Fastest Known Time, or Feel, Know, Trust? The Long Trail FKT
When Ben Feinson, son of our Head of Product, went out for the Fastest Known Time on The Long Trail, we headed out to capture moments of his run, simply to show his physical undertaking happening in our own backyard. But what we ended up witnessing was much more than someone on a run.
Ben ran the Long Trail in 4 days, 11 hours, and 44 minutes. The Fastest Known Time to date.
When we see his name next to the Fastest Known Time, we are amazed by his individual accomplishment. But when we understand what it took, we see the community, the people, the trails. We see the time, the roads, the supplies. We feel the moments of success and failure, the encouragement, the training. We see and we understand that we most likely will never know just how impressive a feat it really is. Below is Ben’s account, originally posted here.
Long Trail Context & Background
The Long Trail is a 272 mile trail stretching from the northern to the southern end of Vermont over the Green Mountains. The trail boasts some of the most gnarly terrain for a long trail in the US and is one of the most historic FKT’s in the world. Jonathan Basham set a stout record of 4 days, 12 hours, and 46 minutes.
It’s difficult to write down something succinct for this adventure when I’m so completely saturated with the stories and emotions of my friends and crew. There are a hundred interesting and beautiful things that happened in the weeks leading up to our performance and in the five days we shared the trails, forests and a UHaul. Maia had the motivation and foresight to set up our crew to film a large portion of the experience, which with her direction will go a long way toward telling our story. We are also grateful to Lance at Darn Tough VT who took several days to shoot hundreds of gorgeous photos.
I began “ultrarunning” in fall of 2017, with the completion of a solo 50-mile Hut Traverse in New Hampshire in 22.5 hours. I didn’t know anything about the bizarre and loving subculture; I just enjoyed moving through the forest quickly all day. That same summer, I drew up a rough plan for a 6-day Long Trail. This was my reach-beyond-reach goal for what I thought I could, one day, do on my favorite trail – the trail I thru-hiked with my best friend Owen in 2010 and the trail that inspired us to keep hiking and exploring. We both grew up near our favorite Camel’s Hump.
Without getting too much into the weeds of my running history… flash forward to 2020, where I am living in Vermont and sharing the trails with an amazing small community of mountain lovers. I am in summer 2 of leading a new local trail running club I kicked off, with Theresa and Maia. It is July and I have just run a 50-mile route that I designed, with a dream team of friends – Prem, my ultrarunning mentor, Rob, Theresa and Maia. It is M & T’s first 50-mile effort. This is my goodbye hurrah as I move to California during a pandemic. As I live alone in SoCal, away from this community, it slowly dawns on me that during this confusing (and depressing) time I need a driving goal to keep me motivated. These friends, including my lifelong hiking companion Owen, are the dream team who have the love, the local knowledge, and the naiveté to take on one of the boldest trail running records in America. While my “plan” from 2017 was unsupported, I knew in 2020 that there was no way I wanted to take on this project without my friends.
There is something worth mentioning about these runners before I dig into the trip report. They are all, without exception, selfless, generous and extremely humble. They are helplessly in love with our local mountains. They love each other unconditionally. And when I asked them all individually to be a part of this dream, not one of them said “I believe that you can do it.” Instead, they all effectively replied by saying, “I am certain you will do this.”
The faith and confidence that these friends had, and have, in our ability to do insane things is the thesis of my story. I couldn’t have pulled it off without a single one of them.
- Owen Rachampbell – Crew Leader, Pacer
- Prem Linskey – Crew Leader, Pacer
- Maia Buckingham – Crew, Pacer and Film
- Theresa Legan – Crew, Pacer
- Rob Rives – Crew, Pacer
- Lance Parker – Lead Pacer and Crew
- Nik Ponzio – Crew, Pacer
- Jim Feinson – Van Crew, Logistics
- Jesse Vining – Pacer
- Joe “String Bean” McConaughy – Coach
- Other logistics and support: Lyn Feinson, Phil LaCroix, Karin Rand, Chris Kantlehner
Friday, July 9 — Afternoon
I arrive at Owen’s house with our rented UHaul, having spent 2 straight days packing, organizing food, and reviewing a schedule and plan carefully crafted over two months. Every bin, article of clothing, first aid item, and system is meticulously labelled for the crew. Suddenly, I giggle a sigh of relief. As Owen hunches over his phone mass texting, I feel a huge weight lift as the burden of planning passes from me to him. Now I just have to move.
We drive to the Journey’s end trailhead, eat some food, and meet Prem and Maia who are there with ice cream and high spirits. These are the three people who will be with the van nearly every moment for five days. I settle into my van bed and they tent up and we get too little sleep.
Saturday, July 10 — 3:30 AM, Day 1
Our packs set from the night before, I stuff down some eggo waffles with PB and we hike a bit over a mile to the terminus. Here we see dusk turn to day as Nik Ponzio meets us by surprise. He has a drone and is over the moon to see us. Everyone is giddy. Celebratory hugs, 5:00 hits and Prem and I are off down the trail.
Prem, my ultra mentor and dear friend, will end up hiking nearly half of the LT. Originally my plan included pacers for ½ to ⅔ of the event, but the crew’s enthusiasm for hiking and commitment to success at all costs would change this. He loves the Northern section. We fly over terrain smoother than expected. Jay Peak before 8:00, and at the pass having already banked 30+ minutes over our plan. The next section to Hazen’s Notch I hike solo, smoother than expected, and I bank more time. Conditions are perfect and they are predicted to be cool and dry for three days. This FKT is extremely hard to achieve if the higher peaks in central and northern Vermont are getting rain, and our forecast may be the best an LT FKT attempt has ever had.
Owen is next to pace, and he’ll do 4-5 miles to Tillotson. We ascend Haystack, a steep technical one where I feel slow but Owen tells me later we were quite quick. He and I have hiked this section together recently and really love it, even though it is overgrown. Nik meets us at Tillotson to resupply my food and water, Owen leaves, and we move steady over Belvedere to Eden. The descent is technical and tricky but Nik and I are still feeling psyched and jog it in to meet the van.
My crew is starting to shine and get the pit-stop dialed. Nik surprises us with a Theragun (to be renamed Ass Blaster) which I use as my friends take my requests for snacks and water. Theresa (T) has arrived as well and will be hiking tomorrow. Prem dresses a hot spot with some benzoin and tape – he is the foot doctor on this trip. We are more than an hour ahead of my schedule, ~30 mi in and cruising.
Everybody is super eager to hike, especially Prem, and he joins to do Devil’s Gulch. This is a spectacular ¼ mile valley of giant glacial debris boulders, some as big as small homes, you crawl over and under. We’re feeling good and we jog casually over the summits of Bowen and Butternut. Dirty jokes are made. Maia is ready to join me at Corliss camp with more food and water, and we summit Laraway together and take some video of the “whale” – a giant rock formation we used to look forward to on Boy Scout hikes as a kid. Maia has had us using a GoPro and phones to do interviews and catch exciting moments throughout the hike and it’s a lot of fun – although Prem is a dirty dirty boy and we have crafted some thoroughly unusable footage together. Owen and Maia too, honestly.
Owen finishes my day. I have walked first every step of this journey and I plan to set the pace until I become unable. My pacers right now are there for mental and emotional support, safety, carrying extra water, and sharing good memories and beautiful forest. Choosing a wise pace on this terrain and listening to my body is something I do well. It has been an awesome, confidence-inspiring first day, especially since the longest I’ve ever hiked on the LT in a day is 40 miles. After Round Top (gorgeous shelter) and Prospect Rock (closed for falcon nesting) we run through sap lines to get to our planned finish at Johnson, 2 full hours ahead of schedule, around 50+ miles. Everybody is PSYCHED. We opt to immediately push a bit further up the dirt road where the trail continues (a rare section of road, there are only a few miles of this on the whole LT) to bank some for tomorrow. Prem, Owen, Maia and Theresa are all helping in camp and it’s fun and lighthearted like a casual car camping night. Because we are early I do a bit more self-care and get 4 whole hours of sleep instead of 3.
Sunday, July 11 — 2:30 AM, Day 2
Being a bit ahead, we decide to bank one half-hour on my original plan. Owen has made me eggos with pb, bacon and maple syrup and we are on trail (Prem joining, no surprise) by 3:00 instead of our scheduled 3:30. The ascent of Whiteface is gradual and we FLY up it in the dark. Maia and T are preparing to film on Madonna.
The crossing over Whiteface summit, Madonna and Sterling Pond is in my opinion the most technical section on the entire Long Trail. Even though it is stunningly gorgeous, with walls of ancient rock and massive root ball sculptures and piles of thick moss… it is so hard to move fast that I got discouraged. You may have an ascent of 300’ where your watch would say 600’ gained because there are so many small-scale ups and downs. You will boulder down rock faces backward then climb a root ladder immediately. It is not easy. We navigate this in the dusk, and once day rises we miss our meeting with Maia and T. This is unfortunate but somehow we are in the wrong place at the wrong time. They get reamed by a caretaker for testing Theresa’s drone… and after a tough descent we are all together again at Smuggler’s Notch. My mother and sister are there with food, and a pleasant surprise – my new friend Chris has joined! We met briefly on a LT hike Prem and I did a couple weeks back and he is a powerful hiker and kind person eager to help. He joins Owen and I to summit Mansfield.
Chris has never done this mountain and he’s psyched. He drove 3.5 hours from MA for this. Mansfield and the central VT sections are Owen and my home turf and we’ve hiked this peak dozens of times. Fueled by adrenaline I blaze up one of the steepest sections of the LT to summit Mansfield in 1:06. My test hike a few weeks back was 1:05 and this was on fresh legs. Once we are up and congratulating one another, I do what I do best – run full speed across the summit of Mansfield. I think my ability to move fast on highly technical terrain is my greatest strength as a runner. My core engages, my legs spin quickly and I drop Owen and Chris as I fly across the rocks, literally sobbing with joy. We reconvene to descend into Nebraska Notch, which has many technical scrambles but also some runnable miles as the elevation drops. Thru hikers here are horror-stricken by the technicality of Mansfield and they tell us this, unprompted. There are class-3 rock faces and no-fall-zones that can be scary as hell with a full heavy pack here. In the Notch Owen leaves and Nik enters/resupplies from a side trail (Lake Mansfield). Nik and Chris will take me home – literally. The next junction is Bolton, next to my hometown Richmond where I grew up. After a tough ascent of Mayo and Bolton (this section is beautiful but haunting. The valley before Mayo is dark, dank, full of moss and just eerie) we have 8-9 miles net downhill to Route 2.
We run much of this and our friend Phil LaCroix meets us for a few miles with ginger soda and snacks.
Local ultrarunners and hikers have a challenge route affectionately called the “ManHump” or “CamelsField” in which you summit Mansfield, Bolton and Camel’s Hump in a day. This includes about 32 miles of the hardest LT in Vermont and 11,000 gain. I have done this challenge 5 times before, with different groups of beloved friends, each time a cherished memory for the ages. I have never done it smack in the middle of a 60-mile day before.
Route 2 is a party. I get my ass blasted with the Theragun, my family is there with pizza for everyone, and some friends show up for moral support. We do a solid 30+ minute pit stop (our longest). My legs after that long descent from Bolton were finally feeling pretty wrecked, but the stop brought me back. My trail running dream team from our local club and the 50 miler last year (Prem, Maia and Theresa, just missing Rob) hike one of our favorite trails in the state – Bamforth Ridge up Camel’s Hump. This 6 mile section of trail has more stories, more love and more hate in our group than I can describe here.
Rob is less present because he is currently taking on the challenge of his life – this weekend he is attempting the 90-mile Adirondack Cannonball canoe run, solo, in a single day. I can’t possibly describe how hard this attempt is and his story will be legendary.
Maia and T turn back and Prem and I summit Camel’s Hump – my favorite mountain, I have hiked it roughly 75 times. Tears come fast. We descend a very technical section into Wind Gap and I meet my next pacer – My carpenter coworker Jesse. Jesse and I have some headlamp issues in this section to App Gap but we get over our fear and frustrations by telling outdoor adventure stories about times when things went way worse. Owen hikes a mile or two backward from App Gap to meet us, and soon I have completed my new longest LT day – about 58 miles including all of the tallest hardest mountains on the trail. We breathe a sigh of relief as a team. Maia, Owen and Prem take good care of me and stuff me with food. It is after midnight and we need to get to bed ASAP. I end up getting 3 hours of sleep this night.
Monday, July 12 — 4:30 AM, Day 3
Today, Prem will start me off once again. He is eager to start off each day and I am grateful. All my pacers are extraordinary but Prem has a lot of experience on multi day efforts, and he asks the right questions and makes sure I eat enough. We absolutely blast over the Monroe Skyline – a rare section of trail hovering around 4,000 feet with somewhat exposed areas on both sides. This is another section we have all done a lot, and Owen got engaged up here to our friend Anna not too long ago.
Pardon all the extra flavor. Maia’s making a hell of a film soon so we can get all the personal stories. From Lincoln Gap to Middlebury Gap I have some highs and some lows. I have had several tears in my L knee meniscus since 2015, and this leads to imbalances, especially hamstring and hip issues on this hike.
Maia paces me for a section where I am suddenly very up and very down, and despite it being quick I get discouraged by weak legs. She is unquenchably positive and keeps me afloat. Jesse returns for a section as well, resupplying at Mt Roosevelt and replacing Maia, and is also extremely positive and goofy. We have lots of fun, and are pleasantly surprised when my friend Emily Stitt hops out of the woodwork 3 miles from Midd Gap to say hello! She is a seasoned nordic athlete and blasts this section with us.
Midd Gap is a quick stop. We have a few more tough climbs today, but the terrain gets easier and easier as we approach the Southern Long Trail. The crew is cranking now with seasoned efficiency and it’s clear they are having a BLAST. Rob has arrived from his insane canoe trip and we hug intensely. Hugs are the norm at these stops. Constant hugging all around. Lance Parker, our ringer, has also arrived. Lance is the most seasoned athlete in the group, having won many big-ticket races and completed challenges that horrify the hardest ultra athletes. We are new friends but kindred spirits and his big heart opens as we literally prance over Worth and Gillespie peaks. This may be in the top 3 most beautiful sections of trail, in my opinion. It is open and airy, with boulders and root balls covered by soft conifer duff – technical but runnable, without as many sharp rocks and gnarled roots. Suddenly up here my legs feel fresh.
Day 3 focus. The worst was yet to come, and everyone knew it was coming in 24 hours.
Prem will take me from Brandon Gap over “Purgatory” – a long mostly flat section which follows old logging road. We tell long dumb jokes as dusk falls, and see a family on trail who cheers us on. This is the only party I will meet until the end of the effort who seems to know that I am the nut attempting a record, and they boost our spirits. This section ends with some technical stuff and a tough climb before David Logan shelter where we are meeting Rob and Lance. I am getting TIRED and discouraged. Today we have largely been an hour ahead of my schedule. But instead of gaining time on this easy section we have lost a half-hour. I am clearly upset and Prem enforces on Lance that I need to eat more.
Headlamps on, darkness now full, Lance will take me 13 miles to finish a 59-mile day at Route 4, near the AT/LT “Maine” Junction. It is clear that Lance is a pro pacer. He motivates me at the right moments. He suggests eating at the right moments. And most importantly, he opens me up from the soul to talk deeply about why we are doing this. I end up spilling all of my fears and insecurities to him on this section as I struggle more and more. This is meant to be one of the easiest sections on the whole LT, and we are indeed running much of it, but damn I am tired as hell and my Left knee and hamstring feel wrecked. Lance talks a lot about how the body follows the mind, and also subtly suggests a change in my diet from junk food to whole food… this will be a game changer. But I am frustrated with him as I cannot see much light right now. This is my first big low of the trip. We lose another half-hour on this section and arrive roughly around when we had originally planned, 12:30 AM. The crew is all there – Rob, Maia, Theresa, Owen, Prem, in full force and they seem to have been having a lot of fun. Their high spirits lift me and I force down soup and quesadillas. Lance and Prem are being a hair more forceful at this point… I absolutely must eat more food, and I must eat more nutritious, substantial food if this effort is going to be a success.
The energy in the crew is electric. It is clear that they have been having a raucous good time all along this trip, and Owen is making lifelong bonds with my ultra friends. We are about to begin the fated Day 4. This is the final push with almost no breaks, for both me and the crew, and they are in full performance mode. As I do a bit of theragun massage and eat, they are drawing up pacing plans and scheming. I have set the pace exclusively but soon others will take the reigns. Soon my ability to make decisions will falter and they know this.
I get to bed by 1:30 but I cannot sleep. I am experiencing a new pain, a deep sharp pain in my hips and my knees. I doze but keep checking at 15 minute intervals as the night ticks away. I try to keep my feet elevated in my van bed so at least I get a bit of recovery. By 3:40 I am completely frustrated, and ahead of schedule, I decide it is time to leave. I certainly slept less than an hour in total. Lance and Prem help me get ready, feed me a more nutritious egg wrap, and Prem and I start up Killington.
Tuesday, July 13 — Day 4
The weather changes. In the dark, climbing Killington, a downpour begins. We cannot avoid the water and with soaked feet in the night we trudge across another unending traverse. This is a beautiful mountain but right now I am in a frustrated but deeply motivated hypothermic trance. Prem and I descend, and having gotten his emergency text, Theresa has back-hiked in extra layers. We finish a half-hour behind the intended segment time. Today we actually began 90 minutes ahead of my schedule (4:00 instead of 5:30)… now our lead is 60.
My schedule, designed with meticulous care, has us breaking the record by two hours. With the exception of day one, the splits I chose for each segment have been almost exactly on. Unfortunately, as day 4+ hits, the splits get much faster. The trail is slightly easier than up north, but it will not feel so, because we must run. And we are tired. And now, everything is wet.
After Killington section, Lance paces me for short runnable stints through the Codding Hollow Neighborhood area. My feet are hurting like hell and I am tired. He helps train me to eat more and shares some of his more nutritious food – PB&J wrap, dried fruit, etc. As we descend Clarendon Gorge he tells the story of one of his three (3!) LT FKT attempts where he nearly succeeded but quit. (In this crew we have around 10 Long Trail Thru-Hikes between us…!) Here at this very spot, when his decision settled, his muscles and joints suddenly appreciated the new reality and all seized up. The body follows the mind.
Owen paces me over Airport Lookout and Bear Mountain. I am literally falling asleep running and I tell Owen I would like to nap, but he doesn’t seem to agree. Other team members feel I should wait until absolutely necessary to nap. Our decision is made for us because the sky opens up and a torrential downpour soaks the landscape for around 30 minutes. If we stop we will get hypothermia. Thankfully this sudden shock totally brings me and my legs back to life. After my second most significant low (with Lance once again, and Owen), my best buddy and I are literally cruising across Bear Mountain and running down, laughing and joking all the while. We actually bank a few minutes on this section, although we had hoped to bank more.
We resupply and pit-stop at route 140. Everyone seems very excited about White Rocks, and I get amped as well. While I have hiked the northern ⅔ of the LT many times, I have not seen much of the Southern ⅓ since my 2010 thru-hike with Owen. Maia and Theresa will now pace me together, which is awesome because I have not seen enough of T. These two are tough as nails and great company.
The ascent of White Rocks is steep and I hate it. As we get up it is clear that the unique, angular, sharp rocks that make this area so cool will also make my feet suffer for the next 8 miles. The descent from White Rocks, with its spectacular community-built cairn castle, should be slow, easy and gradual. Theresa must leave us and Maia and I face 5 miles of a literal mud river, filled with sharp angular boulders. There is no sure footing anywhere and we must be both soaked and rock-hopping. Maia bears witness to another of my lows, and I send her ahead to tell the crew to prepare the van for me to take a nap. I’m feeling pretty destroyed.
I don’t think I napped but I put my feet up. My father has now joined the crew for the final push which is huge psychologically. He helps massage my legs and Lance and Prem feed me, I believe. My memory of this junction is a bit hazy. It is mid-afternoon. Prem does some good good work on my problem areas foot-wise… we are bouncing between doing blister tape jobs and just covering them in Bag Balm, and it looks like because of the severe wetness, Bag Balm it will be. There is no hope for my feet to feel good any more and the remainder of the Long Trail, 72 miles, will be wet as hell. We have about 24 hours.
Day 4 Continued — The Decision and the Push
It has become clear to the crew that I am suffering. My feet hurt and my left leg is tight and seizing in the hamstring. Otherwise I am simply weak and tender. Owen gears up to do a fateful 12 mile section with me over Baker, Peru and Styles. At this point I am not aware of the map, the distances, or what to expect. I am merely trying to eat enough, drink enough, and hike fast enough, and nothing else exists. I have painful tongue sores just like Mikaela Osler gets (did you know we went to the same High School?), and eating is a horrible chore. My stomach always feels bad and I have no appetite. For the last day I have been peeing every 30 minutes since my body is in ketosis, and now this is down to 20 minutes. Owen knows this section is crucial and will determine the prognosis for the FKT.
We hike at a reasonable pace. It continues to be sopping wet with miles of tip-toeing on rock. Owen gives me splits, and encourages me as only a best friend can. We are behind schedule but only just barely. Rob meets us to resupply at Griffith Area, which is a huge boost – he is overwhelmingly positive, kind and generous – but even this cannot carry me. He is with us for a few miles before leaving and in this time I have a mental breakdown. I put my head in my hands and cry softly, then resume hiking.
Once Rob is gone and we have 4-5 miles left to Mad Tom Notch, I break the news to Owen. I am going to end my Long Trail attempt.
Owen is in shock and horror. He tells me that he won’t be easily convinced, but I make a compelling argument… I have achieved so many goals that I wished for, most notably having a brilliant, joyful and interesting adventure with all my loving friends in my favorite place. Because at this point I seemingly KNOW that my body cannot continue to perform, I do not want to force them to carry me through another day of suffering as my body breaks down. And what I do not tell Owen is that truly, I just don’t want to face this pain.
Owen and I spend an hour debriefing this, crying our eyes out together, hugging, telling stories, and talking about how much this wilderness and this trail mean to us. He seems to have accepted my resignation and texts the crew to come out and meet us… but also hints that I should imagine how it will feel to sit at home tomorrow, not on trail any more.
Soon Lance Parker, man myth and legend, SPRINTS to meet us on Styles Peak. He is shirtless and covered in sweat, panting and staring like a wild animal. “Take off your shirt,” he says. I am not about this. “TAKE OFF YOUR SHIRT NOW.” I understand what he is getting at… I lift up my shirt to reveal my Long Trail tattoo. The tattoo that Owen gave me as a gift after our hike, which matches his. Lance points to it. I can’t remember his words precisely, because I was so distraught. He tells me that this is what matters. The trail is what matters. Not the FKT… why is this trail so important to me? He is speaking quickly and meaningfully but much of it is lost as I am not in the mood to hear it. “Prem is waiting at the bottom with his pack ready to go for you.”
Prem, above anybody else, will never accept my defeat.
Maia and Theresa show up on the mountain and offer support but will not discuss my quitting. They treat it as a regular casual hike, and are chatting normally as though we are just on a regular hard hiking day. This is frustrating to me. Maia and Owen flank me and joke and banter. Lance is prancing around ahead, then turning back to glance at us periodically. After a mile I realize… “Owen, Lance is f***ing pacing us, isn’t he.”
I feel as though we are crawling. Just as Lance had said, when my decision set in, every muscle and aching tendon in my body seized up. I thought I was hiking about a mile per hour, and that we were irreparably behind schedule. I am in terrible pain, emotionally and physically, and couldn’t imagine facing my father and Prem at the bottom.
Maia hands me a phone with ear buds, and asks very delicately if I could please listen to something a friend made for me. I say yes and I put it in. The recording is 17 minutes of all of my friends and loved ones, giving me words of encouragement, expressing their love and gratitude for all I have done for them, sharing their pride in my achievement and their confidence that I can succeed. My sisters are acting and singing. Our run club friend Karin Rand had put together this profound gift for me, and I did not in a million years see it coming. When the recording was over I handed it back to Maia, thanked her, and was empty.
Mentally and physically in that moment I was hollow, without any sensation. And as the words of my friends set in, what filled that place was love. I realized that all of these people in my community were certain that I could achieve this goal, and that they were ecstatic to be part of that dream with me. They had felt loved and touched by me and wanted to give that back. My crew was here with me, and in my darkest moment, not a single one of them doubted that I would keep going. They loved me unconditionally and were ready to do anything in the world. And all of a sudden I felt that for the sake of all these people, I had to give the trail everything I had to give. As a sense of unwavering purpose welled in my gut, the opposite sensation from earlier took place – every single muscle in my body relaxed completely. By the time we reached the bottom of the trail at Mad Tom Notch, my body felt fresh like day one.
At the notch my Dad’s face was like a ghost. He had seen me suffer terribly, did not know what was going to happen, and was simultaneously overwhelmed by the heart and soul of my crew who were ready to do anything to pull me through. I looked around at everyone, and speaking for the first time since the recording, I said “Let’s get shoes on, we’re going back out.”
Perfect focus as the crew geared up. Prem, Maia and Owen joined me over Bromley mountain. This 6-mile section was socked into the clouds, and the rocky trail was a full river. Our feet were most often ankle-deep in water and mud. On my newly dedicated legs, we blasted the ascent, but the descent was long and hard and we lost a few more minutes on the schedule. At the bottom, I was given a 15 minute nap in the van and Prem set up for the push of the night.
The Final 54 Miles
Prem and I were to take on a 17 mile section. Longer than any yet on trail, at night, in the Stratton wilderness. The elevation change is so minimal, and the trail is FAST here – but it was a river. Our feet were ankle deep in water and mud constantly. I was cold and at this point delirious. Prem forced me to eat every 30 minutes. Eventually I asked him for a nap, and as we walked up a forest road, my eyes rolled back into my head and I fell into his arms. We sat up against a tree and I napped for 17 minutes as Prem texted with my coach, Stringbean. It seems like Prem got some encouraging words. I woke up and felt fresh. We hiked through a thunderstorm. We summited Stratton. We descended Stratton. We actually lost time on this section, but in my heart I was absolutely resolute – I had become convinced, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that we were getting the FKT.
We get to Stratton-Arlington road at daybreak, and the crew is ready. They have hot nutritious food, and a goddamn perfect plan. I sit down, set my watch for 10 minutes, and pass out in the sun. I wake up and I am eating an egg burrito. My Dad is emotional as all hell, and in complete awe of the performance of my team. After a moment of stretching, Lance is ready to take me out. We have 37 miles to cover and 12 hours to do it.
“We are going to walk with large strides. This is the pace.” Just as Prem had led the last section, now Lance was in front. I had a few lights at the end of tunnels – in 12 miles Owen would be waiting atop Glastenbury to hike me home. Then after 11 more miles we would hit route 9. Then my crew would all be there with me for the final 14. Lance was an angel and a devil to me. My feet, with the same muddy socks and shoes from the last few sections, were on fire. I felt as though they had been beaten into oblivion, and now I was hiking on top of wire brushes. But my focus and dedication were unwavering, and I was guided by the sincere confidence that the FKT was in the bag. Lance is such a good guide that I knew without a shadow of a doubt that he would take me 23 miles to Route 9 in exactly the amount of time he intended, and without bonking. A bonk could be game over. He handed me bread and cheese, cherries, banana, chocolate pretzels, quesadillas, and other nutritious foods at careful intervals. He filtered water as we hiked and refilled my bottle. He gently encouraged me yet maintained a tortuous pace. I was in a trance for hour after hour, completely in his world.
Owen joined after 12 miles and our team became 3. The pain increased but Owen’s company was huge. He and I had both been waiting for this exact moment. Another 11 miles of hell became even worse because it was now a descent from Glastonbury, and infinitely worse on my feet. And we were running, running HARD as I perceived it for the majority. Nik also joined a couple miles before Route 9, and for the final brutal descent the boys were all in high spirits. Despite the pain, joy was building in my heart as I became certain we had the record. Lance’s predicted pace was exactly on – after 23 miles, we were ahead of his goal by just a few minutes.
At Route 9 we took 10 minutes to eat and change shoes with perfect focus. Maia, Theresa, Prem, Owen, and Nik were all geared up to power through the final 14 miles with me. This section had been the downfall of many FKTs, but every single person in our party knew it was a victory lap. The question wasn’t whether we would break it but by how much. It was 1:00 PM. The FKT time was 5:46. Our goal was to break 4 ½ days, or 5:00 pm.
With pure focus I charged up the route 9 climb – a massive 1000 foot rock staircase. We ended up placing top 10 on Strava for this. Prem soon took the pacer position ahead of me, wisely, and we blasted through mile after mile of muddy river. The trail here was quite literally knee deep. We splashed through 20 foot wide rocky river trail, up and down root ball scrambles, and maintained a blazing 16 minute mile pace. I stumbled and wavered but maintained my strength as my crew fed and watered me – I tried to turn them down foolishly and “push it in,” somehow unaware that 4 hours is still a long time on a hard trail.
Our crew train charged through these hard miles with joy and ecstasy. A thunderstorm opened up and blasted us with even more rain, as we joked that it was the spirit of Johnathan Basham trying one last time to stop us. I took the lead for the last few miles, and with a hard push, passing my family who had come to watch, we took the border at 4:44.
Our crew broke the 12-year Long Trail Supported FKT by one hour and two minutes.
We cried and hugged and celebrated at the border, and with my family, made the slow trek 3.1 miles back through the swamp to Seth Warner shelter to recover our vehicles, and relax.