[This post was updated on 12 August 2017 to include Canmore-local Piotr Babis’ successful Quad attempt in July 2017]
Depending on how much you follow trail running, you might have noticed that there’s a lot of talk about “FKTs” or “Fastest Know Times”. As an article last year in Outdoor magazine put it: “A growing number of trail runners are finding a new way to test themselves, and it doesn’t involve race fees, bibs or finish line chutes.” Instead, trail runners are “enlisting their own stopwatch, navigational prowess, and determination to set trail fastest known times. They pick a route, decide whether they’ll receive help in the form of food or aid along the way, and try to cover the distance as fast as possible.”
A quick glance at the Fastest Known Time website reveals that FKT routes are to be found in all corners of the world. Kilian Jornet’s “summits of my life” project is possibly the most systematic attempt to establish FKTs for the ascent and descent of “some of the most important mountains on the planet”, including Mont Blanc, the Matterhorn, Mount McKinley, Acongagua and Everest.
When it comes to FKTs and Canmore, it’s all about the Canmore Quad. True, it’s not Everest. But it’s hardly a walk in the park either. The Canmore Quad consists of running up and down the four peaks that dominate Canmore – Grotto, Lady Macdonald, East End of Rundle (EEOR) and Ha Ling. And you have to travel between the trail heads for each climb on foot. No bikes or cars allowed. It amounts to around 53km of running, with 4,892m of ascent and looks like this (on Strava):
The current FKT was set by Ryan Atkins on 3 September 2015 (announced on Facebook), an incredible 9 hours 14 minutes, beating his previous time of 9.19 set in August 2014. This is a truly monumental effort but those that came before him were hardly taking it easy.
My research came up with the following Canmore Quad “hall of fame”, though no doubt there are others – and surely more than one woman?:
- Jack Firth, approximately 20 hours, date unknown
- Ernst Salzgeber, approximately 17 hours, date unknown, at the spritely age of 60!
- Greg Thazuk, in approximately 14.30, date unknown
- Mike Fitzpatrick, approximately 12 hours, date unkown
- Phil Villeneuve – September 2011 – 11.04 – read his account here
- Andy Reed – 28 July 2013 – 10.39 – account here
- Adam Campbell – 8 June 2014 – 9.20 – on Strava
- Jeff Krar – 27 September 2014 – 9.17 – reported on Twitter
- Ryan Atkins – 3 September 2015 – 9.14 (current FKT) – reported on Facebook
- Jana Jurackova – 11 September 2015 – 12.14 – on Strava
- Piotr Babis – 29 July 2017 – 10.03 – on Strava
These times are all the more impressive when you consider that Lady Macdonald, Grotto, Ha Ling and EEOR are all mountain summits over 2600m, with steep rocky approaches. Lady Mac can be particularly challenging. As Andy Reed says: “Lady Macdonald is a pretty innocuous summit when viewed from Canmore but when you hit the final approach to the summit it becomes a knife edge ridge, with airy and precarious scrambling needed… In one spot I had one leg either side of the ridge, it was so narrow.” Reed’s FKT predecessor, Phil Villeneuve, described the approach to the summit of Lady Mac as the “scariest moment” of his successful FKT attempt: “I definitely felt out of my comfort zone as I clung onto the edge with both hands, feet half dangling over a massive cliff, trying to find an edge to step on. I had a few moments where the wind was howling so hard I had to stop to hang on.”
Another local runner Simon Donato, who holds the FKT for the Canmore Quad in winter – an impressive 14.39, achieved in February this year – has come up with some useful rules to guide attempts at the Canmore Quad FKT:
- Designated start: In Canmore, the Triple Crown hiking challenge (Ha Ling, Lady Mac and EEOR) starts and finishes at the historic Georgetown Inn. The Quad has started and finished in different locations but for consistency (and to avoid distance arguments), should also start and finish at the Georgetown Inn.
- Time Keeping: While it’s important to track your own progress, there should be independent time keeping as well. Starting at the Georgetown Inn allows for this, as the clerk can record start and finish time. This also resolves the issue of forgetting to turn-off auto-stop features on watches, or rechargeable GPS watch batteries dying mid-attempt.
- Running Time: All FKT attempts should have a running time where the clock starts when they leave the Inn, and stops when they return. No time credits for bad weather, lunch breaks, etc.
- Support: Athletes can perform better if they have friends or family providing support, such as food/drink refills, or even pacing duties, so planning to receive aid or support is encouraged.
- Route: Ultimately, the FKTs come down to reaching each summit and ideally, taking a summit photo (always including a summit feature if one is present). The order of mountains summited doesn’t need to be fixed, but for consistency, athletes should try to travel on the main trails/paths as much as possible, although in the mountains, and especially above treeline, this is not always clear. Straight lining descents, or taking short cuts does not fit with the spirit of the challenge and should be avoided.
- GPS and Watches: GPS watches do a great job of recording your GPS track, altitude, etc. For the most part, they seem to hold a pretty accurate track, and will offer route guidance for future challengers. GPS tracks also provide another layer of support for the accomplishment.
So, is the Canmore Quad in my running future? I know I wouldn’t stand a chance of coming close to some of the more recent times for this, let alone the FKT. The “slowest known time” perhaps, but certainly not the fastest. But does that put me off? It certainly doesn’t lessen the appeal of taking on this particular challenge. Merely finishing would be a massive accomplishment by any standard. And seeing these four peaks every day, towering over Canmore, it’s almost as if they are taunting me to have a go. I think I might. And if and when I do, you’ll read about it here on Canmore Runner.
Until next time, happy trails.