With races cancelled, many trail runners have been attempting Fastest Known Times or FKTs. Remarkably, FKTs have increased fourfold during the pandemic. To set a FKT, trail runners head to fastestknowntime.com, choose a route, and decide which style FKT to attempt: supported, self-supported or unsupported. Athletes are further divided into gender category: male, female or nonbinary.
Not long ago, Fastest Known Time LLC added a fourth gender category — “mixed gender” — to prevent women from being rabbited or paced by men. If a woman attempts a FKT solo or with a team of women, she can set a female FKT. However, if a woman attempts a FKT with a man, the FKT can be labeled “mixed gender,” preventing her from contending for a female FKT.
I understand the argument for a “mixed gender” category. A couple years ago, I was watching the Marquette Marathon, a small town marathon, and the lead woman was clearly and intentionally being paced by a man. The lead woman was in a tight battle with the second place woman and ultimately won the race by less than a minute. My husband happened to run the same pace as these women, and, as I cheered for him, I watched the women’s race unfold. I could easily put myself in the shoes of the second place woman who had been deprived the opportunity to fairly compete.
The world of road marathons is very different from the world of supported FKTs. When I compete in a road marathon, I expect to compete as an individual athlete against other individual athletes. By contrast, when I compete for a supported FKT, I expect to compete against other athletes who also have support from crew, pacers etc.
Fastest Known Time LLC establishes guidelines for FKTs. Their guidelines explain what support an athlete can have when setting a “supported” FKT:
Supported means you have a crew that meets you along the way. This can range from one person handing you water once, to an entire team that accompanies you the whole distance giving you everything (except physical assistance — FKTs are self-powered)… Supported can enable the fastest trips due to the ability to carry less weight.Fastest Known Time LLC
Ultrarunner Francois D’Haene tested the limits of how much support is permitted with a supported FKT when he set a supported men’s FKT on the John Muir Trail in 2017. (Francois’s FKT still stands today.) To complete the John Muir Trail as fast as possible, Francois brought a crew of Salomon teammates to pace him. Salomon documented Francois supported FKT in a video and described it as “A 359km Collective Adventure.”
Given that Francois’ supported FKT was clearly a team effort, Fastest Known Time LLC could have established a new category of FKT: a team FKT. They chose not to. Instead, they gave Francois the individual men’s FKT and clearly stated that pacers would be permitted going forward. The “supported” in “supported FKT” means any support.
The “mixed gender” category should not apply to supported FKTs. A woman attempting an FKT at the same time as a man is getting no more help from that man than she would be permitted to have from pacers.
Why does it matter whether a woman’s FKT is labelled as a “mixed gender” rather than a “female” FKT?
When a woman’s FKT is labeled as “mixed gender,” the woman receives little attention and is not allowed to compete for the female FKT. The implication is that the woman received unfair help from a man. When a woman is a sponsored athlete, this lack of attention lessens the athlete’s worth to sponsors and undermines the athlete’s ability to attract sponsors.
Shouldn’t we give women more credit when they set FKTs independently?
Not when we’re talking about whether a woman simply gets credit for a supported FKT. The goal with supported FKTs is for individuals to see how fast they can go with support — be that from crew, pacers, mules etc. Franscois D’Haine received no less credit for his John Muir Trail supported FKT because he received support from pacers and crew. To the contrary, he was celebrated.
This issue about how much credit a woman (or man) should get for setting an FKT independently arises when determining the FKT of the year awards. At that time — when folks compare supported FKTs to unsupported FKTs — they have to consider how much weight to give individuals who choose to set FKTs independently.
This issue also arises when comparing unsupported FKTs set individually to unsupported FKTs set by teams. Arguably, we should give greater credit to women (and men) who set unsupported FKTs individually than those who set unsupported FKTs with teammates.
Please, share your thoughts!
- Do you think “mixed gender” supported FKTs should exist? Why or why not?
- Do you think “mixed gender” unsupported FKTs should exist? Why or why not?
- Should we differentiate between FKTs set by individuals v. teams? Is the individual v. team distinction more important than the gender of those involved?
Thank you for your thoughtful discussion. A clarification is that a woman and man can choose to go as a Mixed Gender Team, or as Supported individuals – it is their choice. Just yesterday a woman announced (privately) she was going to do a big multi-day run with her husband, and is choosing Female Supported. Yes, these different styles can be tricky to understand, which is the result of trying to provide a level playing field. Nice blog and website!
Thank you, Buzz, for reading this and responding. I know two runners who were told that they were not permitted to choose. They are currently listed as “mixed gender” and would like to be listed as “male” and “female.”
To avoid confusion, why not simply get rid of the “mixed gender” supported category? I see no strong argument for keeping it.