Set an "FKT" and Break It...Again and Again and Again!
by Derick Williamson
Ed. Note—Derick Williamson joins us again this month to talk about the little known abbreviation "FKT," and how you can achieve one yourself. Williamson lives and works in the triathlon mecca of Colorado Springs, coaching for Durata Training, and also as head coach for USAT's Resident Paratriathlete Team.
In the ultra and trail running community there is a competitive sub-set that goes after Fastest Known Times, or FKT’s for short. You can check out a catalog of these feats and the courses on which they were achieved here. What you will see are some absolutely amazing results: The Appalachian Trail in less than 45 days, the Pacific Coast Trail in under 53 days—incredible! There are plenty of shorter conquests and I encourage you to check out the website to get a sense if there are any trails or routes near you that might offer a perspective on how fast some of these elite runners are running – you might even find a new goal for yourself to be forever etched into running Internet notoriety!
As cool as FKT’s might be, not many of us are really aspiring to go run for over a month at a time, but I want to offer an approach to using FKT’s near your home training grounds. This approach generates effective workouts and will also give you a measuring stick without the typical metrics or paces that we become accustomed to in our weekly training. What’s even better about having your own FKT workouts is that they force you to pay attention to how you are feeling and markers along that way that tell you if you are headed for a new FKT on your route, or if it’s a day where you need to focus on maintaining a steady effort and keeping it a little conservative. These are habits that many athletes do not consider until they get to race day, so it's important to not be one of those people and have these skills dialed when you step onto the race course.
picture courtesy of Andy Potts Racing
I like to have athletes do several variants of a FKT workout on routes near their daily training environment. The first FKT workout is pretty simple: it’s a 20-minute effort for distance. Ideally this is on an open loop (i.e. you could keep running on it at the finish line) that has somewhat variable terrain – not entirely flat but no really long hills. Do a typical warm up on the course to establish a start line. The start line needs to be a fixed, permanent object that you can easily identify for all of your future FKT workouts. From the start line your goal is to go as far as you can over 20 minutes and make note of the landmarks when you complete the time limit. Use a distinctive tree or mailbox as your marker. I like to encourage athletes not to look at a GPS device at all during these efforts, simply checking how much time has elapsed here and there. In terms of effort, the run should feel right around 10k effort, which is intentionally vague—you should be able to build the intensity, though, as you march through the route.
Once you’ve set your “route” for this FKT, come back the following week, run it again but this time make note of some landmarks and the splits where you hit those land marks, e.g. you may cross a bridge at the 6:33 mark or pass a specific house at 11:12. The key here is that each time you do this run in the future you check your split at the same landmark to determine if you are ahead of your own FKT or behind (those that race in the virtual space can imagine your avatar ahead or behind you here). Based on where you are relative to your splits you can over time determine if you are on track to improve your FKT and really try to dig deep and set a new PR of sorts, or if it’s a day where you need to simply try to get to your established “finish line."
picture courtesy of Andy Potts Racing
What is key with these FKT runs is your attitude and mindset as you reproduce the effort on a regular and consistent basis. What choices do you make on days where you are ahead of your splits? Do you maintain the effort and go for a big PR – or do you pull back out of fear of blowing up? What is your attitude and mentality on days where you are even or behind on your splits? Do you give yourself a free pass and dial it back or do you go to a place mentally and physically to push through the doubt and fatigue and learn a little more about yourself in the process? If you have any expectation of reaching your physiological potential then each race you do will force you to make decisions just like this. This is the perfect type of workout to hone both of your edges, mental and physical. It’s also a safe place to take a risk! There’s no race fee on the line, no medal or results page, and there should be no excuses—just a chance to test your abilities.
I like the 20-minute duration because you can push this effort without eliciting a tremendous amount of fatigue or any potential for injury (though you can certainly apply this to longer run efforts). For the 20min effort, I like to progress these run workouts in two ways: firstly working up to where you are running the same route but you’ve taken 90 seconds to two minutes off the time, finishing it in 18:00-18:30. Now it’s time to re-set your FKT and run a full 20min again, this time establishing a new finish line which you can now improve upon. I like these FKT’s to go in four-to-six week cycles hitting the course each or every other week, then taking some time away and coming back to them later in the season to establish how your macrocycle progression has gone. This is a process that can be reproduced year after year.
picture courtesy of Paul Higgins
It is import to finish these runs and take a little honest self-reflection: did you go out to fast? Too slow? Did you attack a hill too hard and pay for it? Could you have increased the leg speed and turnover to get a few precious seconds? Were you slower due to training fatigue, so do you need a little extra recovery? Get better and better at learning your route to know when you can twist the throttle and when you have to dial back a touch. These are skills you’ll subconsciously transition into racing. Whether it was a positive result or one you can work on, the post-workout self-reflection should focus on growth and execution for next time. I’m willing to bet that after a few of these you’ll really be looking forward to that next time and establishing new FKT’s often!