Q&A With Heather “Anish” Anderson On Her Summer FKTs
Heather “Anish” Anderson’s name is synonymous with fastpacking and long-distance hiking records, also known as Fastest Known Times (FKT). Her journey into the world of long-distance hiking began in 2003 when she completed her first thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail (AT). Little did she know that this would mark the beginning of an extraordinary outdoor career filled with epic feats and unrelenting determination.
Since then, she has set FKT speed records on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), AT, and Arizona Trail. In 2018 she completed the Calendar Year Triple Crown (CYTC), which encompasses the three major U.S. long trails (AT, PCT, & CDT) for a monster 7,944 miles in a single year. With that feat, she also became the first female triple-triple crowner, having hiked each of the aforementioned trails three times.
This summer, Heather embarked on a remarkable journey, achieving three FKTs — her first major records since the Arizona Trail in 2016. All were done in the unsupported style, meaning she had no outside assistance of any kind and carried all of her supplies from start to finish. Trail magic is not allowed, nor is purchasing resupplies along the way. It all began in early May with the Pennsylvania section of the AT (230 miles) where she completed it in a staggering 4 days, 14 hours, and 9 minutes, besting the male unsupported record by 23 hours.
Three weeks later, she lowered the female record of the AT through Shenandoah (110 miles) by 4 hours with a time of 1 day, 11 hours, and 8 minutes. Finally, in August, she threw down a time of 11 days, 6 hours, and 28 minutes on the PCT through Washington (431 miles) again besting the male/overall record and capturing what is, as far as we know, the longest-distance women’s unsupported FKT on record.
With a season like that, catching up with Heather was long overdue, and we just had to dive into her incredible season.
Interview lightly edited for length and clarity.
TheTrek: Prior to this summer, your most recent major KT was on the Arizona Trail in 2016. What inspired your return to record-setting, leading you to go after three FKTs this summer alone?
Heather Anderson: I was incredibly burnt out after my Calendar Year Triple Crown hike, which came on the heels of multiple FKTs, four Barkley attempts, and other thru-hikes in the previous 5 years. I needed significant rest mentally and physically. Then we had a pandemic that impacted travel. So this year was the first time I felt ready to do hard things again, and have it be possible travel-wise.
TT: These routes are notably shorter than some of your previous endeavors. Could you elaborate on how and why you selected these specific trails and sections for your record attempts?
HA: After failing to do both the JMT and CT unsupported (in 2014 and 2017 respectively) I really wanted to get the unsupported monkey off my back so to speak. The AT through PA was similar in distance to the JMT and after my success there I did the Shenandoah on a bit of a whim. The WA PCT was one I’d wanted to tackle since Ras Vaughn established the route nearly a decade ago. This summer things aligned to try it and it felt like a good redemption for quitting the CT attempt.
TT: The East Coast experienced an unprecedented amount of rainfall this summer, likely making trail conditions more challenging than usual. Did you face any unique hurdles with these records in comparison to your longer achievements? If so, what strategies did you employ to overcome these challenges?
HA: No. The rain started in June long after I was done. There was actually a drought in the weeks prior to my PA AT FKT. In terms of other challenges, because the longer FKTs were so long I encountered everything from heatwaves and droughts to early-season snow. So, the short ones, while having weather issues, were not unique.
TT: Since your AZT FKT in 2016, you’ve released an instructional book, “Adventure Ready: A Hiker’s Guide to Planning, Training, and Resiliency,” along with a course titled “FKT 101,” which comprehensively outlines your approach to hiking and fastpacking. Have there been any adjustments or evolutions in your mental or physical preparation for speed records since your previous record attempts?
HA: Of course. As an athlete, I’m always learning new things about myself and growing. I experiment all the time with new methods and gear. Additionally, I am now in my 40’s so I have adjusted my training and recovery to support my return to FKTs in a new decade of life. In general, I run less, eat more, and focus on quality over quantity for training as well as engage in a lot of cross-training. This keeps me healthy without burnout.
TT: Injury prevention and management are crucial factors in sustaining peak performance. Could you share your approach to injury prevention and how you’ve handled injuries during your FKT attempts this year?
HA: As I mentioned, I do a lot of cross-training, primarily yoga, weightlifting, and core work. I’ve always done this, but I do it a little more now. Engaging in complementary activities has kept me largely injury-free over the years. I’ve only experienced a handful of injuries since I started running in 2009 and none have been serious. I didn’t experience any injuries this year aside from some blisters on the FKTs.
TT: Among the FKTs you achieved this year, is there one that stands out as a personal favorite? Conversely, were there any that presented particularly formidable challenges or were less enjoyable? What factors contributed to your feelings about these records?
HA: The WA PCT stands out because I love that stretch of trail more than any other. This was my fifth traverse of the whole route (and the northern 200 miles I’ve done several other times as well). I lived in WA for over a decade and the mountains there will always be home to me. The opportunity to interface with a place I love so much in such a stripped-down, basic way while pushing myself to new levels was incredibly special to me. That said, the distance and the unsupported style were far more challenging than I expected them to be.
TT: You assumed the role of host for the FastestKnownTime.com podcast in May 2022. How have you observed the FKT world and culture evolve since you first embarked on your FKT journeys and through interviewing guests?
HA: The sport has grown significantly since 2013. I also love to see that there are a lot more women and non-binary athletes involved in the sport. I was drawn to FKTs initially because of their simplicity and grassroots feel. Despite the growth, that still exists and it’s a rare thing in athletics.
TT: As a seasoned fastpacker, could you offer insights into the gear and equipment that you rely on during FKT attempts? Have you made any noteworthy gear-related discoveries or adjustments this year?
HA: I’ve really dialed in the dirt nap this year by using a ⅛” foam pad from Gossamer Gear, an emergency blanket, and occasionally a waterproof sleeping bag cover. This obviously requires a certain forecast to work, but this simple, ultralight system really helped me cover the miles while still getting solid rest.
TT: How do you strategize your nutrition and fueling during FKT attempts, and have you made any other modifications in this regard over the course of this year?
HA: In my first two attempts years ago, the altitude suppressed my appetite so I didn’t eat anything (part of the reason I quit both of them). As a result, I ended up running out of food on my PA AT FKT because I just didn’t know how much I would eat. For the WA PCT, I also had to ration, but that was because I was out there longer than expected. On both attempts, I prioritized appeal over nutrition and weight since they were short. My stomach tends to shut down on me when I’m pushing hard, so I needed my food to be delicious so that I would eat enough.
TT: Lastly, the people want to know: what’s next? What are your goals and aspirations for the future? Are there specific trails or records you have your sights set on?
HA: Yes, but it’s a secret for now.
Images courtesy of Heather “Anish” Anderson
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