If you take a moment to think about where you live, the opportunity to set yourself – and others – a challenge is close to hand, possibly right outside your door. Because while racing has its place, there is an alternative: attempting to set a fastest known time (FKT). Whether you live in the bustling city, tranquil countryside or in the shadow of the mountains, you simply pick a route, set your watch and go.

This is what The North Face athlete Ida-Sophie Hegemann has done many times in a career that has also included competing in many of the world’s toughest trail races. And one FKT in particular – on a trail that starts almost at her front door – proved to be a physical and emotional journey unlike any Ida-Sophie had been on before.

The Alps – covering a 750km-long swathe of Europe from France in the west, through Switzerland and Italy, to Slovenia in the east – feel timeless. Almost unfathomably old. But when measured on a geological timescale, the Alps are rather young.

Around 35 million years ago, the African and European continents began to collide; millions of tonnes of compressed shell fragments and bones from the seabed were forced upwards and eventually formed the mountains we now call the Alps. To put that into some sort of context, the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs collided with the Earth 15 million years before the Alps even begun their formation.

Today, standing in Innsbruck, Austria, and looking north, the Karwendel Mountains rise up, forming a natural barrier between Austria and Germany. The lower slopes are thickly covered in dark green pine forests, while the upper reaches, where the grey limestone is exposed in summer, are covered in snow during winter.

This is Ida-Sophie Hegemann’s home now. The place where she trains and explores the mountains, alongside studying to become an architect. But originally Ida-Sophie was from the other side of the peaks – she was born in Duderstadt, Germany. And so setting an FKT on the trails that bisect the mountains which separate her childhood home and her current home held a special allure.

That is how the idea for an attempt at being the fastest woman to cover the 66km Karwendel Höhenweg (in English, the Karwendel High Trail) lodged itself in Ida-Sophie’s mind. But it was a longer journey to get to the point at which an attempt was possible.

Born on 21 March 1997, Ida-Sophie was always very active. “When we would go hiking as a family, my mum always used to say: ‘She’s as fast as a Gämse [Chamois, a type of European mountain goat] and no one wants to walk with her,’” Ida-Sophie remembers.

By the time she was 15, Ida-Sophie had been identified as a talented track runner and moved to Hanover to enrol at the Olympic training facility boarding school. However, that experience was not great, and Ida-Sophie struggled with injuries. Indeed, by the time she had graduated from high school, Ida-Sophie decided she wanted to quit competitive running. That is when she took to the trails for the first time and fell in love with that side of the sport.

In 2018, Ida-Sophie entered her first trail race: the marathon- distance Zugspitz Ultratrail event. She won. Over the following three years the great results continued to come and in 2021, Ida- Sophie became part of The North Face’s athlete team.

Throughout her career, racing and taking on solo projects have existed side by side for Ida-Sophie. “Earlier in my career, FKTs were mainly a way formetogetfitfor races,” she explains. “More recently I have tackled FKTs for their own sake.”


The way that Ida-Sophie selects her FKT routes reflects this change in mindset. “When I used to search for routes,” says Ida-Sophie, “I would search the Fastest Known Times website for routes that closely resembled the profile of races I was planning.”

But Ida-Sophie felt a special relationship with the Karwandel Hohenweg – not just because it connected her hometown today with the country where she was born, but also because it was in the mountains in which she trains day in, day out.

When asked what she sees as the difference between races and FKT attempts, Ida-Sophie says that the main one is the fact that in a race, other people are competing at the same time and the only way to succeed is to give your absolute all. Whereas on an FKT attempt, the runner is more reliant on their own resources and mental strength to keep going.

Another big difference between races and FKT attempts, certainly for Ida-Sophie, is how she prepares for the different challenges. “In a race, I don’t really want to know the whole course,” she explains, “whereas on the Karwendel Höhenweg, it was important that I was familiar with the entire route.” As part of her preparation, Ida-Sophie reconnoitred every step that she would take, often heading out with other runners to cover a section.


One other important aspect of an FKT attempt is getting the kit right. Being on your own in the mountains for a long period increases the importance of making sure you are wearing and carrying the optimal gear and equipment.

“In the mountains, it is super-important to be prepared,” explains Ida-Sophie. “So I had a waterproof and a windproof jacket with me. I carried safety equipment: an emergency first aid kit and a safety blanket. I took soft flasks so that I would have enough water.”

On her feet, Ida-Sophie wore a prototype of a new generation shoe developed by The North Face specifically for FKTs in tough terrain. Still being tested by athletes, they are planned to be released during the second half of 2024. Ida-Sophie’s support crew also carried a pair of Summit VECTIVTM Pro II trail shoes to a point on the route where she could change footwear to take advantage of the extra speed this particular shoe provides.

Ida-Sophie’s FKT attempt on the Karwendel Höhenweg took place on 27 June 2023. She calls it “my dream FKT route” because of her close personal links to the mountains in which she ran. And perhaps those ties are part of the reason the run went so well.

Her official time was 10h42m for the 65.6km route. But that is just a small part of the story.

“One of the things I love about FKTs,” explains Ida-Sophie, “is that I not only get the feeling of giving my all – of not being able to run any faster – but also that I had a really childlike feeling. I was just running fast, without too much planning.”

The film of Ida-Sophie’s FKT will be released on 15 April 2024 at www.thenorthface.com



Check out The North Face’s range of trail running footwear, apparel and equipment at www.thenorthface.com.

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