fallen we probably would have died.”
The rest of the night the pair managed to stay on schedule. But as the sun rose for the second day on the trail, their aching, wet feet slowed them down to 25-30 minute miles.
For the last few miles “every little rock and root was like a knife in my foot,” says Macsas. “I was cursing everything I stepped on.”
Finally, at 11 a.m. on the morning of the 15th they stumbled back to the Longmire Trailhead. There to greet them were friends and family, including a friend of Macsas’ from a trip in Morocco who dressed up as a Sasquatch. “That really messed with our brains at that point!” says Mascas.
After snapping a picture of their watches, the two women beelined for the curb to tear their shoes from their throbbing feet.
What’s next? “A glass of wine and a week in Seattle with the family,” says Brooks. “I have a few FKT ideas to propose to my sweet friend, Nicole Kalogeropoulos. She doesn’t know what she is about to get roped into. My method: find a badass compadre, convince them to say yes, craft a plan and make it happen.”
As for racing, Brooks says she has little interest in entering big-name events. “I’m a competitive person but mostly with myself,” she says. “I prefer to set a goal time and chase that down, rather than my fellow badass ladies on the trail.”
Meanwhile, Macsas is headed to the trails of Morocco, Slovenia, Croatia, Ireland and South Africa to guide trips for the next two and a half months. She is also taking to the road again to get her marathon qualifier for the 2020 olympic marathon trials.
“Wonderland has definitely upped my confidence a bit and has me thinking about approaching the trails in a competitive way,” she says. “I’m certainly open to ultra races, though I really loved the self-supported aspect of the FKT—it just felt like a big, fun project.”