How to Beat My 165mi Unsupported Ozark Highlands Trail FKT

Executive Summary

On Dec 17, 2017, I completed a new unsupported and solo Fastest Known Time (FKT) of the gnarly 165 mile Ozark Highlands Trail (OHT) in 70:01:16 (2 days 22h 1min). The previous unsupported record was about 110h (by Trey and Dylan in Aug 2016). Unsupported means no external support of any kind. This was my 2nd attempt. See announcement here. The 1st attempt is documented here. I roughly spent $8.60 per mile of running on this FKT.

“The hard part is ‘steady.’ Anyone can go slow. It takes a special kind of commitment to do it steadily, drip after drip, until you get to where you’re going.” — Seth Godin

‘How to Beat my Record’ Movie Clip

Want to beat my record? Here’s a bunch of tips and tricks on how to do better than I did.

Direct URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QDJuD2j_fdE

Training and Preparation Movie Clip

Direct URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LYw6SGXdfwY

How to Beat My Time

Below is a list of 13 tips that I think someone who wants to beat my record can or should consider. Some are obvious, others perhaps not so much. More details in the movie clip.

  1. Go more minimal, go lighter.
  2. Know the water sources.
  3. Pee less.
  4. Be younger, stronger, and better trained.
  5. Pick a perfect weather window.
  6. Know the trail and train on the trail.
  7. Know the finish.
  8. Sleep less.
  9. Avoid errors.
  10. Pack enough calories.
  11. Opt for less darkness.
  12. Keep your shit together.
  13. Know how to navigate.

Refueling.

Current Records

In October 2017, Ashley Nordell, who happens to live in Oregon too, set a new supported FKT in 58h 46min. You can read about her experience here. According to the FKT Board, the current records are as following:

Name Category Style Time Date
Ashley Nordell Women Supported 2d 10h 46m (58h 46min) Oct 2017
Jenny Foster Women Supported 2d 14h 25m (62h 25min) Jan 2009
Steve Kirk & Greg Eason Men Supported 2d 16h 34m (64h 34min) Mar 2004
Trey and Dylan1 Men Unsupported 4d 13h 53m (109h 53min) Aug 2016
Christof Teuscher Men Unsupported 2d 22h 1m (70h 1min) Dec 2017

1Note that technically, Trey and Dylan’s record does not count as unsupported because they were a team of two. Unsupported means solo. Yet, the opinions are split about that detail. Also…link seems down.

Weight Matters

The key to moving fast is to go light. While your body weight has some influence on running efficiency, what matters much more here is the additional weight you are carrying. Although there are other variables that matter, the weight you are carrying is something you probably have the most influence over. To move an object with a mass m at a speed v, you need a certain energy: kinetic energy KE [in Joule] = ½×m×v2. Thus, assuming your metabolism is able to produce a constant energy output that you can use for kinetic energy, i.e., to run, if you are 10% heavier than your normal weight because of a pack, your speed would be reduced by 5% (I’ll let you do the derivation). So, that also means you can be 5% faster if you manage to be 10% lighter. If you are 20% heavier, you’d be about 10% slower. Of course you could go faster despite the weight increase, but you’d need more energy for that. And you may not readily have that available. Plus, you’d also need to eat more calories. So, no matter what, a lighter pack allows you to go faster and/or longer, at least in theory. On a 165mi route that will take 60-70hours to complete, being 5% faster would make roughly a 3h difference.

In reality, things are—as always—a bit more complex. For example, it also depends where the additional weight is. Not surprisingly, the shoe weight has a big effect on performance. It’s also well known that any weight further away from your center of gravity (such as your shoes) will decrease your running efficiency. That’s why carrying bottles in your hands is a pretty bad idea.

Yet, going minimal comes at a risk as well. You may have to quit because you did not pack enough layers or enough food. So it all depends on how much risk you are willing to take.

Food, shoes, and stuff. Preparation matters.

How on earth will this fit into my pack?! I knew it would because I tested things before, haha.

Calories

For my calories budget, I assumed it would take me up to 70h to complete the trail. I usually consume about 180cal/hour, but decided to go to about 210cal/hour as I did not have enough calories during my 1st attempt. But not only that, I felt I had the wrong calories then. So I spent a lot of time testing new things and trying to think outside of the waffle wrapper. For example, I discovered instant Jello and coconut bites.

The calories I carried.

Instant Jello with milk powder is easy to carry and ready in 5 minutes by adding cold water.

Weighing everything…

Timeline

Wed, Dec 13, 2017

  • Flew out to Fayetteville.
  • Got a good dinner and a good night of sleep.

Thu, Dec 14, 2017

  • Drove to Turner Bend.
  • Was dropped off at start.
  • Started at 9:39am.

Fri, Dec 15, 2017

  • Running…

Sat, Dec 16, 2017

  • Running…

Sun, Dec 17, 2017

  • Finished at 7:40am.
  • Transported back to Turner Bend.
  • Drove back to Fayetteville.
  • Drank beer and got a good night of sleep.

Mon, Dec 18, 2017

  • Flew back to Portland.

Expenses

Nothing is for free in these days. Certainly not running. Considering all my expenses, it turns out I roughly spent $8.60 per mile of running on this FKT.

Item Cost
Flight from PDX to Fayetteville $416
Hotel night before start $110
Hotel night after finishing $110
Rental car $250
Transport to start (incl. tip) $60
Transport from finish (incl. tip) $130
Airport food $50
Dinner before and after $60
One pair of shoes (Hoka ATR3) $130
Food for the adventure $100
Total $1,416
Cost per mile of running $8.60

Relive ‘Ozark Highlands Trail (OHT) Unsupported FKT’

GPS Data

Strava pace analysis. You can see that I was getting faster again toward the end. Mainly because I had to beat hypothermia.The big dip around mile 87 or so is when I took a 40min nap.

Strava map of the recorded route.

This is how I got lost at the finish.

All the trash I carried out.

Other Resources: