Silent FKTs: How harassment of athletes from historically excluded groups impacts media outcomes

Silent FKTs: How harassment of athletes from historically excluded groups impacts media outcomes

In 2023, three new FKTs were set on the Pacific Crest Trail.  What, three?  Three.  

Two of these FKTs, you’ve likely heard as they were happening – Overall FKTs set by men in the supported and self-supported categories received a large amount of attention.  Within the PCT community, it was almost impossible to miss updates on Karel Sabbe’s northbound supported attempt and Nick Fowler’s southbound self-supported attempt.  However, there was a Southbound FKT attempt that received very little notice until late.  This was made an Indigenous Female Veteran, Jessica Pekari.   

Nick and Jessica’s Southbound FKT attempts started just under 24 hours apart.  Google search for Nick Fowler PCT FKT 2023 – 923 results, with features in the San Francisco Chronicle, Backpacker Magazine, and the FKT Podcast.  Do the same for Jessica Pekari – 337 results.  Even more so, there’s barely a mention anywhere of this most recent accomplishment set by the “Bombs to Trails” author before November 12, nearly 8 weeks after she successfully completed her FKT attempt.

What does that say about the world of FKTs and even more so, the sport of trail running?  

Safety and social media

Digging into the details, social media and mapping tools make it easy to create buzz around a FKT attempt on the PCT.   It would be reasonable to mention that it was hard to miss Karel Sabbe’s attempt.  The Belgian Dentist had a support crew and sponsors driving a large marketing presence behind his attempt.  Nick Fowler’s attempt did not have the same amount of sponsor backing, with most updates being posted on his own Instagram account.  Jessica’s attempt had little social media presence.  So why was this?  According to Jessica, she “chose not to post anything until (she) finished since (she) didn’t have to – it was no longer considered a premier route”.  To add to that, the decision to not post on social media during her FKT attempt was “100% because of safety”.  

That makes social media a necessary evil in publicizing FKTs.  This also gives the advantage of notoriety to those who are willing to put themselves out there on display for the world to see, which puts athletes from historically excluded groups at a disadvantage.  One could argue that being on trail is safer than in the city, however, every year, there are stories in the trail community of unwelcomed behavior towards females, BIPOC, and LGBQTIA+ hikers on the trail.  Halfway Anywhere collected data related to discrimination on the trail from the Pacific Crest Trail Class of 2022.  Based on data collected from survey recipients, it was found that

  • Nearly half (45.9%) of LGBQTIA+ hikers experienced homophobia or transphobia on the trail
  • One in four BIPOC hikers experienced racism on the trail
  • Nearly one in four (24.1%) Female identifying hikers experienced sexism on the trail

Source (Trigger Warning, specific experiences included as reported in the survey) 

The data clearly shows that concerns around safety for women, BIPOC and LGBQTIA+ athletes are warranted when attempting FKTs and other solo pursuits in the outdoors.  

So what can we be doing as individuals to level the field?

  1. Amplify the stories of female, BIPOC and LGBQTIA+ athletes in your personal social media
  2. Contact your favorite running podcasts and publications.  Let them know you want more stories from athletes from historically excluded groups featured in the media.  If you have a particular athlete you want to see featured, let them know!
  3. If you observe harassment in our outdoor spaces, intervene if safe using one of these strategies

Do you have ideas to share about how we can continue to level the field?  Share them online in our Facebook Group or on Slack.

photo credit: Jessica Pekari