Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Pacific Crest Trail FKT In Altra Lone Peak Shoes

Bravo to Heather Anderson for setting an unsupported record time [P.S. FKT is Fastest Known Time, an informal record.]:
"This summer, the 32-year-old, whose trail name is ‘Anish’ as a tribute to her Anishinaabeg heritage, set a truly obscene long-distance hiking record. She hiked the 2,663-mile Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) between the United States’s borders with Mexico and Canada and through Arizona, California, Oregon, and Washington. She did so in traditional thru-hiker style, meaning she carried all of her gear in a backpack, resupplied her food via personally sent mail drops at post offices and purchases from grocery stores on and near the trail, and received no planned assistance.

"Somehow, Heather managed to squeeze all of that into 60 days, 17 hours, 12 minutes. On the day she finished, her time was the fastest-ever for the PCT. Faster than all self-supported thru-hikers before her. Faster than the supported/crewed hikers, too. Faster than any woman. Faster than every man.

"Her record now has a qualification. The day after Heather finished, Josh Garrett finished his own PCT thru-hike in 59 days, 8 hours, 14 minutes. That’s 33 hours or so faster than Heather. But his hike was supported, meaning he had crew stationed occasionally along the trail for resupplying his food and other needs, and meaning he didn’t have to leave the trail to do so himself.

"Heather traveled an average of just under 44 miles per day...."
Emphasis mine. Read the whole thing. Pretty incredible.

Heather did this hike in a pair of "minimalist" shoes, although the Lone Peaks are one of the beefier "minimalist" shoes out there: they're designed for running ultra-marathons in really rocky areas.

Heather's blog includes a gear review post, which I'm guessing will now be quite popular. Her review of the Lone Peak is:
Altra Lone Peak
Grade: A-

Old and New
"I have been running ultras in these shoes for about a year. I love the roomy toe box and the neutral “Zero Drop” sole. These are a more minimal shoe however, and I noticed that on this hike my feet took a serious beating. A shoe with more cushion would have made them much happier, especially in the first 1,000 miles."

Pros: Roomy allowing plenty of space for swollen feet to expand
Neutral sole allowing a more natural, nimble foot movement

Cons: Not much cushioning
From another post:
"Once again, my Altra's took the terrain in stride. I've now run rooty, sloppy PNW trail; flat, loose, sandy desert; and now hard packed snowy trail. I have yet to be disappointed in them!"
The Barefoot Sisters, who I discussed in this post, were able to do about 35 miles per day on the Appalachian Trail in the eastern United States, and commented that they were unable to do much more because of fatigue in their feet. They also, however, hiked with packs that weighed up to 70 pounds, whereas Heather went so ultra-light that she didn't bring a stove.

There are a number of big variables here that I'm unable to quantify: I've not hiked the PCT myself, so I can't judge the relative difference in difficulty; it's hard to judge the difference the weight carried made, although it had to have been significant; and we can't underestimate the fact that Heather was alone, and had a lot of ultra-running experience. (The Barefoot Sisters had never done an over-night hike prior to hiking 2,100 miles on the AT. Heather is an incredibly experienced long-distance hiker and runner.)

For all those reasons, I think it's tough to attribute the 9 miles/day (25%) improvement over the Barefoot Sisters' daily hikes solely to shoes. But one can clearly understand that shoes weren't invented all over the world just for fashion. Correctly designed, they can provide a real boost to performance. But don't forget: the Barefoot Sisters hiked nearly 4,200 miles in their bare feet, with virtually no foot problems. In fact, their bare feet seem to have acclimated faster than Heather's shod feet did.

Altra has done a great job of creating well-designed footwear that add to your feet's capabilities. They deserve congratulations as well.