At Reflection Lakes I met my crew for the last time in the run and Dan joined me for the final 6-mile descent to Longmire. I completed the loop in 19:50, which was the 3rd fastest time for that trail. Although I missed my goal, I was still grateful to have the experience. I wasn’t nearly as sore as I usually am after a good performance, so I knew I could do much better than that. My training had too much vert (up to 35k per week and a lot of it was hiking) so I should have focused on more runnable grades. In other words, I should have trained more like I have for Western States rather than UTMB.
On the drive home I was already thinking of when I could go back to the Wonderland for another try. I thought it would be next year until I heard that Run Rabbit Run 100 was canceled. So I went back a month later, on Labor Day weekend, for round two. I wanted more time to recover and prepare but it turned out that was my last opportunity of the year.
I decided to run counterclockwise on my second try to see some sections in daylight that I had run in darkness and to admire Rainier from different angles. Just out of curiosity, I also started on the other side of the mountain at Frying Pan Creek. This time I didn’t have a crew, so I was chasing the unsupported FKT (20:39) which Kris Brown set a week prior.
I started at 2:30 am hoping I could finish around dusk and avoid too much night running. Because I was going for the unsupported FKT, I had to carry all my food (4,500 calories) for the whole run (caching supplies isn’t allowed for that category). I also carried a GoPro to better capture the experience.
Around dawn, I rolled my ankle quite hard twice and it took a while to run decently again. Consequently, my stride was a bit off for the rest of the run. Another setback was finding some creeks had dried over the past month and having to go much longer without water (and getting calories from my drink mix) than I was ready for. This led to a couple hard bonks throughout the run.
Around dusk, I arrived at Indian Bar and had 9 miles to go. I ran many of the climbs until that point but the final one up to Panhandle Gap was a big struggle with little running. Once again it was hard to stay focused on pushing hard in the dark on somewhat technical terrain. My stomach was giving me trouble because I had run out of my favorite spring drink mix and was using a mix that I clearly hadn’t trained with enough. Then during the final 4 miles, my headlamp faded significantly (I neglected to bring extra batteries) which forced me to slow down more. So it was a big relief to pop out of the woods and see my car again. I finished the loop in 19:47 to claim the unsupported FKT. I know there is plenty of room for improvement in that FKT, so I hope to go back next year to improve it.
I wore the Altra Duo 1.5 for both of my runs on the Wonderland Trail (and most of my ultras for the past few years). Although those shoes are designed for roads, I find they do very well on trails unless the trail is extremely slippery. The reason I like them so much is they have max cushion but only weigh 8 ounces.
Someone once wrote, “There’s a certain illogical attraction to running. It hurts but it feels good. It breaks down, but it heals. It serves no purpose, yet it means so much.” With all that’s going on in the world lately, chasing FKTs can seem especially trivial and vain. Is there any real value to this game or is it merely a way to boost your ego? Surely many people would be healthier and happier if they spent more time being active in the outdoors. The FKT game has certainly motivated many people to do that. This game should ideally be seen as a team effort in which we do our best to raise the bar and inspire others to raise it higher. This pursuit of excellence can make us better in many aspects of our lives.
Mark Hammond is a professional runner and member of the Altra Elite Athlete Team. You can see more of Mark's adventures on his Instagram.