Journey to 100: Q&A with Gnarly athlete Jason Hardrath
Journey to 100: Q&A with Gnarly athlete Jason Hardrath

Journey to 100: Q&A with Gnarly athlete Jason Hardrath

Gnarly athlete Jason Hardrath has spent his entire life in motion: whether that was on sports teams as a young boy, as a triathlete through his early adulthood, or in the mountains, through today. 

But when a life-altering car accident put his life at a standstill - and doctors told Jason he'd never be able to run again - Jason's world was flipped upside down. 

Seven years later, he now has the most FKTs (Fastest Known Times) of anyone in the world. And to make his accomplishment even more remarkable, Jason capped off his 100 FKT by setting 100 individual FKT records in one push. 

We caught up with Jason to talk about his FKTs, the film, "Journey to 100," sponsored by Athletic Brewing, and what it's like to fuel - mentally and physically - for such a massive effort. 

 

Tell us a bit about yourself. Where did you grow up? When did you start playing in the mountains? 

I was born and raised in Baker City, Oregon. Motorsports and things like hunting and fishing were always popular activities in my life. Getting outside and in the mountains was normal in my childhood. 

But I was also the kid who couldn't sit still, an ADHD kid. Movement was essential to me. I got into sports because of this, and then eventually running in middle and high school. 

After college, I started blending it all together. My first grand adventure was cycling across the United States - I fell in love with big multi-day adventures, traveling through unknown spaces. 

 

 

So when was your first FKT? 

The first FKT I did happened before I even knew what FKTs were. In 2018, I ran up Mt. Shasta and tagged its sub-peak, Shastina, then ran back to the car. I set the fastest time and didn't even know it. When I later discovered "FKTs," I realized I had nabbed Shastina's. 

The first one I did knowingly was from sea-to-summit on Mauna Kea [a dormant volcano] on Hawaii's Big Island. It's around 14,000 feet of climbing, from sea level, and is about 30 to 40 miles long. 

 

What made you decide to go for your first FKT? 

I was already going on big adventures in the outdoors. I didn't get into FKTs to look cool or for bragging rights, or anything like that. I just wanted to go as fast and light in the mountains as I could, and gravitated toward that community. It was and still is about the experience and making memories. 

 

 

Tell us about the FKT community. 

Obviously, we all want to pursue the grand adventures that make us come alive. That’s a huge animating force for much of humanity – to explore, play, meet challenges and be courageous - those are defining points that help us live a good life that we can define for ourselves.

But we also look for connection and want to give value for someone or a community. The FKT community gave me a context that what I was doing on a personal level to go chase personal challenge and growth also mattered to other people - since they were searching for same thing in similar ways I was. They are inspired just like me to chase big linkups and big mountains and solo’ing on 5th class terrain. We all share a human desire for exploration and challenge.

And I also met my partner, [Gnarly athlete] Ashly Winchester, through the community. We got off on a good foot in our relationship because we put adventure and growth and challenge first rather than safety and comfort and ease of living. We both were very open that we wanted to live in a van, have a mobile life and chase outdoor adventures rather than buy a house and live in an apartment. That is just one example of the shared aim and context for how we want to live life. We both had similar ideas and it was very easy when I got into FKTs for her to also find that pursuit, she loved the mountains and ultrarunning - something we could chase together and support each other when not doing it at the same time. It has been a fun, silly outcome for people to start calling her the Queen of FKTs and me the King of FKTs - but I don’t tend to refer to myself as that.

 

Tell us about your life-altering car accident.

I think to really understand it, a little picture has to be painted. On a Sunday, I went for a 140-mile bike ride then went for a 10 mile run. I was considering going out for ultimate frisbee that day. I was feeling very strong, and I was in fabulous strength. I felt like it was my year to qualify and go for Kona at the Triathlon Championship. Impossible workouts were feeling really easy.

On that following Tuesday, I went out the car window in a roll-over accident. On Wednesday, I couldn’t pick up my own glass of water and was unable to care for myself.

Then there was the the physical part of breaking my ribs, collapsing my lungs, shredding my ACL, breaking my shoulder - the physical damage that people can understand. But, along with it, all of my friends were in those sports like running, cycling and swimming, which means I lost touch with all my friends at the same time that I lost touch with my favorite coping mechanism.

And my significant other at the time who had been that for four years left me. On so many layers and levels, the accident was a frontier experience in facing dark moments. There was a lot to sort through coming out of that and to come out as a healthy and positive person, to not end up bitter and lose faith in the process. To not lose vision in my life. It was a real process and soul search, to find the road back.

 

 

What was that like - your mental coping? 

One of the first things I had to do was give myself permission to step out of my own shadow. I was already living larger-than-life objectives, like running ultras and 200+ mile-a-day bike rides, with high amount of focus since high school, all the way through being 25 years old when the car accident happened. I had to be willing to de-couple that. I still refer to all the stuff before the car accident as my “former life” - it's just a way I set it off in my head so I wasn’t comparing my new self to my pre-car accident self. This has allowed me to celebrate my small successes and see the growth to where I was and where I used to be. I was celebrating every win and increasing motivation as I went, not assessing how I was failing compared to my past, which would have decreased my motivation. Celebrating new knee rotations or bends, or farthest I've walked without swelling, etc. ... All of those little wins and little things we take for granted - I had to celebrate those things.

Also, I leaned into the idea and philosophy of believing in "the process" that we learn as athletes. Knowing I need to endure extreme discomfort now for the benefit of growth as my body adapts to workouts down the road. That mindset had already been founded in years of sport, and it became even more essential as I went forward after the car accident. So, I needed to embrace more pain to get to movement again. 

In the same vein, I think there was a part of the process of “re-defining identity” and to self-describe as if what I do is who I am. So, not calling myself a “runner” or “triathlete” or “bike racer” - now all of that was gone and now on a deeper layer – who I am is a driven, passionate, creative individual who loves to embrace challenge - a little bit of a warrior and a little bit courageous.

The way I hcoose to express those things is in running, or in biking, or in swimming. If I got in a car accident tomorrow and my legs were gone, I would reach for a device and get a racing bike that I could use my arms for - that would be the new frontier. Not to say it wouldn’t be difficult, but there wouldn’t be a moment when I wouldn’t know who I am. 

The car accident redefined my skillset and focus and my vision for what was possible for me.

 

 

What has been the hardest aspect of performance or recovery during your push for 100 FKTs?

The basics everyone talks about that aren’t sexy: Proper sleep, periodized training programs stretched over time, nutrition in all aspects like pre- during- and post-workouts. All of those things: Refining diet, eating what works for your body. It’s all of those non-sexy basics where you just take care of yourself consistently over time and allow your body to recover.

I’m not necessarily a high-performing athlete but I tend to be able to take a lot of abuse and my body doesn’t end up injured - I'm a resilient athlete type - which is why I'm capable and interested in doing these crazy 100-mountain linkups or 2-day 100+ mile linkups in the backcountry with no resupply. I, *knock on wood,* have a body that hurts a lot and feels pain, but I keep moving forward without major mechanical issues. 

So many of us get completely owned by little things in work, relationships, and extra responsibilities we choose to take on that we might not care about as much. We get wrapped up in distractions, like social media, too. We have these things pulling stress and focus buttons pulling us in different directions, but then we get taken away in our reserves to prep and focus on a mission. 

 

How do you go about planning each FKT? How do you pick which ones you want to go for?

I think anyone that looks through my list sees that I love technical elements. There’s very few of my FKTs that someone who is just a runner can attempt or beat me on. Most of them you have to have rock climbing skills, scrambling skills, keep your head together in exposed terrain, glacier travel, those technical elements that I feel is my niche and superpower. I’m able to combine the nutrition, bodily awareness and fatigue awareness of ultras, logistical planning of thru-hiking, and technical skills of mountaineering, and blending those in a way that many may not have the ability to do so.

I’ve also done some “picnic” style efforts where you bike, swim and climb. I haven't done the Teton one yet, but I founded the Yosemite Picnic, where you bike from El Cap to Tenaya Lake, swim across Tenaya, then do the Tuoloumne Triple Crown (climbing Tenaya, Matthes Crest and finish on Cathedral Peak), then run back down, swim back across the lake, then bike back to El Cap. I haven't heard of anyone else repeating it, yet. My buddy Ryan and I did it in 14 hours and 36 minutes. That was in August 17, 2020. 

Its a pretty wild one but not super well-known yet. More people are talking to me about it now as backcountry multi-sport gains attention. I think and hope it’ll take off soon! 

Right after I founded that, climbing legend Hans Florine found out about it and his response was: “Ugh that’s cool, why didn’t I think about that?!”

 

Do you have any FKTs you haven’t done yet that are on your list?

I'm definitely looking internationally now. But COVID has prevented that from happening recently. For example, I want to put an infinity loop on a volcano over 20,000 feet. I'd love to be the first person to do that. Infinity 

 

As far as famous trails, I've never really been drawn to do what others are talking about. It would be like the Boston Marathon, it’s the name-brand one. I like the creative and multi-sport elements of new FKTs, because their nature makes them less famous and more adventurous. 

I guess one that does fit is the WURL in the Wasatch - that would be cool to do. It’s got the 5th class terrain and 4th class terrain and it’s long.  But I also love creating stuff and finding the line for the Yosemite Picnic - to leave something behind that nobody else has thought of. It’s a cool process. I feel like it’s something I do well. It feels more like a contribution to add to the FKT list vs repeating known ones. To be able to produce routes that people have a positive reaction to. I love that! 

 

 

Which Gnarly products and general nutrition do you rely on to help you while training, FKTing and recovering?

I actually really do use Gnarly Nutrition for Pre, During and Post. BCAAs and Pre for before as part of the pre-effort nutrition. Combine that with a well-rounded breakfast – it varies depending on the day. I’m more of an intuitive eater depending on my cravings: bacon and eggs, bagels, hash browns, etc. Or maybe I have a craving for fruit, so it depends. I won’t hold myself to a regimented plan. BCAAs and Pre help for days I’m going long and hard! 

During an effort, I have a two-fold way of approaching nutrition. If I'm doing anything less than 10 hours, all I really need is something like Fuel2O. It has the right number of calories per serving for me. With more extreme efforts, there's a certain comfort that comes with food choices. I think about the mental benefits. Three food types work for me like this: 1. Things that are sweet, like snickers; 2. Savory, like jerky; and 3. Crunchy, like almonds or fritos. 

Post-effort, I think is the most important aspect. You can only eat so much while out there moving and there's no way I eat enough calories while going through technical terrain. I try to follow every outing with a protein shake, with Gnarly Vegan Protein, because it works for my body. Then I eat everything that sounds good to me - Oreos covered in nutella, ramen, etc, - anything we can find at a grocery store that sounds good. 

 

What advice would you give for someone going for their first FKT, or just for someone who wants to move quickly in the mountains?

The first skill is learn to read your weather windows.. Moving fast in the mountains and carrying light gear is essential - so look for better weather windows. And then develop skills in a safe context. You're not going to move efficiently if you're not confident with self-arrest skills, or being on four points with ice axes. Coming from a running background you may not think of that. Rock climbing quickly is almost like a choreographed dance - you need to execute moves efficiently with proper gear and safety before an actual effort - so learning those basic mountain skills can help a lot, and will help unlock those interesting backcountry routes. 

Other than that, hours and hours of repetition with your skills. Especially when you’re fatigued and sleep deprived. And having self awareness to be honest with yourself when you need to go home and finish the effort or call it off early. The most important call is knowing when to step out of the mountains - there are more important than being in the mountains.

 

 

A film just came out about ‘The Journey to 100’ FKTs. Tell us about the filmmaking process. How did that come together and what was it like working with a film crew in your efforts?

I think a huge part of recovery and a huge part of doing these big efforts is not jus what you're putting in your body, but what you aren’t. Athletic Brewing is one of those tools that allows you to have complex flavors of micro brew without the alcohol. It’s easy to be super passionate about them and be a part of their team. They were the ones who funded this film. One of the owners wanted to make a movie out of it. 

There was a shared passion kind of birth to the story. I kind of love that. I’d be less attractive if I had to do a standard pitch to get it funded - the film just came naturally, which made it all the more fun. 

I wanna shout out Lauren Steel who directed the film and for conveying story in a short time frame and capturing all the details in the film. And then telling story of a journey to 100 FKTs and 100 peaks of the Bulgers. It's a lot of story to tell in 30 minutes, and to inspire people who are watching. And to the rest of the crew at Wizard Media who worked on it. 

I think it is a film that will connect with people and who believe in what’s possible. Being a school teacher, it’s a message I care about it: For people to believe what’s possible for them. I’m just some kid from some a small town who fell in love with a thing and chased that thing.

What is it that’s possible for others? 

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"Journey to 100" will be on Outside TV in a few weeks. Before that, there will be a virtual screening on Monday, May 9. 

 

All photos courtesy of Luke Webster

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