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Ultra runners spend summer crushing Bow Valley’s Fastest Known Times

COVID-19 may have resulted in the cancellation of all endurance sport races this year, but that hasn't deterred athletes in the Bow Valley from finding new challenges to tackle

BOW VALLEY – The top answer to what ultra runners do when they can’t compete and need extra motivation is in: crush FKTs.

With the pandemic cancelling thousands of endurance events and restricting travel, athletes who prepared for summer competitions all winter and spring have turned to Fastest Known Times (FKT) for an unscripted challenge and even a little friendly competition too.

With the new profound focus on FKTs over the summer, Joel Desgreniers, founder of SkiUphill – RunUphill, said there’s been a massive abnormality with record-breaking FKTs in the Bow Valley compared to previous years with at least 23 new top times.

“A normal year would be three or four times,” said Desgreniers. “We have this big community of really stoked and fit people who were like kind of challenging each other, so that was a bit of a special circumstance. We don’t get that all the time. There was a mix of very fit people coming from the city and spending more time here, all running together and all challenging each other.”

FKTs are established from athletes tracking their time on a route such as Cascade Mountain or the Canmore Quad, and then sharing the results afterward.

A website called Fastest Known Time tracks international FKTs, but it mainly focuses on data from the U.S., said Desgreniers, which prompted the crew at SkiUphill – RunUphill to set up an online tracker and chalkboard inside the shop to keep track of the fastest local FKTs for the past four years.

There are some guidelines for athletes and it falls on an honour system, however, Desgreniers thinks it’s important to create a community-based system that doesn’t need to revolve around rules and rankings of an official race.

“I think it’s important to show how fast you can humanly do them … and at the end of the day, it’s really cool to see all the times, but also, for all the people to come into the shop and see [the FKT chalkboard] for the first time and see if they can beat it after,” Desgreniers said.

Canmore’s Leif Godberson, who owns six FKTs for males in the Bow Valley after this summer, said there's a huge interest in it for him because of the competition among friends factoring in.

“The more people you have participating in the game, if you will, the more interesting it becomes and I think the best ones are the ones you lose right away because you have to go back and work harder,” said Godberson.

“I think Canmore has an amazing scene, in that regard. There’s a lot of positive competition and some very strong trail runners and that definitely adds a lot to it because if you didn’t have that it just wouldn’t be that interesting.”

Godberson currently holds the FKTs for the Canmore Quad, Rundle Traverse, Mount Temple, EEOR, Mount Lady Macdonald, and Goat Traverse.

He thinks it’s important to show what’s possible for people to do on these routes, but also added it’s important to do it in a safe manner as well.

“You don’t want to be pushing your absolute limit on mountain routes you're not familiar with,” he said.

With a focus on competitions in previous years, Godberson gained experience on the local trails, but didn’t want to exude too much of an effort in training. He started trail running last year to get in better shape for other mountain activities such as climbing.

"We got caught in an intense snowstorm during the Canmore Quad along the summit ridge of Lady Macdonald, which was comical because going up there – I've been up there all winter – and I think it was worse conditions in July than it was in January, so that was pretty funny," he said.

Although Godberson’s six FTKs stand out from the crowd, Cochrane’s Ailsa MacDonald has kept busy on the trails, too, capturing eight FKTs.

MacDonald started breaking FKTs at the beginning of August and has seen sunny picturesque views atop mountains and has braved cold rain, high winds, and falling snow during a six-week period.

The long-distance specialty runner broke FKTs for females for the Rockwall, Cascade Mountain, EEOR, Bourgeau Mountain, West End of Rundle, Heart Mountain Loop, Skyline and she scorched the Banff Triple – Cascade, Rundle and Sulphur – for its fastest overall time of 9:24:50.

“I just enjoy doing it, it’s nice to have a target and goal to chase and there are some pretty elite runners in this area, so it’s kind of nice to be up there with them,” she said.

Like many ultra runners and endurance athletes, MacDonald was caught in a tough spot when events were being cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic and she was left without a goal list this year.

“I was never really one for FKTs, but I did Rockwall with some friends and I was kind of going at my normal pace and I set that record and I thought ‘maybe this is a good idea to do something and give myself a goal to go after.’ So after Rockwall, I did Skyline and I was hooked,” MacDonald said with a laugh.

Anyone can attempt a FKT, and after a summer of crushed records, Godberson said it's exciting that people keep finding new ways to keep getting faster on them.

"And that's what keeps it really interesting because 100 per cent all of the FKTs that were set this summer are all going to be broken at some point and I think it's kind of exciting to show people you can go this fast and then inviting them to come try," Godberson said.


Jordan Small

About the Author: Jordan Small

Jordan Small joined the Outlook in 2014 and covers the vast world of sports in the Bow Valley. A Barrie, Ont. native, he also wrote for RMO's Mountain Guide section and the MD of Bighorn beat.
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