Late last weekend, word started circulating in the trail running community that someone had broken Ben Nephew‘s legendary FKT (Fastest Known Time) on The Devil’s Path, one of the hardest hikes, let alone runs, in the United States. The Devil’s Path traverses seven of the highest peaks of the Catskill Mountains in one fell swoop clocking over 18,000′ of elevation change in less than the distance of a marathon. It is so steep and strenuous that most hikers plan on 3 days and 2 nights to traverse the path. Josh Burns’ (who owns a few other FKT’s in the Northeastern US) ran it last weekend in 5 hours and 7 minutes, shaving 28 minutes off of Ben Nephew’s seemingly untouchable previous FKT of 5:35 set back in 2010. Announcing his accomplishment with little more than a post to a few Instagram followers “The devil must be in Georgia cause I snuck through on the devils path with a fastestknowntime of 5 hours and 7 minutes today…” and a link to his GPS Download on the official ProBoards site, Josh was kind enough to answer a few questions when we reached out to him afterwards… enjoy! -Ben
WHEN DID YOU FIRST START THINKING ABOUT ATTEMPTING AN FKT ON THE DEVIL’S PATH? AND WHY? THERE ARE A LOT OF FKT POSSIBILITIES OUT THERE – WHY ONE OF THE HARDEST IN THE COUNTRY?
I guess I’m really drawn to the idea of FKT’s simply as a means of exploring the outdoors, and more specifically the mountains. Living in the Catskills, The Devil’s Path is the epitome of that ideal. That being said, the thought never really seemed feasible for a long time. It wasn’t until roughly a year ago that I started to learn the route, and actually give consideration to an honest attempt. That trail is relentless for a good majority of it, so it really does take commitment.
HOW DID YOU GO ABOUT TRAINING FOR THIS? OBVIOUSLY, YOU’RE NO STRANGER TO TOUGH NORTHEAST FKT’S, BUT THE DEVIL’S PATH IS A SPECIAL KIND OF CRAZY…
Actually, the majority of my training lacks a lot of structure. It basically revolves around running local trails that have good quality vertical gain. I have Pakatakan Mountain out my backdoor that gains 1,000 ft. in roughly a mile with similar terrain to DP, so I spend a lot of time on that. Although, leading up to this attempt I focused more time actually getting on the DP. This definitely helps to be a local, but logging a great deal of miles on the route really paid off. It made the different sections of climbs, ridges, and descents seem more manageable.
WHO CREWED FOR YOU AND WHAT SORT OF CREWING WAS PROVIDED? HOW DID THAT HELP IN YOUR ATTEMPT?
Well, my girlfriend Jess met me at the ending Spruceton Road trailhead. She was my “crew”. In the morning I left my car at the Platte Clove trailhead, and she helped me out with the post run shuttle. As far as helping in the attempt, there wasn’t any formal assistance according to FKT designations, but you always look forward to seeing loved ones, friends, and family at the finish line of any race or adventure. I guess it was more of a psychological benefit knowing she was waiting for me at the end.
For this kind of attempt there really isn’t support needed. My run was totally unsupported. I carried a small pack with two 16 oz. water bottles and ten gels. I dipped one bottle in the creek at the lean-to near Hunter Mountain. For longer endeavors like the Long Trail or the Appalachian, a full support crew cooking you meals, and laying out a sleeping bag will make an enormous impact on how quick and light you can accomplish them. The Devil’s Path is relatively quick in FKT terms. I don’t know. In the end, it’s all about the personal journey, and I was satisfied with my day.
DO YOU KNOW BEN NEPHEW? HAVE YOU GUYS HAD A CHANCE TO CONNECT POST-RUN?
No, I’ve never actually met or spoken with Ben before. I know we have done a bunch of the same trail races, but I’m not too sure at the same time ever. I have a ton of respect for that guy. He has accomplished an insane amount in his running.
WHAT’S NEXT FOR YOU?
Well, I’m planning on Manitou’s Revenge Ultra later this month in Windham, New York. Then, probably continue scouting some more FKT possibilities, and spending time in the mountains taking high quality pictures with a phone.
WHERE CAN FOLKS FIND YOU ONLINE?
Thanks and cheers!
All images by Josh Burns and Jess Villani. Used by permission.