It wasn’t the best of days to be out running for a record, but Jeffrey Stern was determined to do it during the first winter storm of the season on Nov. 7.
Running in rain, hail and wind, Stern, the cross country coach at Laguna Blanca School and an alum of Cal Poly, completed the fastest known time (FKT) for a supported runner on the Backbone Trail, a 68-mile route that traverses the Santa Monica Mountains.
He covered the journey from Will Rogers State Park in Pacific Palisades to Point Mugu State Park in 11 hours, 10 minutes and 39 seconds. The previous record was 11:36, set in 2017 by Utah-based ultra runner Jeff Browning.
“While we prepared all summer for searing Southern Californian heat, race morning brought us the first storm of the season, featuring cold temperatures, hail, heavy rain and 30-plus mph winds,” Stern explained of the less-than-ideal conditions on race day. “But as a team we still persevered to beat our goal time. There’s huge power in numbers, and so my first FKT was a group effort from the start. I feel so fortunate to have had the support from so many friends along the way.”
Fastest Known Times is a public domain for athletes all over the world to register their attempts at long-distance records. The site explains the best routes around the globe, who did them and how fast.
“Essentially speed records, whether up Mount Everest, across the Grand Canyon or, in my case, the Backbone Trail,” Stern said. “There are FKTs in Santa Barbara too, including the Los Padres Traverse.”
In tackling the Backbone’s 68 miles and 13,000 feet of elevation game, Stern’s main goal was to keep moving forward.
“We accomplished that with zero stoppage time in 11-plus hours of running,” he said.
Stern said he got inspiration from ultra runner Tyler Green’s completion of the punishing 93-mile Wonderland Trail in Washington in the fastest known time. That trail encircles Mount Rainer and has roughly 24,000 feet of climbing. Green did it 16 hours, 40 minutes and 55 seconds in August.
Stern has been doing ultra runs since 2017. His first was at the Marin Headlands, “and I really haven’t looked back,” he said. “It took a couple of years to get my feet under me, but I’ve executed at my last few ultras really well and feeling like I’m really just hitting stride now.”
His FKT on the Backbone Trail was his 13th ultra race.
Even with the harsh conditions, Stern was well prepared to beat the fastest known time on the course.
“Most races I don’t spend too much time researching,” he said. “However, for this FKT attempt, I spent a long time researching the course, interviewing the two most recent record holders and made three separate trips to recon the entire course. I then developed a very detailed moving aid station and split plan to make sure I was on pace to break the record by a wide margin.”
With his first FKT in the books, Stern said he’s looking forward to trying for another.
“I can truly say I’m enamored with the entire idea of Fastest Known Times,” he said, “and can’t wait for my next project.”