Tuesday, February 4, 2014

How To Set A Fastest Known Time

WTFKT? How To Establish A Fastest Known Time Or Only Known Time
Protocols For Providing Proof Of Your Performance

photo by Chihping Fu
by Ras

     It's no surprise that there are a wide variety of opinions regarding FKT's. I've seen fastest known times referred to as a "rage" and a "phenomenon". I've heard the people who attempt fastest known times characterized as, "introverts, fakes, or slow folks who wish they were fast." But regardless of people's opinions or misconceptions, FKT's and OKT's are the backbone of endurance running, not a departure from or derivative thereof.

     Some people contend that keeping track of fastest known times was an outgrowth of wilderness designations and national parks rules that forbade formal races, but this assumption is historically myopic. Consider the marathon, perhaps the most lauded and widely pursued distance in endurance running, and the father of the marathon: Pheidippides. Every marathon, in name at the very least, is a tribute to his epic and mythic run from Marathon to Athens to bring word of Persia's defeat. 

     Pheidippides was a professional runner before the days of shoe sponsorships and energy drink endorsements. He ran as a means of transmitting information. He ran to fulfill a need for his community and civilization. His only competitors were the sun dial, the elements, and his own abilities. Pheidippides wasn't running organized races for a living, he was running fastest known times. So it's reasonable to say that the marathon, that most revered, formalized and structured of races, is little more than an aided mass reenactment of a historical FKT.

     Imagine our ancient hominid ancestors with a method of locomotion unique in the animal kingdom, and the rudimentary beginnings of language. There was no spontaneous genesis of the concept of a race, just out of curiosity, to see who was the fastest for no reason other than to do it. The first race was run when there was a disagreement to be settled. One proto human claimed to be able to run from the forest verge across the savanna to the big watering hole and back before the sun was halfway across the sky. Another proto human claimed he could do the same before the sun was two fifths of the way. An FKT was claimed, BS was called, and the footrace was born.

     Compared to the stress and structure of an organized race, the nature of an FKT attempt is somewhat laid back. However, there are some widely accepted protocols for backing up your claims. Adhering to as many as possible of these, if not all of them, is the best way to insure that your feat is recognized and widely accepted as being valid. Below are the official UltraPedestrian.com recommendations for establishing the veracity of your claim. But, as Peter Bakwin states on his site, "These three rules do not 'prove' you have done anything. They just make it easier for a good person to believe you."

Announce your intent – Take the risk of failing publicly. Put something on the table and see how it plays out. Ante up. Post the specifics of what you are attempting in a public forum such as the Fastest Known Time page for the trail you are running, or an active Facebook group. Be sure to include the specific route you plan to take, as well as your intended methodology/style. There are generally considered to be three techniques for attempting an FKT/OKT: supported, self-supported, and unsupported.

Supported means that you do not carry everything you need from the start, but have one or more people who help to meet your needs and facilitate the successful completion of your trip. This includes meeting you with supplies and pacing or accompanying you for less than the entire distance. Being the fastest, lightest and, in many ways safest approach, this is sometimes referred to as "ultrarunner style".

A Self-supported effort is one wherein you do not carry everything you need from the beginning, but you do not have preplanned outside help along the way. Instead you place caches ahead of time, mail supplies to predetermined pick up points, forage and buy things along the way, and receive unplanned kindnesses from others on the trail. On long trails this is called "thruhiker style," and even this has its degrees of purity. 

Unsupported, sometimes also called "alpine style", "fair means", or "good style", involves carrying everything you will need, including all gear and food, from the beginning to the end of your trip. Only water is obtained en route. Acquiring or disposing of any supplies along the way violates the purist form of the unsupported ethic.

Track your journey - Use a SPOT transponder, or another brand of GPS transponder, to provide a live feed of your progress. Record a GPS track and post it online for others to verify and benefit from. Gather eyewitness testimony by asking people you meet on the trail to bear witness as to where and when they saw you on the trail. Correlate key landmarks you reach to weather and time of day. Essentially you want to be able to offer numerous data points, as random as they may be, that add up to a portrayal of your trip which is difficult to refute. 

Document it. Write a detailed trip report honestly portraying what you intended to do and what you actually did. Peter Bakwin says “Be clear about what you did - that's more important than the label.”

     My learning curve regarding methodology is clearly shown on the Wonderland Trail FKT page. (Perpetuity isn't always flattering.) I carried all my supplies for one loop, then resupplied and completed the second loop, which would qualify as self-supported. Although I ran alone through two of the nights, I did have friends running with me for almost half the total mileage, which would make it supported. 

     Interestingly enough, after that, during a Facebook conversation with Sean Meissner, he messaged me, "For the record, not only do I consider your historic and epic Wonderland double to be unsupported, but I also think it would be *almost* suicidal to try that double without the help of some pacers, purely for a safety reason for you." This shows the importance of relating your trip in honest detail. Even if you violate strict interpretations of your chosen methodology, the true spirit of your effort will be better defined the more specifics you give. 

     This will also give you the opportunity to answer questions and respond to challenges via the comments section of your blog or website, Facebook groups and pages, and other interactive forums. And there may very well be questions and challenges. There's no need to be defensive. Simply be prepared to openly discuss the specifics of what you did. Establishing the facts is up to you. How other people feel about it is not your responsibility.

     When all is said and done, proving it is close to impossible. A SPOT transponder moving over the trail only proves the device was there, not you per se. Eyewitnessrs can falsify their testimony. Trip reports can be finessed. When all is said and done, it comes down to your word, and the value it holds in your running community and the larger scene. Reputation is key.  

     The potential is almost limitless for new routes and unique achievements in FKTs and OKTs. New paradigms abound - urban thru-hikes & stair routes, peakbagging routes, roadtrips stringing together multiple routes including drive times (interesting logistical challenge there), doubles, triples, quadruples and more of existing trails and courses – things are wide open. New sports and specializations are waiting to be born. (In fact, I am acting as Doula for the fledgling sport of Extreme Picnicking/Ultra Picnicking - more on that in a later post.)

Modern technology has given us the ability to announce our ambitions globally. Affordable gadgets and services now allow us to be observed as we traipse through the wilds. And twenty-first century communications have made it possible for someone half a world away to say, "Oh, yeah? I can do that even BETTER!"

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