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Claire Bannwarth is a trail running machine. Already this year the 34-year-old French runner won the 268-mile Montane Spine Race in the UK in January by a huge margin. Then she ran the Transgrancanaria 128K in the Canary Islands in February (seventh female), followed by the Cursa di Ciclopi 500K in Sicily in April (second female), and the UTMB Ultra-Trail Snowdonia 165K in Wales in May (third female).
But that was all a warmup. Bannwarth, who lives in Village-Neuf, France, went on to run Colorado’s Hardrock 100 in July (fifth place female), and then win the Tahoe 200 a week later in Lake Tahoe, California. For epic-feats-dessert, she set out to break the fastest known time (FKT) on the 567-mile Colorado Trail (CT) just four days after Tahoe.
And she did it. Bannwarth took the west to east route, including the Collegiate East segment, and completed the trail self-supported in nine days, two hours, and 50 minutes. In her recap for the FKT website, she said, “I was traveling solo, with just my 10kg backpack. I resupplied three times along the way: at Molas Lake, Mount Princeton Hot Springs resort, and Copper Mountain resort.” She said she spent a total of $222 on food, including “the best slices of pizza in my life at Mount Princeton.”
Bannwarth kept a steady pace throughout the trek, averaging between 50-62 miles per day. She reported that she slept between one and three hours per day, and that it was never enough. Although she had no real injuries, her feet and back became very sore. When she got to the end, she swore she would never do anything so difficult again, but she’s already jonesing for something similar.
Mostly, she said, she did so many races and events while she was in the U.S. so that she could really make the trip worth it. “When I knew I got into Hardrock in December, I looked at what I could do in order to not spend 32 hours of travel on one 100-mile race,” she said, adding that she started doing some googling to see what else was going on around Hardrock time. “I found the website of the Colorado Trail Foundation, describing the CT, the different resupply options, the length, and I was immediately seduced by the idea of making an FKT attempt,” she said.
Although she had completed several multi-day, sleep-deprived, epic race events, the CT was her first FKT attempt. “It was the first time I would be all alone for 9-10 days, self supported, only relying on what I could find on the trail for water and food. So in many ways, it was completely different from the races I usually do.”
The first difference that Bannwarth really noticed was the weight of her bag. “It was so heavy I could barely run the flat parts, and it took me four days to get used to it and not have pain in my shoulders.” Also, water was easy to find but Bannwarth struggled with nutrition. “There were only 3 resupply points and I was very lucky to get to all of them during business hours. But I couldn’t take enough food to cover the upwards of 200 km. between stops.” She spent many hours, including the entire last day, with almost nothing to eat, which only added to the hallucination state of it all.
“My fueling strategy was a complete disaster,” she admitted. “I was so hungry I ended up eating all my food without rationing anything or thinking about how many kilometers were left until the next resupply, so then I’d have to completely starve. Genius.” But she kept doing the best she could.
“The nights were all difficult,” she said. “Most of the time it felt like I was sleep-walking.” The Colorado Trail often sees a huge span of temperatures, including very cold nights. “It was so cold because of the altitude that I had no choice but to wake up and keep moving,” she said. “But the views, all the beautiful landscapes I was moving through, and all the animals I met were amazing.”
Bannwarth said she saw marmots, elk, owls, and “lucky for me, no bears.” She also met several other hikers along the way. “All of the people I met on the trail, including some who knew about my FKT attempt, were incredible, and encouraged me,” she added.
Bannwarth even crossed paths with other FKT attempt hikers. At the same time that she was heading east, Tara Dower and Liz Derstine were heading west. “I saw that [Dower] was making an attempt via the FKT website, and I also saw her first two Instagram posts. I knew I should cross her at some point during my fourth day,” Bannwarth said. Dower would go on to set the supported FKT, westbound. Derstine was supporting Dower and said, “We saw [Bannwarth] charging through the parking lot at the Spring Creek Trailhead. I didn’t know who she was at the time but she looked like she was on a mission.”
Even though Bannwarth describes the CT FKT as “by far the most difficult adventure I have ever completed,” she’s admitted she’s pretty hooked. “During the whole FKT, I was thinking, ‘this is so tough, I will finish this and then I will never do something like this again,’” she said. “But two weeks later I think I had searched the whole FKT website to find other routes to do—both in the States and near me in France.”
Next up, though, Bannwarth will be racing UTMB on September 1-2 in Chamonix, France, then the Backyard World Championships on October 21 in Bell Buckle, Tennessee, followed by the 24-hour World Championships on December 2-3 in Taiwan. Because, why rest when you can play?