Adventure running and the chasing of known FKTs (Fastest Known Times) has nearly become a sport all it’s own. Over the last 18 months there have been more new times set on different routes around the planet than can be counted in one article. Traditional racers are now becoming adventure runners and the standards for long trail runs are being set higher. Kelly Agnew, a prominent 100 mile racer recently turned his sights towards the White Rim trail in Canyonlands National Park. This 1oo mile long jeep trail circumnavigates the central portion of the park and boasts approximately 12,000 of vertical gain in its loop. Agnew, when approached about his desire to run the route stated, “I learned about the trail last November when I was hiking in Moab with some mountain biking friends. Shortly after that, Jennilyn Eaton ran it and set a new female FKT and I took that as a sign. That trail was speaking to me! I went from knowing nothing about the trail to being obsessed with it”.
Agnew’s obsession turned into rational planning and he entered the park on Friday, March 7th to attempt to beat the men’s current time of 18:43:22, which has stood since 2006. His nervousness at such an aggressive time was only slightly put at ease by the opportunity of running on terrain that seemed to fit his style. When asked about the course he said, “the route has a great sampling of every type of terrain and condition that a runner can expect. There is loose sand, slick rock, hard packed clay and plenty of rocks to kick along the course. There are [also] a handful of legitimate, sustained climbs, plus a lot of relentless rolling terrain. It’s not flat but not mountainous”. Thanks to the nature of the course his confidence to go out and put up a solid number grew. With this motivation he set early in the morning on Saturday, March 8th with only one goal in mind – a new men’s Fastest Known Time.
The nature of a FKT attempt goes beyond just winning. Most often it is about setting a new standard and hopefully one that is difficult to match. Agnew, supported by a
traveling crew across the trip (there is no water available along the course) was being fed updates regarding his pace against the existing time. “It wasn’t until sometime after mile 80 that I began to accept the possibility. Not the inevitability, but the possibility. Even then, I was very cautious about it, knowing a lot of things could happen in 20 miles”. As the miles closed in, so did the time. He watched his lead of approximately 90 minutes at mile 75 dip to 80 minutes by mile 85. But with such a soft cushion and an inexhaustable nature Agnew continued to push and set a final time that shaved almost an hour off the previous record – 17:47:25. “My hope was to set a new FKT that would give pause to anybody else that wanted to chase it. Breaking the current record was the primary goal, but I also wanted to set the bar as high as possible in hopes that it might stand for a while”.
With a new record now in the books it will likely draw additional attention from other runners. 2014 should be an exciting year in this arena. As for Agnew, he will, for the time being, shift his focus back to 100 mile races, a distance he considers his sweet spot. “I really enjoy running long, so I focus on all things that help me to do it as often as possible. I have a recovery routine that I’ve developed for myself so I can run more 100-mile races. I also work with my sponsor, Hammer Nutrition, to develop nutritional strategies that are well suited for my goals. Hammer is very dedicated to my success”.
He makes it very clear, however, that his long term focus will eventually switch to adventure running and the chase for new FKTs – “I’m very drawn to FKT’s and hope to do more in the future. As I get older, I expect to shift my focus in that direction. There are a lot of opportunities for record-breaking performances. It’s different kind of competition but it’s just as intense, intimidating and maybe a little more meaningful on a personal level”. It will be exciting to see the direction Kelly Agnew takes in this regard. We’re certain that there will be a slew of additional notches added to his FKT bedpost before his career is over.