Hill records, or Fastest Known Times, seem to be dropping all the time. There are any number of objectives in the UK, says Claire Maxted. Here she looks at some of our greatest routes, with comments from some of the record holders.
Fastest Known Times (FKTs) are not a new invention - in the UK we've tended to call them speed records. Over the last decade these record times created on popular hiking trails or stringing mountain ridges together have become super popular Stateside. They are often the achievement of athletes at the peak of their fitness after a significant amount of logistical planning and organisation, like the Appalachian Trail FKT once held by the famous Scott Jurek. They can be "any distance or time duration" but they are usually recorded outside of races, "as races hold their own set of records". The route must also be "notable and distinct enough that others may be interested in repeating it," according to the website FastestKnownTime.com.
Great Britain has plenty of long distance trails, classic routes and mountain horseshoes worthy of FKT-age. So which are the most popular right now?
Bob Graham Round, Lake District
This classic 65 mile mountain round with over 8000m ascent over 42 Lake District summits has always had cachet in the British running fraternity, but rocketed to international fame in 2018 when trail running, ski-mountaineering super star Kilian Jornet smashed the seemingly untouchable 36 year old course record set by Billy Bland in 1982. "The Bob Graham Round is part of the history of fell running," Kilian says of his 12 hour 52 min record, "part of this sport that I love."
Watch Kilian Jornet's Bob Graham finish livestream here
The women's record of 15:24 is held by the equally incredible Jasmin Paris, and the unstoppable endurance runner Nicky Spinks holds the overall record for the double, 45:30.
Ramsay Round, Lochaber
In 2016 Jasmin Paris surprised herself by becoming the outright record for this 58 mile circuit of 24 Scottish mountains, which involves almost 8700m ascent.
"I simply set off and ran as fast as I thought was maintainable," she says, "It would be wonderful if this run inspired other women to get out fell running, and to believe in their ability to challenge the men on an equal footing."
Last year Es Tresidder (supported by Jasmin among others) managed to beat her record by just one minute with 16:12.
"Setting off I was 50/50 of my chances" he said.
"In shorter races I'd be confident of being faster than Jasmin but I knew how good she is at the longer stuff and all my previous experiences of long stuff had ended badly. Having reccied all of the sections I had an idea of the pace, but some of it felt incredibly fast, most notably on the first leg (when I ran it in training I couldn't match the splits!). The later splits felt more reasonable in training but there's a world of difference between doing them as part of a 4 hour run and doing them when you've already been on the go for 10 hours. So setting off I really wasn't confident I'd do it at all... there was a big element of doubt which kept things exciting!"
Nicky Spinks again holds the overall record for the double, 55:56.
Paddy Buckley, Snowdonia
Ultra runner Damian Hall has just smashed the winter record on this classic Welsh round, running solo and unsupported for 61 miles with 8,500m climbing over 47 peaks including the country's highest, Snowdon.
He also holds the summer record of 17:31 from 2019. He said of his 21hr 30 min winter record, "Winter rounds are hard! I'm pretty wrecked, conditions were tough and I was glad to get down from the highest summit."
Again for the women, Jasmin Paris holds the women's record (only one hour slower than the men's) and Nicky Spinks holds the overall double in 57:27.
"I've always wanted to complete the trilogy of the doubles," says Nicky. "For me, I have left the most important one until last. The Paddy Buckley Round is where it all really started. I attempted it in May 2006 in awful conditions and finished in 25 hrs 45 mins. One month later I was diagnosed with breast cancer."
South West Coast Path
Not quite the 2200 mile Appalachian Trail, but England's longest official long distance path at 630 miles (with a whopping 34,000m of ascent) this varied and challenging trek loops along the coast through Dorset, Devon, Cornwall and Somerset.
The record has been whittled down over the last decade and the current fastest time is Damian Hall at just over 10 and a half days. He had to run an average of 60 miles a day with no more than two hours sleep every night in order to beat the previous record by 17 hours.
Damian said, "It was a wonderful adventure and a real team effort."
Cape Wrath Trail, NW Highlands
Another Damian Hall special here on the UK's toughest hiking trail, this time with UTMB and Spine Race specialist Beth Pascall in the dead of winter 2018.
"I knew I could run that far over that kind of ground, and I have done multi-day races in winter conditions," said Beth of the challenge. "But we didn't know if the weather was going to be on our side. River crossings were a very real risk."
The pair navigated this unwaymarked trail together, self-supported and mainly in darkness, completing this boggy, mountainous 230 mile route from Fort William to Cape Wrath in just 4 days 9 hours, knocking 3 days off the previous record.
Watch the Summit Fever Media film of their journey here.
Wainwrights 214 Challenge, Lake District
Wow, at last an FKT that Jasmin, Nicky and Damian haven't shattered…yet…? Shh, don't tell them. Paul Tierney currently holds this record of 214 Wainwright mountains in the Lake District, first run in a single trip by the late great Alan Heaton in 1985. Heaton took nine days, 16 hours and 42 minutes which included a full 24 hours off after a trip to Keswick Hospital with a septic toe! Another record was then set by Joss Naylor in 1986, and smashed 39 years later by adventure racing, navigation expert Steve Birkinshaw.
Paul's 6 day 6 hour record from summer 2019 betters Steve's by 7 hours. But watch out guys, outright summer Spine Race winner and multiple Dragon's Back race women's podiumer Sabrina Verjee is hot on your heels. "I'm planning the first women's Wainwrights record attempt this June," she says.
Cuillin Ridge Traverse, Isle of Skye
This complex hands-on mountaineering traverse is unquestionably the UK's most dangerous speed record, with 11km of high, rocky ridge including technical climbing sections, 11 Munros and 3000m ascent.
Fuelled by Jelly Babies, ten-time Ben Nevis Fell Race winner Finlay Wild broke his previous record by 15 mins to complete it a few seconds under 3 hours, in 2013.
"In theory I could go faster " he told UKHillwalking, "but the motivation of breaking a whole number is definitely strong, so now that I have done it, I am happy with the record - for now."
Even more of a climbing challenge under snow, the winter record is almost two hours longer, currently held by Uisdean Hawthorn.
The Grand Round
Last year, 2017 Barkley Marathons completer and former pro triathlete John Kelly relocated from the USA to the UK. First thing he did? Attempted his own FKT on his own invention, The Grand Round - an audacious, multi-discipline adventure to complete the Paddy Buckley, Bob Graham and Ramsay Rounds, cycling between each.
In bad weather he looked strong over the first two rounds, but unfortunately he had to quit shortly after starting his cycle to Scotland with extreme fatigue and a dangerous level of sleep deprivation. "I had an incredible adventure," said the 2020 Spine Race winner, "and learned a great deal. I wish I could have finished, and I wasn't planning to fail, but if a challenge can be met with success the first time, maybe it wasn't a sufficient challenge. I definitely want to try it again."
Other exciting rounds
Raad ny Foillan, Isle of Man - The name of this 100 mile coastal trail that circumnavigates the island means 'Way of the Gull'. There is a speed record of 21 hrs 54 mins by Ben Scott and Rob Sellors from 2015, but no ladies record yet, unless you count my 6-day journey along it in July 2019! There's a film of each day here
Hadrian's Wall Path is an 84 mile, historic FKT along the old Roman fortification to keep the Picts out of occupied Britannia. The men's record is Jacob Snochowski in 16 hrs 25 mins, the women's is Izzy Milburn with 18 hrs 42 mins.
Welsh 3000ers - The famous walker's and runner's challenge summiting every Welsh mountain over 3000ft within 24 hours. In 2019 Finlay Wild of Cuillin Ridge fame smashed Colin Donnelly's 31 year old record in and impressive 4 hrs 10 mins:
Peak District Boundary - A 191 mile circuit around the entire Peak District over undulating moorland and fields. The men's record holder is Stu Westfield in 4 days 7 hours, the women's is Nikki Lygo, who took only 3.5 hrs longer. Both did it on the same day in 2019.
Isaac's Tea Trail - Known as "England's last great undiscovered wilderness trek", this 36 mile circuit mostly within the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty has a recorded self-supported FKT from Cees van Der Land of 6 hours 40 mins from 2019.
Thames Down Link is a 15 mile path connecting the North Downs Way with the Thames Path. The record has had much recent interest with four new records over 2019. The current is Todd Harris in 2 hours 44 secs.
Capital Ring - This 78 mile waymarked circuit of London links up as many parks and green spaces as possible. London walkers use it a lot of course, and it has also had a lot of running attention recently with almost a dozen supported and self-supported efforts taking the record to 13 hrs 34 mins in 2019.
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