The Trail Running Film Festival - Online Watch Party Get your tickets.

The Trail Running Film Festival - Online Watch Party Get your tickets.

I’ve been thinking a bit about ‘Fastest Known Time’ and its current predicament.

When I first stumbled upon the website Fastestknowntime.com and terminology FKT I was blown away by the achievements yes, but without the context of actually knowing what an average time on any give route is it was hard to quantify. So, rather than using the FKT website as a leaderboard, for me it became a travel guide. A place to learn about epic routes all over the world.
Then FKTs became popular and COVID blew the doors off of the idea of finding an iconic route, running it fast, and claiming the title. More routes were submitted and top athletes with no races to compete in, ran FKT projects and set new standards that just might keep some of the more popular routes out of reach for a long time.

On the business end, the website never turned into a profitable venture and the owners sold it to Outside Media Empire for an apple and an egg – as the German saying goes. Outside in turn acquired the property during a time when cash was plentiful and the idea of creating a giant outdoor media powerhouse seemed the thing to do. Beyond acquiring the site Outside didn’t really have any ideas for the property and so here we are in 2024 and now what?

Take the Wonderland Trail in Washington State for example

One of the most iconic ~100M routes in the world and one that was instrumental for putting the idea of FKTs on the map. In 2020 – during COVID – many of the top athletes tried themselves on that route and put up incredible new times. Since September of 2020 only one new time has been added to the ever expanding variation of the route “the mixed-gender-team” category. But overall the 2020 times still stand and looking at the athletes who put those up will most likely stand for a while. The route is still just as incredible, but no one is going to touch that leaderboard.
The leaderboard for the iconic R2R2R look similar, and there too we’ve seen now a myriad of permutations of the route just to give folks a way of standing out and getting themselves on the leaderboard. 4xR2R2R anyone?
All this reduces participation, the exact opposite of what the intend of the project was to begin with.

FKT QUO VADIS – where to go from here?

I’ve had several conversations with folks and probably have heard as many ideas about where to take it as people I talked to. It’s not an easy problem to solve. The FKT website and community has reached a scale that is requiring substantial cash to keep operating and growing. And after all these years, it never found a path to profitability outside of slapping display ads on the website. ‘R2R2R presented by HOKA’ anyone?

  • Should only to fastest time be displayed?
  • Should there be a leaderboard of really fast times as well?
  • Should there be ratings for routes?
  • Should every route someone creates be approved?
  • What makes a great route?

If top athletes aren’t doing FKTs anymore how can website serve its community of amateur enthusiasts?

Every expansion of the current model requires a serious cash infusion but with the previous model not working and Outside themselves struggling to figure out a business model the possibility that we’ll ever get an FKT2.0 is fast approaching zero.

A Reset

This might not solve all problems, and certainly won’t please everyone, but my idea is to completely reset the entire idea of ‘FKT’ as a way to talk about an iconic route.
FKT was inspired by the climbing scene and its iconic routes. “Speed climbing the Nose” has its place in Yosemite Valley but folks gather below El Cap every year for the sheer pleasure of touching that rock. Very few make the annual pilgrimage with the attempt to break any records, let alone speed records.

FKT routes need a new name. If these routes are supposed to be a tool for the community, the moniker of ‘fastest’ isn’t helpful. At the core the focus shouldn’t be speed and elite athleticism – that’s what races are for – but it should be a celebration of the adventure, the personal journey and the personal discovery in wild places. That focus can grow the community and maybe has a chance of sustaining the project.

Strip it all down

Every state/region/country gets two routes:

  • A long run >100km
  • A short run <100km
  • An extra label on these which one is more popular by annual submissions.
  • An extra label if a regional route is also significant on a global scale – think R2R2R.

What you would get is the following: A vastly reduced set of routes. The US currently has ~2,600 routes on the FKT site. With two per state you’d hover at just over 100. That reduces the need for constant admin work to review and vet new routes.
The selected routes in each region would gain more focus and become more iconic. “If you’re traveling to State X, this is the route you should be running.”
Each route could be highlighted more and celebrated as a ‘de facto’ route for any ambitious trail runner to have run at some point in their life – think bucket list routes.

Every community member is allowed to upload and share their running story on these routes. Every run is listed, not just ‘the fastest’, every story celebrated. There could be an easy engagement tool via upvote buttons to celebrate the stories submitted. There could be an easy GPS check that a certain percentage of the route should’ve been completed for the story to be included. Or let the community vote determine this too.

This “newly named running project website platform idea” should vastly reduce the administrative overhead and increase community participation, which is all good for business.
The goal is to celebrate the community enjoying running inspired by these iconic routes in wild places.

And yes, this would kill my Cushman Six route, as it’s certainly not the most iconic route in the state. Here in Washington State the long route, of course would be the Wonderland Trail, the short route would the Enchantments Loop.


Holes in the thought process? What are your ideas? Would love the hear what you think.