In Pursuit Of The Quickest Identified Time

The record-setting rush in Franconia Notch State Park

Only a jog has by no means been Ben Nephew’s model. He as soon as ran the size of Rhode Island, for enjoyable. Between competing in ultramarathons and setting dozens of quickest identified time (FKT) information throughout New England, Nephew estimates he’s run 70,000 miles over the course of his life—roughly equal to a few instances across the equator.

However the extra miles he accrues, the extra he realizes that conventional races aren’t precisely his model. The fee, race logistics and overrun programs don’t excite him. His favourite locations to run—on trails like New Hampshire’s Franconia Ridge Loop and the Presidential Traverse—will probably by no means host races. These trails not solely weave via protected state and nationwide parks with notoriously difficult occasion permits, however in addition they current logistical trickery that may deter race coordinators: uncovered ridgelines with excessive climate variability and distant point-to-point trailheads.

So, as an alternative of shelling out dues for upcoming races on lackluster programs, Nephew scours topo maps, talks to his operating buddies, and picks out routes that encourage him—ones that he thinks he can run quick, quicker than anybody else. Since 2009, after securing his first FKT, gunning for brand new path information has absorbed the majority of the 41-year-old’s operating vitality.

“All I believed was: This man is nuts.”

What Nephew is thought for is downhill operating. Kevin Tilton, considered one of Nephew’s long-time operating companions and former U.S. Mountain Operating Staff member, says that the primary time they ran collectively on technical terrain, he seen Nephew tearing down a crumbly, rocky part. “All I believed was: This man is nuts.”

Tilton and Nephew established their first FKTs collectively on the 31-mile Pemi Loop within the White Mountains. On the uphills, Tilton led and Nephew pushed exhausting beneath. Happening, Nephew took over and Tilton scurried behind, making an attempt desperately to maintain up with out smashing his knees. They tackled the entire path like this, in tandem.

Photograph: Joe Azze

It’s been over a decade for the reason that duo began operating collectively. They nonetheless race with one another, although it’s not all the time side-by-side, and even on the identical days. They stay just a few hours aside—Nephew close to Boston and Tilton in central New Hampshire—so that they’ve tapped right into a aggressive scheme that many prime New England mountain runners, uninterested in the racing scene, have concocted: FKT bids. Every runner takes a flip operating the identical path, instances themselves, after which compares how they fare in opposition to others’ bests.

In New England particularly, laced with 1000’s of miles of pristine “unrace-able” trails, this permits aggressive runners to remain aggressive with out having to sacrifice the standard of their operating terrain. Nephew says, “It’s actually exhausting for me to make an argument for races now… A few of these [state park trails] are so spectacular, they only can’t compete with race programs.”

Franconia Notch State Park caught Nephew’s eye in 2012. He spied the Franconia Ridge Loop, a 9-mile path with practically three,500 ft of elevation acquire and high-exposure ridges. On a transparent day, the sprawling treetop view from the path’s 5,260-foot Mt. Lafayette gives sweeping vistas of the White Mountains.

For an FKT run, Nephew writes the report holder’s cut up instances on his water bottle. He’ll sharpie figures like “summit: 23 minutes” so he can examine his personal tempo when he reaches the highest. On his first Franconia FKT bid in June 2012, Nephew accomplished the Loop in 1 hour, 45 minutes and 50 seconds—a brand new FKT for his resume.

“There are such a lot of variables 45-second distinction doesn’t actually imply a lot.”

It wasn’t till practically two years later, when Tilton handed via Franconia Notch for enterprise, that he thought, why not give it an FKT go, too?

It was March and Tilton’s footwear, with built-in micro spikes, dug into ice and snow as he neared Mt. Lafayette’s summit. He rounded the loop, sped previous Franconia’s 250-year-old timber and hit the trailhead once more in a single hour, 45 minutes and 13 seconds.

Tilton running down mountain

Kevin Tilton | Photograph courtesy of Tilton

He emailed Nephew a heads up—he’d bested him by 37 seconds.

Nephew says it’s “form of wild how aggressive FKTs have gotten” up to now few years. With extra elite runners vying, the time variations have been near-negligible. Tilton agrees, “There are such a lot of variables 45-second distinction doesn’t actually imply a lot.”

Nonetheless, with a brand new determine to check himself in opposition to, Nephew was psyched. One more reason he prefers FKTs is that there’s no such factor as a “dangerous race day.” If the climate is dangerous, he’ll return one other time. Not feeling nice? Nephew received’t stress; he’ll relaxation up and check out once more later.

a man runs up a steep rocky trail

Ben Nephew | Photograph: Joe Azze

On September 20, 2014, Nephew wrote Tilton’s report splits on his water bottle. He set out. Nearing Mt. Lafayette, he glanced at his bottle, then his watch: one hour, eight minutes. He was simply over two minutes forward of Tilton’s time.

Nephew began the descent. He knew he’d need to dig into his downhill prowess, delicately place his ft, preserve his eyes glued not more than 4 ft in entrance of his toes and wield his arms left and proper to take care of stability. Tilton’s run within the comfortable spring snow had eased his descent in comparison with what lay earlier than Nephew: large rocks and free grime.

He took a swig of water and hurdled himself downhill, churning his legs, discovering the delicate stability between risking a fall—which might guarantee he’d lose to Tilton—and never maximizing his potential.

Nephew barreled ahead. A trekking pole went flying.

It gave the impression to be working, at the very least till a quarter-mile from the trailhead. A gaggle of hikers stood in his manner. He’d lucked out till that time, having the path principally to himself. Nephew tried to say one thing, and the group began to maneuver apart. He didn’t wish to hit any of them. They wielded trekking poles. Thick footwear. Backpacks. Bushes lined the trail, awkwardly jamming the group.

Nephew neared, however couldn’t inform which manner they had been transferring. His legs couldn’t cease.

One man began to show round, assuming what Nephew describes as “an influence stance practically four-feet vast,” straddling the path together with his poles out, puncturing the grime.

Nephew barreled ahead. A trekking pole went flying. Nephew thinks he could have clipped the person’s arm, however he doesn’t know for sure. He didn’t look again. He would possibly’ve yelled sorry, however he didn’t even take a full breath till 1,000 ft later on the trailhead.

One hour, 44 minutes and 25 seconds. A brand new FKT.

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In Pursuit Of The Quickest Identified Time

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