Fast Times (and Aesthetic Lines) - Page 4
Mike Wolfe and Hal Koerner get their bearings on the JMT. Photo by Tom Robertson
California’s 223-mile-long John Muir Trail (JMT) stretches from Whitney Portal, the traditional Mount Whitney trailhead, to the Happy Isles trailhead in Yosemite National Park. It traverses the high Sierra Nevada, a white-granite wonderland that’s largely above treeline and, thus, almost always inundated with sunlight. The JMT is named after environmentalist and High Sierra lover John Muir, who called the Sierra Nevada the “Range of Light” for this interplay of rocks and sun.
“Oh, that high-altitude sun was brutal—it burned my brain!” says Mike Wolfe. In August of 2013, Wolfe, a 36-year-old attorney from Missoula, Montana, and Hal Koerner, 38, who owns Rogue Valley Runners, a running store in Ashland, Oregon, reset the supported JMT FKT in 3 days 12 hours 41 minutes. Sue Johnston had set the previous overall supported record in 2007 at 3 days 20 hours (Johnston still holds the women’s supported record).
Wolfe and Koerner’s record is unique because not only did they work with a support crew but they also worked together. Says Koerner, “We were out there for all that time, but we didn’t actually talk much. You can’t actually talk much. We both had this understanding of the effort we were putting out, and having someone there to recognize it made working together worthwhile.”
One thing that FKT efforts have in common with races is that the record isn’t in the bag until the effort is over. Wolfe and Koerner, due to being behind schedule, ran into trouble at mile 130 when they missed their crew person. They debated taking a long detour off route to restock at a store or forging onto their next crew point low on calories.
“We both sat on a log, took deep breaths and decided, ‘We’re not letting this stop us,’” says Wolfe. “We had a little food to tide us over and we just hammered. I bonked so hard I was hallucinating. We just put our heads down and did it.”
Sue Johnston, 48, the previous supported JMT FKT holder, says these types of problems are the real hindrance to even-faster JMT FKTs. “If someone with speed, endurance and a crew can get through the effort with no real issues, they should be able to go under three days.”
Last year, Krar crushed the Grand Canyon's Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim FKT by over 30 minutes, but says he'll never beat that time. Photo by Ken Etzel
In the predawn of May 10, 2013, on the precipice of the Grand Canyon, Flagstaff, Arizona’s Rob Krar hit his GPS’s start button and plunged down the South Kaibab Trail toward the canyon’s bottom, up to the North Rim via the North Kaibab Trail and back the way he came. Forty-two miles, about 10,000 feet of descent and ascent and a double crossing of a big hole in the ground later, Krar returned and shut off his GPS.
The numbers on the watch? Six hours 21 minutes 47 seconds. Krar became the FKT holder of the Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim (R2R2R) route, massively improving upon Dakota Jones’s previous record of 6 hours 53 minutes 38 seconds.
So stout is Krar’s FKT that trail runners mostly guffaw about it, and so does Krar. When he arrived to the Grand Canyon’s North Rim at halfway, he used a video camera for documentation. Krar panned the camera around the trailhead and then focused it on his watch. The video footage captures his reaction— a slew of expletives.
“I didn’t look at my watch until then,” says Krar. “I’ve run the canyon enough times that I know what my effort should be. But I was not expecting to see my effort translate into that number.” That North Rim time was just 11 minutes slower than his FKT for the one-way R2R of 2 hours 51 minutes 28 seconds.
Says the 37-year-old pharmacist, “The canyon is a harsh place and I’ve had many bad days in it. But, this time, I was given a magical day.”
In 2011, when Jones broke the then-R2R2R FKT, he wrote in a blog post that he thought the record would go under six hours in the near future. Krar’s effort has gotten the FKT closer to that six-hour barrier. Says Jones, “I’m impressed by Rob’s record. He’s a great example of a fast [track and road] guy taking up ultras and doing very well, so he is a natural to set records like this one. But I think his record will be broken, and soon, too.”
“I would love it if someone broke my record,” says Krar, “but I will not run the Grand Canyon FKT again. I don’t think I could repeat the magic of that day.”