Jack Kuenzle can tell you, moment for moment and mile for mile, how his progress compared to that of Kilian Jornet—yes, that Kilian Jornet—during the 12 hours, 23 minutes, and 48 seconds it took him to run the Bob Graham Round, a mountainous 66-mile route around England’s Lake District. Jornet, the famed Catalan runner, set the fastest known time (FKT) on the route in 2018, with photographers and a film crew in tow. Kuenzle spent more than a year plotting his own attempt at the record.
On the morning of September 2, Kuenzle, who is American, departed Moot Hall, a medieval courthouse in the town of Keswick, which is the official start and finish for the competition. As he jogged up the slopes and picked his way through scree fields alongside several runners who paced him, a race was going on inside his head.
“We’d get a couple minutes up on him [Jornet], and I’m thinking, Oh, wow, we’re doing great,” Kuenzle told Outside. “But when I looked at the maps afterwards, for the entire day, until the very end, I could have turned around and seen him.”
Kuenzle, 27, was slowed by dehydration during the second half of the effort. But he eventually pulled ahead of his invisible foe and had enough time to change from his trail-running shoes into racing flats for the final few miles, which are paved. When Kuenzle ascended Moot Hall’s steps, he had beaten Jornet’s time by a whopping 29 minutes.
A small group of onlookers cheered, and that was all the fanfare he got or needed. His satisfaction came from setting a punishing mark that, of course, may be broken in the future by a different runner.
“The cool thing with FKTs is that the competition is never really over,” Kuenzle says. “Someone is going to beat my time. It’s just a question of when.”
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