Ireland’s Wicklow Way is an 80-mile / 130-km trail through Wicklow Mountains National Park south of Dublin. It’s tackled either in stages or as a multi-day backpacking trip, but I’ve somehow got it in my head that I’m going to run the entire thing in a day.
Here’s how I got here.
I had plans to spend nearly a week in Dublin and wondered to Eoin from Hiiker, a Dublin local, whether there were some accessible outdoor adventures to tackle during my time in the country. He suggested the Wicklow Way. Not wanting to spend the entirety of my time in Ireland hiking (but maybe I should have?), I ask whether he thinks I can tackle it in three – or even two – days.
He tells me, “Sure”.
After deciding to hike the Wicklow Way in three days (two big days and one short day), I somehow ended up on the Fastest Known Time page for the Wicklow Way.
A Fastest Known Time, or FKT, is essentially a speed record for a particular route or course. In addition to being split between male and female, records are split into three categories: supported, self-supported, and unsupported. In the simplest terms and ignoring some nuance, these can be defined as follows:
- Supported: you can have as much outside help as you can muster
- Self-supported: you may accept outside help available to everyone and you have free access to businesses
- Unsupported: you bring everything you need (i.e., food) from the start and can only take water from natural sources
There’s nothing official about the site besides the fact that it’s the place where some of these records live. For example, people have undoubtedly hiked the Wicklow Way in a self-supported fashion before but nobody has yet submitted their time to the site. Therefore, there is unofficially officially no FKT for a self-supported Wicklow Way hike. The same is true for an unsupported Wicklow Way hike.
My idea now becomes to hike the Wicklow Way unsupported and claim the FKT. I changed my original three-day, two-night itinerary to a two-day, one-night itinerary.
But then I see the supported FKT is an impressive 12h 11m 7s. Surely, I would be able to complete it within 24 hours then, right? I managed to complete my first 100-mile race in under 26 hours and the Wicklow Way is 20% shorter (albeit with more elevation change per mile).
And that seals it. I am going to hike the Wicklow Way unsupported, finish, and claim the FKT. No matter what my time is, I’ll have the record since there currently isn’t one.
But then I think, if I’m going to put up an FKT, I might as well go for it, right? Instead of hiking it in two days with a small nap between the stretches, I decide I’ll (try to) run the entire thing with just a running vest instead.
I’m not particularly fast as far as long (or short) distances are concerned – especially when comparing myself to the seemingly super-human achievements of many FKT holders and ultramarathon winners. But I like to think I make up for this with determination. And once an FKT goes up, it remains up, even if someone else breaks the FKT in the future.
Is getting an FKT for a route where there’s currently no FKT somewhat of a technicality? Yes. But does that make the FKT any less valid? Probably not?
Ultimately, this is an extremely niche and unofficial corner of a niche sport in a niche subculture without any real-world consequences.
I’ve come a long way to somehow find myself here.
But back to the Wicklow Way FKT.
The northern terminus in Marlay Park (map) is accessible from the city while the southern terminus requires a bit more logistical wherewithal (or a car) to access. Eoin agrees to drop me off at the northern terminus and I plan to head southbound. I can figure out how to get back should I end up finishing.
I arrive in Dublin on a Monday and look at the forecast. The weather looks rainy all week but Friday predicts sun. I decided that sleeping in as late as I could on Thursday and then beginning late Thursday afternoon would be a good idea. Why? Because then I’ll be fresh while running through the night and when I start fading, the daylight will wake me up. That’s the plan, at least.
Fast forward to Thursday, early afternoon. The weather has been surprisingly nice and I check the forecast. All the rain has moved to tomorrow (Friday). Now it appears I will be running through the night only to be greeted with a morning of rain. Not ideal but at this point I’m committed.
This decision was a bit last-minute and I do not feel physically prepared to run 80 mi / 130 km through the mountains. Not being able to sleep in as late as hoped and instead now drinking coffee in the afternoon while I try to strike a balance between “starting early means more running in the dark” and “starting later means more hours awake and possibly more time in the rain” doesn’t feel like the ideal place to be before setting off on a journey this challenging.
But maybe somehow this is as much an asset as it feels a liability?
There’s zero external pressure for me to finish this. There’s no cutoff time. Nobody is waiting for me at the finish. There’s nobody who has to know about it should I fail. I’m not even sure I’ll end up publishing this.
My goals, in no particular order, are to not get dehydrated, not get hypothermia, not get injured, and not die. Completing an unsupported rin of the Wicklow Way and getting an FKT is secondary.
That said, it would be cool to forever be able to call myself an FKT holder (or, eventually, a previous FKT holder).
I would be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous about the attempt. It’s certainly not the most dangerous position I’ve ever put myself in, but it’s not without risk. I’m bringing a fleece, a shell, and an emergency blanket as insurance against the cold and there appear to be bailout points and/or access to civilization regularly spaced along the route.
Should be fun?