In search of an FKT

'Fastest known times' are not the preserve of the elite and they could provide you with an inspiring target, writes #Run1000Miles participant Neil Shoesmith

Mike Pini, Neil Shoesmith (right) and Spud after their Blackwater Valley Path FKT

by Neil Shoesmith |

We wound our way past a mix of industrial estates and gravel pits turned fishing lakes before heading under a motorway junction where the path began to leave the asphalt behind as it turned to trail: pavement gave way to grassy meadow and a muddy puddly track along the riverbank with its wonderful wildlife for most of the next 12 miles, before sodden and sweaty from running in the continual deluge we finally reached the end of the path at the war memorial in the village of Swallowfield and the record was ours!

I’ve become an habitual racer over the last decade, tending to have an event to run each month throughout the year, so I needed to find an outlet for my running; something to ‘go for’ to kick-off my quest for running 1000 miles rather than just stepping out the front door and plodding around my immediate area… With exercise allowed under lockdown and reasonable travel distances still permitted I hit upon a plan so cunning Baldrick would have been proud to call it his own: Fastest Know Time!

I looked back at how others had coped over the last year with the lack of racing as it's not just we mere mortals whose running mojo has been suffering, but the pros as well. For the elites, what seemed to be the running of choice without races to train for is to bag a Fastest Known Time. We’ve read the coverage in Trail Running magazine and dot-watched online trackers last summer as the likes of John Kelly, Damian Hall and Sabrina Verjee bagged FKT’s for the monstrous Pennine Way. We revelled in their super-human awesomeness in doing this and thought ‘I wish’ and ‘if only’… But maybe wishes can become a reality and an ‘if’ can become a ‘when’. And, you know what, it turns out there’s scope for all of us to have a bit of fun with this FKT malarky and strike a blow for Joe and Joanne average.

A quick search online revealed a directory of FKTs 5 miles in length upwards with a variety of records to be set for each one: FKT’s for both genders and a mixed pair in both directions of the route, as well as supported and unsupported can be recorded.

Looking at the recognised trails local to me, I found a few that did not have any record whatsoever! One of which I noticed was the Blackwater Valley Path, which starts in Aldershot and follows the River Blackwater from its source to its confluence with the larger river Loddon in Swallowfield. As well as being an unclaimed FKT, this path also has a special significance to me in that the stretch through the village that gives the river its name was where I grew up and spent many a day on its banks fishing, building camps and watching nature.

With the weather taking a decided turn for the miserable greys of winter, for a lot of us our running va-va-voom va-va-vamoosed with the warmth of the sun. Facing an empty Covid-cancelled running diary, an FKT could give you that target to chase and train for.

Before our attempt, we broke the route down into four sections and completed out-and-back recce runs. This meant we knew where to go and what turns to take so as not to get lost during the run proper, which was very useful especially as one of us two has previous for getting lost in a straight line! This meant that, when we included these practice miles, we had already taken 68 off of the #Run1000Miles target - a significant chunk out of the required quest for 84 miles in the month in a focused and targeted way that made up for the lack of a race to train for.

The thing is, with a record you are merely a custodian of it, not an owner and a record is always there to be broken by someone faster. However, for a record to be broken, it must first be set! I know I’m far from the most speedy of runners out there, but the initial registered fastest known time on the Blackwater Valley Path will forever be mine and running buddy Mike’s (as well as Spud the trail hound). We fully expect to lose our crown sooner rather than later, and do we care? Do we buffalo!

If you are struggling for that motivation this early part of the year in your quest for #Run1000Miles then have a look to see what’s out there close by. You never know, you may end-up standing side by side with giants with an FKT to your name, albeit fleetingly!

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