A movement to encourage more women to set new speed-record benchmarks is spreading across the globe.
As soon as she pursed her lips to the ram’s head painted on a large rock of mining rubble to seal her Hardrock 100 finish with a kiss, Marta Fisher, 47, of Portland, Oregon completed a longtime goal. After watching the race go by year after year due to injuries, lottery misses, and COVID cancellations, she had finally run her dream event.
As one of just 15 female Hardrock starters and one of 11 who finished the race in 2021, she felt compelled to use her experience distance running to mentor other women in the sport. Upon returning home from Hardrock, she began to sift through FastestKnownTime.com (FKT) — the running world’s repository for trail records — exploring potential routes in Washington and Oregon that she could attempt to best.
In her search, she quickly noticed a gaping divide between the number of FKTs held by men compared to women. In 2021 alone, just a third of the FKTs set in the Pacific Northwest were by women and fewer than half the routes established in Oregon and Washington had women’s times.
Perhaps what surprised her most was how many of the routes were easily attainable. As she created a list of the FKTs in need of women’s times, she decided to organize a team to help build a community to tackle this growing list.
“There were a couple of things that appealed to me about FKTs,” said Fisher. “You can take on some different kinds of challenges than you can with races, and you can start where you’re at. You don’t have to be a super skilled runner to get started.”
Fisher organized a team comprised of her running coach Danielle Snyder, as well as Teri Smith, Stacey Lee, and Dana Katz. They quickly got to work spreading the word of the project, creating a website and launching an Instagram account. Within days of their first post, over 100 people signed up for the email list.
The team sought to accomplish three specific goals: flip the stats of male to female FKTs in Oregon and Washington, have 50 women set their first FKT, and have 20 FKTs set by women from underrepresented groups. More importantly the project wanted to build a community of women working toward a similar goal without worrying about speed.
The project kicked off this summer running season with a goal of setting 20 new FKTs the first weekend in June. And the energy behind it reverberated to runners from across the states, and even the globe, who took notice and wanted to participate in their own region.
Stacey Lee, 45, of Portland wanted to set an FKT that was attainable to most people residing in an urban setting that didn’t require the need to drive, run long distances, or even have a GPS watch.
“I wanted to create something that was visible in an area of Portland that has more challenges in terms of socioeconomics and accessibility for those who don’t have access to a trailhead outside of the city,” she said. “I wanted to prove that FKTs can be accessible.”
This was especially important to her as a minority.
On kickoff weekend, she ran All of Powell Butte in a choose-your-own-adventure FKT totaling about 11.5 miles. The task was simple: run every trail in the park in the most efficient and fastest way you can find.
Hooked on FKTs, she began planning an ambitious route called the Olympic Peninsula Traverse on the Pacific Northwest Trail, a 186-mile route that crosses the Olympic Mountain range via coastline, paved roads, dirt roads, and trails.
“I’m not fast, but with my backpacking skills, I [thought] that I could do this,” said Lee. “To me, it was just the challenge of doing something extremely difficult. It was also somewhere I hadn’t been before, so it was exciting to explore somewhere new.”
As she dug deeper into the route, she recruited Smith, whom she considers a “master mapper,” to join her on the attempt. “I had no idea what I was getting myself into,” Smith, 50, of Tualatin, Oregon joked. “I just thought that it looked like a really cool route somewhere I’d never been.”
Fresh off her own FKT on the Cathlapotle Trail of 8 Falls along the Lewis river in Washington, Smith was eager to tackle a new challenge. “It’s like having to be your own race director, you plan the route, you plan the food, you plan the stops, you plan everything,” she said.
The Olympic Peninsula Traverse took Smith and Lee just over six very long days. “I think we can break the men’s time now that we know each other’s strengths and weaknesses,” said Smith.
Across the country in the quintessential New England town of Haverhill, NH, Brie Choate, 40, caught wind of the Woman Who FKT Project after seeing a post on Instagram.
She had moved to the town of 4,500 people in 2017, and took up running, but found it a bit lonely heading out by herself all the time. She decided to start a running community in the spring of 2021. The Gnarly Runners, a small, but mighty club, now meets weekly for Wednesday evening jaunts.
When she heard about Women Who FKT, Choate took a deep dive into the process. “I live on the west side of the White Mountains and thought that this should definitely be more in our scene,” she said.
She decided to go for an FKT of her own on her local route, the Moose Mountain Traverse, and established the first known time. Shortly afterward, Choate put together a list of FKTs in the state that do not have women’s records and started putting the word out to local race directors and runners. Ripples even made their way to Vermont, where Rachel Adams of the Long Trail Running Club decided to create a Women’s FKT list for her state.
“I really want to encourage women to just pick a route that doesn’t have a women’s tab open and get out there,” she said. “It doesn’t matter what speed you do, you get the FKT if you send it in. How could that not be contagious and inspire confidence?”
Laura Gloria, 36, of Wenatchee, WA and Melissa Sholomicky, 34, of Kelso, WA met for the first time when they nabbed the FKT for the Cook-Aug-Dog Traverse on June 12. The 14-mile 5,500-foot climb tested the new friendship with plenty of bushwhacking, high winds, rain, and hail.
“We just had to laugh,” said Sholomicky. “Having someone else there definitely helps make it less miserable and keeps you going. You don’t get to dwell in that negative feeling as much.”
“I’ve always said that I’m not the fastest, so why bother?” said Gloria. But then she thought, “Why aren’t we even trying because I know 100 percent there are women who are incredibly fast who aren’t claiming FKTs for some reason.”
When Sholomicky went for and earned the FKT for the challenging Buckhorn Wilderness Loop in the Olympic Mountains, she almost didn’t submit her effort, embarrassed by her time that was nearly double the length of the others on record due to late season snowfields that caused significant delay.
“It’s a terrible time,” she said, “but the point is to put the first time down. It’s meant to be beat. There should be no shame in having the “slow” time.”
Gloria said that the more female faces and names next to FKT results show the community that there are other women out there doing this.
As of September 23, 62 women who set their first FKT in 2022 tagged @WomenWhoFKT on Instagram from 24 states, three Canadian provinces, and the UK, and 11 women have indicated they belong to an underrepresented group.
“What’s great about this project is that you don’t have to be fast, you don’t even have to run to get an FKT,” said Sholomicky. “If there’s a trail out there that you want to do, you can just hike it. It’s just a matter of finishing.”