After my failed attempt at the Mason-Dixon Trail fastest known time, I decided to take a run at the Monticello FKT. This wasn’t something that’s been on my radar, but the logistics worked out fairly easily as it was on the way home from a family vacation in the Great Smokey Mountains. When combined with the educational aspects (i.e. Thomas Jefferson’s home), this made for a pretty easy sell to the wife. My son was less than thrilled, but then again few things thrill a 15 year old.
I decided on the Around and Down variant of the route instead of the more traditional Up and Down one. This entailed taking the shuttle up and starting at the house instead of at the bottom by the visitors center. I’m only a couple weeks out from my last race and thought it would be a little smarter to cut down on the injury risk by not climbing the first (fine, only) hill on the course. To offset this, I chose to do the course unsupported even though there was a café on the back side of the house.
The attempt started as we exited the shuttle and a course marshal pointed us to a little tent set up on a path where we received instructions. This is where my ultra experience started to come in handy. Instead of getting antsy about losing time early, I accepted that this was just how the day was going to go and didn’t waste any mental energy on things outside of my control. It was then a short path up to the front steps of Monticello where another marshal provided some excellent updates on the route including the best times to avoid the tour groups that were expected out during the day.
Quick digression. There’s a vocal minority in the Monticello forums who claim that the house itself isn’t part of the FKT. They have two primary arguments. One of which is complete bunk and the other, while appearing to have some merit at first blush, is also complete bunk. The first is that it costs extra money to run through the house. Nowhere is it written how much a FKT should cost. If you want completely free, then go do one of the big three long trails. The second argument is the house is a man-made structure. Again, there’s no written rule that structures have to be excluded and many other FKTs go through tunnels which are – wait for it . . . man-made structures. So if you attempt either Monticello FKT and avoid the house, make sure to throw an asterisk on it because it doesn’t count.
The house portion of the course was among the slowest going, which is why many people want to avoid it. You’re only allowed on the first floor and while there’s only about 6 small rooms to walk through it takes a decent amount of time. The library was especially slow going as I had to squint to read the print on the book spines. The dining room was probably my favorite as they had a wine dumbwaiter. Pure genius.
You exit the house and then walk along the north wing until you reach the west lawn. There’s a little cafe down below that sells drinks and snacks, but I quickly bypassed this since I was attempting an unsupported FKT. It was pretty warm out, but I sucked it up and was able to push through.
The South Wing of the house includes many rooms that you can go into to learn more about the life of the slaves and how the house was run. These included slave quarters, a smokehouse, and this kitchen among others. Underneath the first floor were also wine and beer cellars. Now things are starting to get interesting.
Here’s where I really started to open things up. I was moving too fast to catch my splits, but think I was in the 20-22 minute per mile range. Simply flying!
And then before I knew it, I was down across the road, and done. Total elapsed time was 1:47:15 for a new Monticello Around and Down FKT. I’ve submitted it to fastestknownmonument.org for ratification and expect to hear back shortly. I would like to give a huge shout out to my wife for her unwavering support of this FKT. Seriously, everything that I’ve accomplished is due to her. Thanks, honey!
Some advise for those contemplating their own attempt at this unforgiving course. Plan very far in advance so you can get your timed ticket earlier in the day. I wasn’t able to start until after noon and the crowds were difficult to contend with. I’d also suggest spring or fall to avoid the heat, which definitely added a couple minutes. Most importantly – have fun. Too often we get caught up in getting from point A to B that we forget to smell the roses. You should definitely smell the roses at Monticello as they are simply magnificent.