Trim Your Running Time on the Mountain

Recently, while working on lopping 20 minutes off my previous fastest trailhead-to-summit-to-trailhead time on the Pfeifferhorn, I contemplated what it takes to set a speed record—personal, or for a peak (or for a peak enchainment, as has become the far more common standard). Of course, personal records are different from "the" speed record, as unsuccessful efforts to unseat Bryce Thatcher's 1983 speed record on the Grand Teton (done in a blazing 3:07) have demonstrated. So whether one is shooting for personal gold or "the" gold (however temporary it may be), it seems that speed records require several things. Here are some requirements:

Train for It

Can't skip this one. No amount of these other prep steps will take one very far without a solid amount of training logged. "You just have to train," Ueli Steck told me at the Outdoor Retailer Show when I chanced to meet him for a few moments. Couldn't agree more.


Candy bars and junk food taste great, but there are few high performing athletes who don't attempt to get a decent medley of healthy foods into their bodies before a speed attempt. During a speed attempt, fluid based energy gels such as GU Roctane are far superior to solid foods—they don't divert nearly as much precious blood away from one's muscles (to the stomach) to aid in digestion.

Route Familiarity

On extended outings, this makes a huge difference. Avoiding time-sucking maneuvers such as getting lost or getting off trail is vital to maximizing speed. Knowing where you can turn on the gas, or where you need to simply coast, is also important.

Weight Savings

A lot of people scoff at the notion of trimming every extra ounce on a speedy outing. Strangely, these seem to be people who aren't making speed attempts of their own. Ounces count, but more importantly, pounds make a huge difference during extended mountain travel. Considering an extra PB&J sandwich? If it's not required, get it out of there. Better to be somewhat hungry (read: ravenous) when you return to the trailhead than to lug a surplus sandwich around during your effort. Do you really need a softshell or will your efforts keep you warm even in a rainstorm? Or will you be fast enough to beat that rainstorm? Every item is worth considering.

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