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Q&A with Rickey Gates: Fastest Known Trailblazer

Trail and mountain runner Rickey Gates shares how he came up with the FKT project, why meditation and running go hand-in-hand and his thoughts on banning dopers.

Colorado native Rickey Gates has chosen his own unique route as a runner, with top finishes at some of the most grueling races in the U.S. including the Dipsea trail race near San Francisco, Mount Washington Road Race in New Hampshire, Empire State Building Run-Up and Mount Marathon in Alaska, as well as some of the fastest known times (FKTs) on notable trails. The 34-year-old now living in Madison, Wis., also spent time working as a dishwasher in Antarctica and has ridden his motorcycle hundreds of miles to embark on new running adventures. Gates recently started the FKT Project, developing classic bronze belt buckles that will serve as awards for the most prominent FKT marks. This year also marks the third summer of his weeklong Hut Run Hut trail running camps in Colorado.

Why do you run?

In my opinion, we all need something we do consistently decade after decade. For me it’s running, but it can be anything—knitting, drawing, cooking. It’s a baseline. It can come back to us and allow us to see ourselves as reinvented.

Where do running and meditation intersect?

I believe that running is its own type of meditation. You’re focusing on your breath, your thoughts, your physical sensation, and trying to stay present. I say the same thing about meditating. You’re trying to get your head into a space where you are both aware and unaware of your body and all the rest of the world melts away. You’re left with this pure, blissful state of energy and flow.

Where is your favorite place to run?

Probably around the Aspen area. For most of us, you combine nostalgia with an already incredibly beautiful place and it’s hard to screw that one up. The trails around the Aspen area are in my opinion some of the best in the world, and I’ve been running them for about 20 years.

Why do you like long-distance motorcycle rides?

It has a similar sort of feeling [as running] that it gives me. Running is a lot more real in the sense that you really have to treat this machine, your body, with the utmost respect. I have one bike at my mom’s house that has 100,000 miles on it. That’s a lot of miles for a little engine. I used to name my vehicles, but I stopped. I was anthropomorphizing them too much and spending too much money trying to keep inanimate objects alive.

How did you come up with the FKT Project?

The idea came up thinking about these iconic routes that have inspired me as much if not more than any race I’ve done. They are in places where chances are we’re never going to have races on that terrain, which is fine. It’s just a little extra something on your attempt. I want to see it grow to other mountains. It’s been fun putting that question out there and asking the general public what they think are the biggest and most coveted FKTs.

Should performance-enhancing drug culprits be banned from trail racing?

The rules in our sport say if convicted, you get a two-year ban. If you serve your ban and that’s what we’ve agreed on, then that’s what happens. In looking at the values of our sport, of my sport, it has to do with camaraderie, compassion, forgiveness, and it doesn’t have anything to do with walls. It bugs me quite a bit that people are trying to put up walls in this sport. I think that’s totally wrong. To be honest, if people want to use drugs and compete in the races I’m competing in, so be it. If that’s the way they want to beat me, that’s fine. I see people building walls in our sport as just as greedy as the drug users themselves.

What races are on your calendar for this year?

I’m returning to Alaska for the Mount Marathon Race. I’m sure I’ll find other interesting races, but in the past few years that race has epitomized what real mountain running is to me. A race from bottom to top and back down with no set course and a lot of people who are really excited about it. It’s the least contrived race I’ve run in the states, if not beyond as well.