Joe Gray is a bonafide mountain man, and he has the resume to prove it. The 31-year-old from Colorado Springs, Colo., is a 19-time U.S. national team member, nine-time national champion and, earlier this year, won the Mt. Washington Road Race for the second straight year, clocking 58:15—the fastest American time ever and the second-fastest time in the event’s history.
On Friday morning, less than a week after leading Team USA to fourth place at the World Mountain Running Championships in Wales by way of a fifth-place individual finish, Gray rolled out of bed and set the FKT (Fastest Known Time) at the popular Manitou Incline in Manitou Springs, Colo., scaling the ridiculously steep 0.9-mile former railway—which has an average grade of 40.3 percent—in 17 minutes, 45 seconds, eclipsing the widely accepted mark of 18:31 set by mountain running legend and twelve-time Pikes Peak Marathon champion Matt Carpenter in 1998.
“I decided this morning I would go for a sub-19:30 but halfway up I felt good and went for my best time,” said Gray, who kept a close eye on his Mio Alpha heartrate-based watch—paired alongside a Garmin 620 GPS watch—the entire way. “My best before was 18:43, so I was stoked to see how fast I was going once I could see the peak.”
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Gray says he went out hard and once he got close to 90 percent of his max heart rate, he began power hiking for about 30 seconds, a strategy that allowed him to “blast hard” the rest of the way to the summit.
Faster times on the Manitou Incline have been reported, such as former professional triathlete Mark Fretta’s 16:42, run in 2006 alongside Olympic speedskaters Ryan Bradford and Apolo Ohno—who Fretta says ran 17:41 and 17:52 that day, respectively—but those marks haven’t been verified and are widely disregarded by many locals. According to Gray, Fretta, Ohno and Bradford allegedly stopped their watches at the bailout point, which is about 800 feet from the top.
“They have no data to back it up,” Gray says. “It’s hard for me to believe Fretta as he has done nothing to suggest he could get remotely close to sub-19 even. No data, no time!”
The Fastest Known Time movement is guided both by sportsmanship and honesty, but also specific guidelines on how to report times and FKT attempts.
In 2012, Fretta was sanctioned by USADA for “variations in his individual longitudinal blood profile,” which landed him a four-year suspension from competition. Fretta, whose suspension started on June 11th, 2012, has never actually failed a drug test.
“Can you truly believe this guy could run 16ish in that era when Carpenter had the record at 18:31 and yet he never even touched Matt in any mountain races?” Gray says. “A 16 is so good that he could have won nearly every uphill race in the country yet he had no major victories or results. Seems odd to me at least.”