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Training for a Record Setting (FKT) Hike

When people prepare for a hike a lot of emphasis is placed on what goes inside your pack and how much it weighs. I find that carrying lightweight, minimal, and functional gear makes it much easier to hike high mileage days. But it isn’t a magic solution. Plenty of physical, mental, and emotional prep work goes into a successful hike. Intensify that by 10 and you have what’s needed to hike a trail in a record setting fashion. Learn what it means to train–as well as the multiple facets of training necessary–to do something extraordinary from Brand Ambassador Heather “Anish” Anderson. She is currently attempting to set a new self-supported record on the Appalachian Trail.

Heather Anish Anderson

Athletes Train, Thru-Hikers Walk, right?

When we talk about athletic training, what comes to mind? Stretches and sprints at a track? Endless reps in the weight room? Tedious, sweaty, difficult…No Pain, No Gain mentality?

I never set out to be an athlete. I discovered about 12 years ago that I simply loved moving on my own power through a landscape. I started with day hikes and jogs. Rapidly I found myself in the midst of a thru-hike, even though I’d only slept outside a handful of times prior. I had managed to lose 40 lbs in my “training” which consisted of long jogs and some evenings at my college weight room, but I still had plenty to go. I made those physical gains while walking from Georgia to Maine.

Anish thru hiking the Appalachian Trail

Thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail back in 2003

From Couch to Trail to Racing

When I got it into my head in the fall of 2001 that I was going to hike the Appalachian Trail two years later I really had no idea what I was doing–from a backpacking standpoint, and from a physical standpoint. I weighed 200 pounds and had never exercised–much less trained–outside gym classes. But, once I had the desire to hike 2,179 miles, I became my own greatest experiment in the journey to athleticism.

Backpacking involves leaving your vehicle behind and carrying everything you need with you. It allows you to experience parts of the world you wouldn’t be able to otherwise. It was this idea of adventure that intrigued me so much that I was willing to train my body to do it.

At first, yes, it was hard. Very hard. It was tedious, and sweaty, and painful. Over time my body adapted and the type and intensity of my exercise changed. I delved deeper into endurance running and with that came a new array of difficulty, pain, and tediousness.

I first conceived the idea of attempting a Fastest Known Time hike on the Pacific Crest Trail in 2008, but I didn’t commit myself to it until four years later.

Fastest Known Time (FKT) refers to speed records set by hikers or runners of various trails and routes. All of these are unofficial and based on the honor system, although people do various things to document their journeys such as using a GPS or tracker as they hike. Typically the person (or group of people) will announce their intentions beforehand.

Ever since I had first thru-hiked in 2005 and met David Horton on his Fastest Known Time attempt I had always wondered just how fast I could complete the trail if I was in optimal shape and optimally efficient.

I decided the pursue the self-supported Fastest Known Time category because I wanted it to be a pedestrian journey that I undertook solo, rather than with a team of people to support me. There are three styles of Fastest Known Times established and maintained on fastest known time proboards:

A supported hike means you have a support team that meets you along the trail to supply you with the food and gear you may need. A supported hike is a team effort and makes it possible for the lightest trips, generally allowing for a faster time.

A person hiking a self-supported trail means you don’t have a support team, but you don’t carry everything you need from the start as you will resupply yourself along the trail.

To hike unsupported, you must do so with no external support of any kind. Typically, this means that you must carry all your supplies right from the start, except any water that can be obtained along the way from natural sources. This approach is typically done on shorter long distance trails such as the John Muir Trail. An unsupported hike is also unaccompanied.

Training tips are discussed in part 2 of this article

5 Responses to Training for a Record Setting (FKT) Hike

  1. Brad Boll August 27, 2015 at 8:46 pm #

    I know YMMV, but I don’t get it. I don’t go into the woods because I have a competitive desire. Seems a very American concept – bigger, faster is better. Even pack weight has become a competitive thing. What drives this impulse? Is it what we’ve been taught under capitalism? If so, perhaps we need to compost that system before any more harm is done. I’m sure you’re a lovely person, btw. This is just me scratching my head.

  2. Gossamer Gear August 28, 2015 at 11:40 am #

    Anish is on the trail right now, but she has told us a few times that this attempt (as well as the PCT record) is her pushing herself to find out her best- really striving to find out what she’s made of and not so much a competition with others. It is really amazing what the human body can do with the right training and mentality!

  3. tradja August 29, 2015 at 1:15 pm #

    I’ve head countless rationalizations like Brad’s. Nothing personal, Brad, since we have probably not met, but you sound like neither a thru-hiker nor an athlete. If you don’t get it, that’s OK, but for some of us, athletic challenge is very engaging and compelling. If you push it hard enough, many of us have found tremendous personal growth in these large challenges. To be honest, a secondary or tertiary appeal to thru-hiking to me is that I am on the right side of the dropout rate – it makes the accomplishment feel like something, and not just the lame participation ribbon given to all kids.

  4. Brad Boll August 31, 2015 at 10:50 am #

    Shotokan/Muay Thai/BJJ for many years, cyclist for decades, backpacking for decades. LNT Master Educator through NOLS, guided at an outdoor ed. campus. I have nothing against long hikes. I just don’t get the “race” mentality. I’m in the woods to leave behind that kind of stress. I also just read that park officials want to reroute the AT terminus away from Baxter, in part due to the bad behavior of a certain ultra-marathoner who, among other things, sprayed the summit down with champagne. I’ll also mention the “hikers” I’ve run into on section hikes who haven’t managed to put down their electronic device addiction, and make serenity-seekers suffer. Again, your mileage may vary (no one seemed to get this when I wrote it earlier).

  5. Phil Phelan November 23, 2016 at 5:38 am #

    I am a professional hiker, current holder of three FKTs, only person to complete a Yo-Yo of the Florida National Scenic Trail, creator of the Linville Gorge Hiking Circuit (toughest hiking circuit east of the Rockies), have mapped thousands of miles of trails, and write a series of guidebooks… and this article is spot on. In my personal opinion, it could not have been worded better and she hit on everything. Congratulations on your efforts, and god’s speed on the next.

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