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Sleep Strategy on the Colorado Trail FKT

In the past two years of completing FKTs (Fastest Known Times aka (also known as) records)). I have experimented with two sleep strategies. I incorporated both in this unsupported effort from Denver to Durango, and I think they both can have their spot as the sole style for different types of adventures. I used both the single block of sleep and also the nap schedule.

With the length of time this unsupported record was projected to take, I split in half. The sleep deficit would catch up to me too quickly if I immediately begun falling behind. So, I split the difference and had a drastically different strategy for the first half as the second.

Legend sleeping in the dirt
Legend sleeping in the dirt

Sleeping before the start of an FKT

One of the biggest keys to most of my FKTs is trying to start early in the morning. This gives me the most time to log miles before having to sleep. It is almost like a bonus half day. On this attempt, I had to worry about carrying all my battery power for my small camera, phone, and headlamp the entire time. So, I set the start time for 6:30 am, the earliest I could possibly hike without a headlamp. It turns out I started 5 minutes earlier and moved great with a full night of sleep behind me and a fresh body.

Sleeping for the First Half

For the first half of the record I allotted 4-5 hours each night to rest. I wanted to get full sleep cycles and try to feel as fresh as possible each morning leading up to the final push. On night 1 I went to bed by 10:30 and got about 5 hours and 30 minutes of rest. I had moved much quicker than I anticipated through the planned 50 miles and I wanted to preserve the sleep and rest my body was at for another night. This led to trying to get a “full” night of sleep on day one because I felt so good.

Days 2-5 did not have the same 5.5 hour block of time, but I was able to get at least 4 hours each night. I overslept through the morning of day 4 and woke up to the rising sun at 6:30am. This was my biggest mistake of the trip. When I awoke I noticed I was laying on my phone and the ringer was dulled by my body and sleeping bag. I did not make this mistake again. On day 6, I changed my sleeping strategy.

Second Half Sleep Schedule

Once I was deep enough into the record attempt that I simply needed to survive the remaining miles and push my body forward at a constant pace, I transitioned to a two nap sleep style. The style is based on the uberman sleep schedule. It is a different style in which REM naps are sought after in the long term. For me, it was a short term style of rest in which I substituted two shorter periods of rest for one longer one. While the traditional style is only done after adapting for days, in my case the naps were simply meant to give my body just enough rest to keep functioning.

The style worked perfectly, although it did feel like my senses and emotions were dulled with the shorter periods of rest. My strategy consisted of 30-45 minutes of true rest followed by a period of eating, drinking and preparing for hiking in the dark. Each period of downtime was about an hour, but if I was really beat I would allow myself a few extra minutes of reflection on the day, trip, and endeavor as a whole.

What I learned about sleep on an FKT

Sleep is one of the factors that must be obtained during a long FKT, but it is also one of the things that scientists know the least about. I found my new nap schedule worked really well in terms of maximizing the hours of movement, but it dulled my body to a point where the top speed was less than when I rested for longer periods of time. I need to further experiment, but I suspect if I perfectly allocate the nap times and space them correctly it can be a much more efficient system. There is more to be learned!

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