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More Americans Setting Records for Physical Endurance


Professional trail runner Tim Freriks running to break the single crossing record. (Sunny Margerum/HOKA One One via AP)

American Tim Freriks remembers visiting the world famous Grand Canyon as a child.

He recalls looking up from the very bottom of the Grand Canyon at the huge walls of rock hundreds of meters above his head.

At the time, Freriks was not excited about the long walk back to the top. And he never imagined he would one day run up the trail along the side of the canyon’s walls.

Freriks had that childhood memory after he ran from the canyon’s North Rim to the South Rim. He finished the 34-kilometer “rim-to-rim” run with what is called the “fastest known time,” or FKT.

There was no prize -- only the unofficial record for the fastest race time. This kind of award has become a goal for athletes in all kinds of activities on trails, mountains and mountain cliffs.

Professional trail runner Francois D’haene running on the John Muir Trail in the California Sierra Nevada mountain range.
Professional trail runner Francois D’haene running on the John Muir Trail in the California Sierra Nevada mountain range.

A growing athletic movement

Endurance events have captured the imagination of an increasing number of trail runners, climbers and mountaineers. Social and traditional media have helped create attention for these men and women. In the past, the competitors may not have been well known, but now they can earn money from company sponsorships.

The Associated Press reports that Freriks’ run, completed in under 2 hours and 40 minutes, was one of several notable records set in October.

Two rock climbers made history at Yosemite National Park in California. They set a speed record for climbing up the huge wall of El Capitan in under two hours 20 minutes. Normally, this climb takes experienced climbers three days.

Shawn Bearden is a trail runner and a physiology professor at Idaho State University. He says endurance events have been influenced by a number of things. They include the development of lighter equipment, growing interest in long-distance running and the ability of people to follow athletes’ progress online.

Some people are refusing to wait for traditional races and compete whenever they want.

“The FKT stuff is a cool dynamic,” said Tim Freriks, “You’re out there alone a lot of the time. There isn’t much publicity. It feels more pure.”

There is a long history of people setting out to set speed and distance records. For years, sailors have attempted to set records for sailing around the world. Swimmers have successfully crossed the English Channel since 1875. And now simply climbing to the top of Mount Everest, the world’s tallest mountain, is not enough. Some climbers want to see if they can be the fastest at reaching the top.

“I think it’s a natural human tendency to keep pushing back the human boundaries of what’s perceived to be possible — like trying to set a world record,” said Peter Bakwin, a Colorado native. Bakwin, a trail runner, created a website for listing fastest times.

Runs and climbs that once took months, weeks and days are now being completed in only weeks, days and hours.

As one of the few people keeping unofficial records, Bakwin is now seen as a judge of whether a claim is true. In the past, people self-reported their successes on the honor system. Now, modern technology can prove if the claims are true using global positioning system records, digital photographs and social media posts.

Record competition

This photo shows El Capitan in Yosemite National Park, Calif. An American rock climber has become the first to climb alone to the top of the wall without ropes or safety gear.
This photo shows El Capitan in Yosemite National Park, Calif. An American rock climber has become the first to climb alone to the top of the wall without ropes or safety gear.

Sometimes, it is difficult to keep records.

Bakwin was the first person known to run the Muir Trail in under four days. The Muir Trail travels along some of the most beautiful parts of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. On foot, the trip normally takes two to three weeks to complete.

Bakwin said he would run about 80 kilometers a day, and only take short breaks to sleep. However he also took time to enjoy nature. He remembered being tired one night and decided to climb to the top of a mountain under a full moon.

“It was magical,” he said. “It’s hard to explain the attraction of pushing your limits of endurance in nature. Some people get it and some people think it’s totally crazy.”

However, his best time from 2003 did not last even a year before someone broke his record.

In October, Americans Brad Gobright and Jim Reynolds broke the speed record for climbing up El Capitan. They climbed the 884-meter vertical wall in 2 hours and 19 minutes. Their time beat the record set five years earlier by Americans Hans Florine and Alex Honnold.

To set the new record, they took a risk by bringing very little equipment with them as they climbed. This helped them go faster, but also meant they had little protection from falling. They also did not carry any water.

Florine has held the speed record for climbing El Capitan eight separate times.

Florine said many people have asked him if he would try to set the record again. But at the age of 53, he said he feels too old.

Freriks, who is 26, is the same age as Florine when he set his first record on El Capitan. Freriks imagines his “rim-to-rim” run record will be broken, but if so he will try to reclaim it again.

I’m Phil Dierking.

The Associated Press reported this story. Phil Dierking adapted the report for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

Are there any physical challenges you would like to set a record for? We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments Section or on our Facebook page.

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Words in This Story

athlete - n. a person who is trained in or good at sports, games, or exercises that require physical skill and strength​

crazy - adj. unable to think in a clear or sensible way​

endurance - n. the ability to do something difficult for a long time​

sponsorship - n. an arrangement in which a sponsor agrees to give money to someone or something​

online - adj. connected to a computer, a computer network, or the Internet​

dynamic - adj. always active or changing​

tendency - n. a quality that makes something likely to happen or that makes someone likely to think or behave in a particular way​

post - v. to add (a message) to an online message board​

vertical - adj. going straight up​

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