• Aria Zoner

5 Lessons from my Sheltowee Trace FKT Attempt

The Sheltowee Trace is a National Recreation Trail that extends for 323 miles, across eastern Kentucky. Also known as the Big Turtle, it leads thru the Daniel Boone National Forest; a prominent green swath that can be seen on large scale maps. 25 years ago, I first set foot on this trail but only visited small segments, then never returned. At the beginning of this year however, and as a goal to inspire me to train, I decided that I was going to thru-hike the Sheltowee Trace and try to beat what’s called the FKT – the Fastest Known Time.

The current FKT for the Sheltowee Trace is 8 days, set in 2016 by runner Matt Hoyes.

I was prepared for rain on this Sheltowee Trace parade

This thru-hike would be different from my previous ones. Over the past year, I’ve been trail-running and wanting to incorporate it into a thru-hike. This would be my first attempt. I thought the Sheltowee was a great place to start since that's where it all began for me as a long-distance hiker, back in my high school years. Before sending it, I adjusted my gear to be more running-friendly, which can be seen here.

On this hike, another goal was to beat my own current longest between resupply, which is 176 miles and no small snack to accomplish.

But before I tell you what I learned on this attempt, check out what happened out there…

Watch: The Sheltowee Trace FKT Attempt

March 21st, 2017

Since long before going into this attempt, I've had a motto – “It’s not how far you go it’s how long” - and that’s exactly what I did. The good news is that my food was sufficient for the time I had allotted for this hike, the bad news is that I only went 170 miles in those 7 days instead of 323.

You see, it wasn’t a lack of food that made me DNF my first FKT attempt, it was a number of other factors which I’d like to discuss here - in the form of these quick FKT Lessons.

5 Lessons I learned from my Sheltowee Trace FKT Attempt

FKT Lesson 1: Trekking Poles

These simple yet effective tools add at least .5 mph to my pace and provide stability, suspension, and boosting power during creek crossings and rocky sections. I chose not to bring my usual poles for this hike so that I could be more hands-free but on the second day I wound up adopting 2 sticks from the wild which got me thru Red River Gorge and Natural Bridge. Selecting a stick that can handle all day usage is an art in and of itself.

FKT Lesson 2: Trail Running

…which I did WAY too much of on Day 1. Next time, I need to save those moves for the end.

Classic newb move!

Sheltowee is the nickname of legendary frontiersmen Daniel Boone. It’s a native word that means Big Turtle. And that’s what you need to be in order to win the FKT on this trail. But hungry for miles and flushed with the feeling of finally being free from the office chair, I was a silly rabbit, and I paid the price for it. But I also know that it costs something to learn, which is why to me these lessons are priceless. I gotta say though, it was fun while it lasted.

FKT Lesson 3: Zero Days

This one should be obvious enough but if you want to win an FKT, you have to do more than 0 miles in a day. However, if it's raining ice, lightning's flashing heavily, and you've got a cozy recess cave to stay warm and dry in – plus knees that are barking like an ole hound dog from your first ever 45-mile run - then I can't say I'd blame you. Been there done that! The important thing anyway is not how fast you go, it's that you enjoy the trip and live to tell about it.

FKT Lesson 4: Unsupported vs Self-supported

Crossing the Kentucky River

For this Sheltowee Trace adventure I decided to go unsupported; which meant that I was carrying all of my food for the entire trip, from the start. My main motivation for this style was to try and also beat my current longest between resupply. However, the weight of having 7 days of food, combined with pole-less trail running on Day 1, seriously affected my overall performance.

My lesson here is that my longest between resupply needs to be done on a more remote trail, and not one where I'm walking right in front of stores, restaurants, and post offices. When trying to set a new FKT, my pack weight needs to be as light as possible, period.

FKT Lesson 5: Experience

Although thru-hiking long-distance trails (and trying to set a new FKT on one) is serious business, I always take time to smell the flowers, enjoy the view, and chat with locals I meet along the way – even when I’m trying to hike fast. I do this because when the journey's done, it's these moments that I’ll remember most. Win or lose, success or failure, it’s what I’ll ultimately be left with.

So make sure to enjoy yourself too while you're out there. Because at the end of the day, it's not the amount of miles that you put in that counts, but the amount of smiles that you put out!

The Sheltowee Trace

For more information about the Sheltowee Trace, visit the Big Turtle here. To secure your own complete map set, go here and save!

Stay tuned for Round 2 of this Sheltowee Trace FKT Attempt, brought to you in part by:

Amazing Grass - Superfood Protein Powders

Pa’lante Packs - Ultralight Backpacks

ALDHA-West - Supporting National Scenic and Recreation Trails

Thanks for your support and see you next time!