RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Like other sports, the pandemic has upended the competitive running world. With all the major races canceled this year, there's a new socially distant trend where you race alone against the clock. The time is your competitor. North Country Public Radio's Emily Russell explains.
EMILY RUSSELL, BYLINE: At the end of a long dirt road in New York's Adirondack Mountains, endurance athlete Alyssa Godesky switches on her headlamp. When the clock strikes 4 a.m., Godesky says a quick goodbye.
ALYSSA GODESKY: All right.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Thanks, Brian.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Good luck.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: See you.
RUSSELL: Godesky turns towards the trail and runs off, disappearing into the dark.
(SOUNDBITE OF STEPS CRUNCHING)
RUSSELL: Ahead of her are miles of scrambling up rocks and bushwhacking through thick forests. Godesky is attempting a speed record for hiking all 46 of the highest peaks in the Adirondacks. If she succeeds, she'll set what's known as an FKT, for fastest known time. An independent team of volunteers collects GPS coordinates to confirm new records. There are thousands of routes worldwide with FKTs, most in the mountains.
MEGHAN HICKS: We've known the interest in FKTs is growing. But it's growing, I think, even faster than I imagined.
RUSSELL: Meghan Hicks is editor at iRunFar, a trail-running website. From March through September of last year, runners set about 700 fastest known times. This year, during the pandemic, that number's up to nearly 3,000. With most races cancelled, Hicks was among the many runners to take on the challenge.
You yourself have set a new record in Colorado. Forty-five thousand feet of climbing over 95 miles, what was that like?
HICKS: (Laughter) It was awesome.
RUSSELL: Hicks now holds the record on Nolan's 14. It's a series of mountains in central Colorado.
HICKS: The skyline is gorgeous. The mountains are gorgeous. It's just a really special place on earth.
RUSSELL: Professional ultrarunner Coree Woltering also went after an FKT in a place that's special to him, the Midwest, where he grew up and still lives. Woltering set out to tackle Wisconsin's Ice Age Trail.
COREE WOLTERING: I knew that it was basically a 1,200-mile trail. And I thought, it would be great to see the full trail someday. Just, with COVID, someday became June.
RUSSELL: At first, Woltering's run was a way to challenge himself and raise money for a hunger relief organization. One week before he was set to start, George Floyd, a Black man, was killed in police custody in Minneapolis. Woltering says his run took on new meaning after that.
WOLTERING: I'm a person of color. I'm an openly gay Black man. And it actually gives people a positive story of someone of color doing something awesome. And, like, June is also Pride Month. So I thought that is kind of the perfect mix to go after it.
RUSSELL: Twenty-one days, 18 hours and seven minutes later, Woltering set a new fastest known time on the Ice Age Trail. Back in the Adirondacks, Alyssa Godesky set her FKT in three days, 16 hours and 16 minutes. In a video shot by a friend, Godesky turns off her headlamp. And you can see her lean into her parents for a hug.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: Hey, what's up?
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: Hey, sweetie. Congratulations. Good job.
RUSSELL: Godesky Looks exhausted but happy. She says in a normal race year when there's not a pandemic, she travels a lot by herself. Crossing the finish line without anyone to share the moment with can feel lonely, Godesky says.
GODESKY: This was, you know, the opposite of lonely. I felt just completely surrounded by so much love and excitement and, you know, energy. It was really cool.
RUSSELL: Setting new records is a way for athletes like Godesky to keep their edge until races are back on. It's also a way to find joy out on the trail.
For NPR News, I'm Emily Russell in New York's Adirondack Mountains.
(SOUNDBITE OF MENISCUS' "DATURAS")
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