Sunday, April 22, 2012

Proposed area FKT routes

There are a handful of commonly known and popular mountain trail running routes near Charlottesville that have been on my mind for some time.  These routes are well documented in books, maps, online, and with on site trail markings.  Each route offers varying terrain- some with big climbs-, scenic views and technical footing.  Plus, their proximity to populated areas via main roads with convenient parking lots further enhances their popularity.  These routes are so well known among the Virginia hiking, trail and ultra running set that is surprises me how few, if any, FKTs have been set on them.  And those routes that do have FKTs are in need (in my opinion) of new contesting.  I hereby propose the following routes as prime real estate for those looking to create new standards on the Virginia FKT mountain trail scene.
Old Rag
Loop route: Starting at the upper parking lot "Ridge Trail Trailhead" -> clockwise loop starting south along the Ridge Trail to the summit of Old Rag -> to Saddle Trail -> north on Weakley Hollow Fire Road -> to Upper Parking lot.  Total mileage:  6.8 to 7.  Total elevation:  2,500+.  See map of course here.
Starting off with a bang here because not only am I unfamiliar with an FKT of any sort on this route but because Old Rag is one of Virginia’s premiere day hikes.  Old Rag offers a challenging initial summit climb, ridgeline bouldering and a fast descent.  At first the descent is very technical and all switch backs, then it opens up completely to a fast few miles of gravel road downhill.  Surely, a fun way to finish off a race or speedy attempt of any kind.  In terms of an FKT, Old Rag is short enough, yet equally long enough, and technical enough, to level a playing field among runners of all skill sets, including speed hikers, climbers and the hard-nosed, mountain ultra runners (like yours truly).  I’ve hiked, speed hiked, run and speed run this route well over a dozen times through the years but never once kept a log of how fast.
A typical view from atop Old Rag.  Gaby, early Fall '03.  Photographer: me.

A somewhat atypical rock formation atop Old Rag.

Getting in my 8 hours, several years early.
Priest and Three Ridges
Route: Route 56 car lot -> north on AT -> loop counter clockwise on to Mauhur Trail -> back to car lot on 56 (12ish miles). -> Then south on AT straight up to Priest summit ridge meadow and right back to car lot (10 miles).  Total elevation:  8,000+. 
In Virginia, for ultrarunners, the Priest and Three Ridges is synonymous with “Hardrock training”.  Moreover, the hallowed ground of the Priest and Three Ridges (and TWOT for that matter) is big mountain trail running in Virginia.  It doesn’t get bigger and it doesn't get much badder.  I’ve only run the Priest and Three Ridges twice and I can’t wait to go back.  Fortunately, the trailhead is located only an hour’s drive from my house so hopefully this summer I'll get in a few more visits.  I heard recently Jonathan Basham once completed the route in the 3:56 ballpark.  I also heard David Horton, Bradley Mongold and a handful of others have run the double.  I wonder if anyone has logged more loops on Priest and Three Ridges trails than Horton?  I can’t say that I’ll ever make it to the Priest and Three Ridges fresh enough or wanting enough to challenge a sub four hour circum-out-and-back loop yet, I fully acknowledge, running anything under four uninterrupted hours on this route would require an intense race pace effort, at a minimum.
The Priest.  Photo courtesy of Virginia Trails Adam.
TWOT (The Wild Oak Trail)
Loop route: description here.  Total mileage:  25.6.  Total elevation:  8,000 to 9,000.

In 2011, Harrisonburg's David Frazier established a new one-loop TWOT record, in the counter-clockwise direction, in 4:22.  Mike Morton and Courtney Campbell once equally held the single loop record in 4:23.  This loop (part of the Grindstone course) definitely piques my interest.  Iron-Keith Knipling maintains the 4-Loop record in 27:11.  Dennis Herr's TWOT event is the place for an FKT effort because if you're skilled enough to run under 4:22 it would be nice to have a witness!
David Frazier, slightly nervous about his record run yet to begin?  Photo by Quatro Hubbard.

The Ring (or The Reverse Ring)
Loop course: the route here.  Clockwise or Counterclockwise.  Total mileage: 71.  Total elevation:  God knows.

The best option for an attempt at The Ring/Reverse Ring is to actually sign up for The Ring.  May as well get aid while you go for the FKT, no?  As of February, 2011 Dan Rose is the current record holder of The Reverse Ring.  14:57.  He re-set Keith Knipling’s 2009 Reverse Ring time by a whopping one minute.  Keith still holds the record for The Ring.  14:46.
Mary’s Rock via Buck Hallow
The route: map here.  From the parking lot on the east side of SNP at the bottom of 211 (just west of Sperryville) -> straight up Buck Hallow Trail -> cross Skyline Drive -> Meadow Spring Trail -> north on AT -> summit Mary’s Rock.  Total mileage: 5ish+/-.  Total elevation: < 3,000.
What list of FKT proposals would be complete without a pure climbing route up a mountain?  Mary’s Rock via Buck Hallow is a solid option.  The route is mostly runnable, though very technical.  I’ve run this a handful of times.  My best ever time on this route is 50:15 (in conjunction with a long run, and while wearing a hip pack and two full 20oz. bottles).  I believe a sub-45 minute job would be nothing short of amazing.
Appalachian Trail inside Shenandoah National Park
The route: northern SNP boundary near Front Royal -> south to the southern boundary at Jarmin Gap.  Or a reverse of that.  Total mileage: 100 +/-? 

The Grand Puba of all Virginia trails in our area National Parks: The AT inside the SNP.  Though I’ve had this route on my mind for about two years I also know David Frazier and Andy Jones-Wilkins are equally interested in staking an FKT claim.  Sue Johnston ran this route just recently and reminded me that the AT at the northern SNP border does not begin at the Skyline Drive Entrance Station south of Front Royal.  A quick glance at an SNP map reveals that the AT within SNP technically begins at a park section panhandle just north of Low Gap.  To keep an AT SNP FKT effort pure, this means extra miles in the beginning hiking to the start.
Sophie Speidel's report from last year's three-day AT SNP fun run details the route as 111 miles.  I'm not sure if her route includes starting from the panhadle section I mentioned above.  I also think she and company continued down to Rockfish Gap, instead of ending their AT journey at Jarman Gap.  That said, I'm not sure what the exact mileage figure is; much less the elevation gain/loss.  I've heard and read stories of a few others doing (and attempting) this route, too, (including the only true official FKT runner I know of, Matt Kirk) however I know of nothing that makes a new, commanding FKT standard seem out of reach.  An eventual faster (than Matt's), race pace FKT benchmark of this route is only a question of who will do it and when.
Rivanna Trail
As of February, there is a new Sheriff in town.  Step right up, ladies and germs!

Other notable Central Virginia FKT options
Vicki’s Death March.  Kerry’s Death March.  Brown Town Loop. If interested in running or knowing more about these loops I suggest doing your homework and joining the VHTRC.
What else?
What other worthy area FKT options am I missing?  Does this stuff even matter to Virginia mountain trail runners?  To me, it does.


  1. What about the Tuscarora Trail? I believe Sean Andrish has the record and I don't know of anyone that has given it a serious go since Sean.

  2. Neal,

    When Joe Clapper, me, and the gang ran the SNP 3-day on the AT last September, the idea was to run from the northern boundary of the SNP to the southern boundary of the SNP on trail, not necessarily just the AT. To do this, we had to start at the Dickey Ridge Trail just outside the SNP until we hit the AT at Compton Gap. This added about 6 miles or so. We ran all the way to Rockfish Gap as the SNP boundary is actually there (not sure where you heard/saw that Jarmin's Gap is the end on the SNP---my understanding is that the SNP technically ends at the end of Skyline Drive at Rockfish Gap). Total miles for the three days was 111 miles, as we also added a 2-3 mile climb up Hawksbill, the highest point in the SNP, and we also climbed Mary's Rock for the views.

    For someone to run a FKT specifically on the AT within the SNP, my guess is that one would have to start their watch at Compton Gap and turn it off at Rockfish Gap bridge over Rte 64.

    As for the Priest/Three R/Mauhar FKT...the summit of the Priest means different things to different runners---when we summit the Priest we go all the way to the sign for the shelter, touch the sign, and return back, FWIW. When folks say they do doubles and quads of Priest/Three R, they typically mean that they run north on the AT to the top of Three R and then descend back on the AT---no Mauhar. Personally I love the Mauhar Trail and would love to see how fast someone could run that lollipop with the true Priest summit!

    Great post!

  3. Nice round-up of what's out there to be challenged. I think Keith and I will both attest to the Ring/Reverse times being a bit soft. Neither of us had great days, so there's time to be chopped off both directions.

    Now that I have a newborn at home (and am subsequently poor), I'll be looking to run as many free races as I can in the next couple years. All of the route you listed above will be on my radar for sure!

  4. Adam, good call on Tuscarora. Definitely another solid option for someone to shoot for.

    Sophie, thanks for the clarification on the SNP and Priest.

    Dan, giddyup!

  5. Neal,

    You could also consider some shorter FKTs. Maybe use them as speed work. There's the Terrapin Mountain/Reed Creek 9 mile loop, Elliott Knob summit (8.5 miles), or the big cheese mountain in VA, Mt Rogers (8-10 miles depending on route). Just a few of many examples.

    For those who have run The Ring, it is hard to imagine Keith, or Dan's sub 15 hour efforts as being soft. However, most people will average the same overall pace at The Ring as they do at MMT. The Ring is a solid measuring stick for gauging MMT objectives. Keith's 14:46 CR was at a speed of 4.81 mph, compared to the 4.78 mph he did with his 21:07 earlier that year at MMT. This math obviously doesn't work for all runners, as Keith is as consistent as they come. That being said, a guy like Karl Meltzer would likely be running 12:30-13:00 at The Ring. That is what an "unsoft" time would look like. Sub 14 Neal? 13? :-)

    Great topic!

    -Mike Bailey