The Toughest FKT: Meet Alyssa Godesky, the Women’s Supported Long Trail Record Holder
On July 26, 2018, Alyssa Godesky set out on Vermont’s Long Trail with the intention of setting the new women’s supported record on a trail that seems to love laughing in the faces of those who would attempt to run the entirety of it. Five days, two hours, and 37 minutes later, she held the new women’s supported fastest known time, finishing over five hours faster than Nikki Kimball’s women’s FKT immortalized in the documentary Finding Traction.
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This morning at 7.42am Alyssa set the fastest known time (fkt) for women on the Vermont Long Trail. Final time: 5 days, 2 hours & 37minutes . . . #vermontlongtrail #fktorbust #wandeln #ultrarunning #trailsisters @f2cnutrition @smashfestqueen @soundprobiotics @trail_sisters @ismseat
Vermont’s 273-mile Long Trail runs the length of the state, from the Canadian border to the Massachusetts border. It is the oldest long-distance hiking trail in the United States. It is steeped in hiking history, was the birthplace for the concept of the Appalachian Trail, and led the way for all the long-distance hiking trails that followed in its footsteps.
It’s also a REAL ass-kicker.
Runner’s World has called it the hardest FKT. The male supported record holder, Jonathan Basham, has said that the Long Trail “simply destroys the human body at that pace.” It’s incredibly rugged and technical and muddy and difficult. Its FKTs are held by a who’s who of ultrarunning’s elite and their records have endured for a long time in their wake.
Which may have been why Alyssa Godesky took the FKT world by surprise last July. While not a stranger to ultramarathons, Godesky was more well known for her career as an Ironman triathlete. She had never attempted an FKT before. But whatever she may have lacked in thru-hiking and FKT experience she more than made up for by her due diligence. She spent months leading up to her attempt training on the Long Trail itself. She and her crew brainstormed and prepared for any and all possible scenarios they could think of. When she stepped onto the trail, there was no one else on earth at that moment more ready to set a Long Trail FKT. And she did.
She very graciously talked to The Trek about the Long Trail, what it takes to set an FKT, and helped us figure out how to pluralize Ironman.
What drew you to the Long Trail specifically for your first FKT attempt? I know you did a huge amount of preparation on the trail beforehand, but how familiar were you with it when you decided to attempt it?
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Alyssa summited Camel’s Hump at 7.39pm and will be over 100 miles into her journey by the time she stops for the night. She is doing great and is still on record pace. 📸 @swimmerwhotris . More updates will follow in the morning! #wandeln #fktorbust #vermontlongtrail #ironwomen
When I first made the decision, my extent of knowledge of the Long Trail came from a quick trip to Vermont in 2007 to run the Jay Mountain Marathon, Nikki Kimball’s documentary Finding Traction, and from reading the trip reports of previous FKT holders. From those, I was able to put together a theory that the trail is fairly similar to many trails on the East Coast that I love: rugged, tough, and variable. In some ways it seems crazy to not have known very much, but I was honest with myself about that and therefore made it a priority to really get to know the trail rather than just make assumptions. After I made the initial decision, I scheduled a scouting trip in the fall to assess what exactly I was in for. It was during that week I had some *major* doubts, and if it wasn’t for my coach encouraging me to put the fear of failure out of mind, I might have backed out of the whole thing entirely.
Considering the amount of planning and preparing for any possible scenario you and your crew did, it’s hard to imagine anything taking you by surprise. Did anything ever come up you guys hadn’t planned for ahead of time?
One of the things we really couldn’t plan for too much was me slowing down from our projected pace. We figured this was very likely to happen, but when it was going to be was anyone’s guess. And running through every single possibility of when it could be wasn’t worth the time or effort, really. So it was great that I had assembled a crew I trusted 100% to figure that out when it happened. When it did, a lot of things had to be juggled in terms of logistics and duties (sleeping arrangements, food preparation, etc.) but they handled it perfectly!
Weather was also impossible to really account for, and ultimately I ended up with a lot of rain in the first couple of days. Because of that, we probably could have had more shoes and socks to go through since I was changing them constantly to help keep my feet in good condition.
A few other minor things also popped up along the way, which honestly I think was part of the fun for a crew that consisted of several engineers to figure out: how to make a bed in the trunk of my FJ Cruiser, assessing if they could fix the trekking poles we broke, finding ways to tighten my hydration vests because I kept getting skinnier, etc.!
The Long Trail has such a long history of FKT attempts, but all the FKTs on it have held up for a remarkably long time considering other popular trails sometimes see theirs broken multiple times a season. Nikki Kimball’s 2012 women’s supported record was actually the most recent Long Trail FKT until you broke it. Why do you think that is?
I wonder about this a lot. I think the Long Trail simply isn’t as famous as the other classic trails that are out there, which is crazy since it is the oldest long-distance hiking trail in the US. It is a bit more out of the way—it’s potentially easier for people to have seen a portion of the PCT or the AT at some point or another, and have that stick in their brain. Vermont is tucked away and a bit harder to get to, with very rugged and tough terrain.
Also, Nikki Kimball and Jonathan Basham are big names and the bar was set high. I think that people might get stuck on a big name holding an FKT title and think they can’t compete, without realizing the fact that FKTs are about so much more than a standard race environment.
You’ve talked about FKTs being more about prep work and stick-to-it-ness than having an abundance of natural running ability. Should that encourage more FKT attempts? Do you think there are people out there that could break your record but don’t think they have the right resume to attempt it?
I certainly hope it does encourage more FKT attempts. Unlike being fast, where we are limited in many ways by our genetics and our physical bodies, the stick-to-it-ness can be learned and fine-tuned as a skill. Your mental toughness and willingness to just keep going is just as important as the physical abilities on many FKTs.
I definitely think there are people out there who could break my record but doubt their ability to do so because of their resume. Hopefully these people are surrounded by good coaches, friends, and family who encourage them to go after it anyway, just like I was.
You famously ate Taco Bell on the last night of your attempt because you and your crew brainstormed food you knew you would eat in any circumstance ahead of time and Taco Bell fit the bill. Did you have any other would-eat-in-any-circumstance foods? Does iron-distance racing also give you a literal iron stomach?
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Ironman training and racing has most definitely helped condition my stomach. But honestly, when I started running ultramarathons in 2005, I had no clue about sports nutrition. I was fueling with pizza and candy, Pop-Tarts, and anything else that sounded good at the time. I think there was something to that as my stomach learned early on to race and train with just about any fuel I put in it. That said, now I have dialed things in a lot and have a tried and true nutrition plan from my sponsor, F2C Nutrition. This helps with the simplicity and efficiency of fueling. But I do know that my stomach can handle just about anything, which was good during something as long as the Long Trail so I could have some variety.
The other foods I told my crew that could be good in any circumstance were: pierogies and pizza bites, and as we discovered through trial and error along the way, tater tots, fried chicken, and hash browns were winners too.
Is your 2019 going to be more iron-distance racing, ultrarunning, or a bit of both? Are there any other trails you’d like to attempt an FKT on someday?
For the most part my 2019 will be focused on iron-distance racing, with my main goal being Ironman Copenhagen in the summer. A part of my interest in doing something like the Long Trail now rather than at the end of my career was because I have a theory that, with proper recovery, it could only make me stronger for triathlon. Whether that is mental or physical strength or a combination of both, I’m excited to see how my coach and I can take what we learned and use it toward training for an Ironman. I do think I’ll be back on the trails, if not racing, then exploring some other areas where I am interested in an FKT. The top of my list is to check out the 46 High Peaks in the Adirondacks and the Tuscarora Trail.
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