What I Learned Trying to Set an FKT

I spent six hours running alone yesterday, trying to set an FKT on the East Bay Skyline National Trail. I did it for several reasons, the biggest was to just get that trail on the map; of all the long trails in the area, it’s by far my favorite- it varies from wide fire road to paved sections, to single-track, to shaded rooty and rocky segments around redwoods, past eucalyptus groves, traversing canyons, through meadows, along ridge tops and down into valleys. This first reason falls into the category of “the greater good”.

The second was to have my name sit at the top of the leader board for a few days, weeks or months; maybe brag a little, also have my name connected with said trail. When I think of the Grand Canyon’s Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim (R2R2R) trail’s fastest known times and how that has been lowered, I would explain the lineage like this: Kyle Skaggs‘ 7:37 in 2006, then Dave Mackey‘s 6:59:56 in ’07, then Dakota Jones‘ 6:53:38 in ’11 breaking that, then finally this past May Rob Krar with a 6:21:47. I mean, c’mon- how many people can say “yeah I set an FKT on a trail”? I can claim that for a little while, hell- I might try to break my own record on fresh legs sometime in the near future. So for that reason, the latter falls into the “ego stroking” category.

So how does one reconcile two opposing perspectives? The outside-in aspect of “the greater good” with the selfish, inside-out angle of “ego stroking”?

Somewhere during the run I had to change my mind; I had to first alter my goal of running around 5:15. To run at or near “race pace” when not in a race is really, really hard to do. Gone is my sense of being hunted (or being the “hunter”); these are the two modes I switch into during the second half of a race- if I feel good, I’m out hunting for carnage (those runners just trying to maintain some sort of shuffle to the finish; basically falling apart in the last few miles) or if I’m in their shoes I’m constantly looking over my shoulder, trying to well, “maintain a shuffle to the finish and basically falling apart” to quote myself there. I just didn’t have either yesterday. And that is certainly an ego-deflating endeavor, the idea of slogging to the finish.

There were definitely some points during the run when I was saying to myself “this just isn’t fun right now” or “25 miles is more than enough for a good training run, let’s just call for a ride home now” or “that rock looks just like a pillow, I could lay down and take a quick nap” or “why am I doing this?” At mile 22 I was in a fair amount of pain and even music couldn’t pull me up out of it, music always works. Where was all that gusto I had the first 8 miles? I had a solid nutrition plan, I was taking in calories, was drinking the requisite 20 ounces of water per hour; the weather was perfect, what was going on? Was it the 1,880 miles already logged this year? No, my legs are well-trained for the 50k distance. Oh, right- the other thing. My mind.

It can be said that endurance sports and what goes into training for them is largely mental, meaning that you have to also train the mind. My logic goes like this: anyone can run a marathon, that’s all fitness. But a 50-miler? Fitness will get you the first 25 miles, the next 25 are all mental. So what mental states are we talking about then? Well, there’s the idea of being comfortable with being uncomfortable, sometimes for many hours. Disassociating from pain while associating with your body. Keeping a Zen-like focus on your breathing, arm swing, stride rate and gait, landing on the mid-foot, etc.

It got me thinking: my mind is trained to race. Is my mind trained to train?

For me, eliminating competition has a neutral effect on my running. I’m just too competitive to race against myself or my expectations without the framework of a race or a solid, set goal. I’ve raced against my own times and “won” on shorter Strava segments and had plans during races with preconceived split times that I could hit; all the things that would tell me that my mind is trained. But maybe not when the grand scheme involves me being the first to do something. Hence, running near 11:20 per mile yesterday instead of the ~10 per goal I had set in my mind.

I feel as though now the bar has been set (albeit super low) I can run against that time of 6:00:09, and in a community sense that’s a pretty easy time to beat. I want that time to be beat; I’d love for someone to go out next weekend and take an hour or two off that time. Here’s my actual post on the FKT Proboards site:

I set the initial self-supported FKT on the East Bay Skyline National Trail today with a time of 6 hours, 00 minutes and 9.52 seconds.

Garmin stats: connect.garmin.com/activity/405047984#

Strava stats: www.strava.com/activities/95484818

I had a really rough go of it; seeing as I didn’t really taper I was woefully under-prepared. I more-or-less treated this as a long training run in lieu of running a 50k today in preparation for The North Face Endurance Challenge 50-miler in Marin on Dec. 7th, and having done a 24-miler and a 12-miler back-to-back last weekend I just didn’t have the legs to really push the pace.

That being said, have at it! I’m probably going to attempt this again in January (hopefully after a rain fall; I would bring my Sawyer filtration device and go at it unsupported). I’m also thinking of eventually doing a south-to-north run on this trail and a yo-yo (63-ish miles).

I love this trail and hope to see the record lowered to around 4 hours; there’s a lot of really great long trail runners in the Bay Area that could demolish my time.

I set the bar nice and low.

The unselfish part of me is thinking: yeah, good job Jimmy- you posted your unimpressive FKT and are inviting people to go break it, contributing to the trail running community and therefore “the greater good”.

Then there’s the selfish version of me thinking: damn, I’ve got to get back out there and break it myself, for a little more “ego stroking”.

Either way, I learned a lot yesterday about how I think about things out there on the trail. The desire to finish became the most important thing in my mind- finishing something you start can be the most rewarding thing in and of itself, no matter how long it takes.

It’s been said that the last person to finish a race had so much more to overcome than the winner, and I can get behind that. If everything yesterday went totally according to plan, I wouldn’t have learned all these things about myself and wouldn’t have the opportunity to make improvements to be a better runner and ultimately a better human.

Then the whole thing would have been a terrible waste of time.

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One Response to What I Learned Trying to Set an FKT

  1. Allen says:

    Jimmy – thanks for the inspiration. I tried to beat your time last winter and didn’t finish. Then I did it with a 15 lb pack as training for a fastpacking trip and finished in about 7:30. I went for it again yesterday and took 10 minutes off your time. Check the FKT page for details…
    Allen

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