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Review: Totally FKT adventure film

Written by Fiona

November 25 2020

An exciting new film, Totally FKT, tells the story of two top runners – Damian Hall and John Kelly – in their bids to break the 260-mile Pennine Way “Fastest Known Time”.

The film has been created by award-winning Summit Fever Media, co-owned by Ellie and Matt Green. It premiered to great acclaim at the Kendal Mountain Festival 2020 at the weekend.

Clive Allen, the director of the festival, said: “It’s an amazing film that gives us insight into the inner world of the mountain ultra runner and the motivation needed to keep going when your body says, ‘Stop!’.”

Totally FKT is set in 2020, a year that has seen an unprecedented number of new Fastest Known Times (FKTs) set on multiple “classic” routes and trails in the UK. Anecdotally, the reason is that a lack of races, most being cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic, has pushed some of the top athletes to set goals of their own.

Having interviewed both John Kelly and Damian Hall after their Pennine Way record-breaking runs, I was keen to watch Totally FKT.

I should point out that in the interests of transparency, I am friends of Matt and Ellie and I’ve greatly admired their work since meeting them as part of an Ourea Events press team during the Cape Wrath Ultra a few years ago. Thanks to SFM for letting me see the film without charge.

Damian Hall. Credit: Steve Ashworth
John Kelly. Credit: Steve Ashworth

Details of Totally FKT

The film reveals the audacious attempts by elite athletes Damian and John to break an historic record on one of the UK’s toughest long-distance paths. Totally FKT uncovers the on-the-trail story as they each battle to set the fastest time to complete the 260-mile Pennine Way.

The goal is a seemingly unachievable time of 65 hours 20 minutes set 31 years ago by legendary English fell runner Mike Hartley.

As mountain running pioneer Martin Stone explains in the introduction: “As the years go on, the record takes on the status of a legend.”

Nicky Lygo, the lead support and NHS doctor, adds: “The only thing you can predict is that something will go wrong.”

For those that do not know the eventual outcome, it offers nail-biting viewing, while for those that do, it is a chance to witness the grit and determination required to run non-stop on the notoriously intimidating route.

Damian. Credit: Steve Ashworth
Damian and John. Credit: Steve Ashworth

Review: Totally FKT

The 52 minutes of the film seemed to whizz by as I watched it once – and then again. There is a great balance of scene-setting, thanks to drone footage and on-the-ground camera work, as well as history and details told through interviews with Mike, Martin, Nicky and pacers, among others.

There is a brilliant part when a Pennine Way walker, Kathy Faulks, pops up and explains with great charisma how Covid has re-ignited the love of walking. She says: “I think it could be the resurrection of the Pennine Way.”

You also witness the variety of conditions faced by John and Damian and the terrain on the famous long-distance route from Edale to Kirk Yetholm.

While John runs south to north, Damian runs north to south and the film jigsaws the timeline of their journeys together. I could almost imagine them running towards each other although, of course, they do not because John finishes his bid more than a week before Damian starts his.

We see both runners experiencing low and highs, including pain, exhaustion, illness and, finally, relief and joy. The runners reveal why they want to run this route and the film is interspersed with quick catch-up chats as they make their attempts.

John. Credit: Steve Ashworth
Damian. Credit: Steve Ashworth

Damian said of the film: “It’s both horrible and hilarious watching yourself on screen and the film becomes something of a gurning contest between John and I.

“Matt and Ellie worked incredibly hard on this and always seemed to be there when I was at my worst. I especially love the interviews with the likes of Mike Hartley, Martin Stone and Nicky Lygo.

“The hard work and talent of Matt and Ellie has paid off yet again.”

Matt and Ellie revealed that they relished “a fantastic opportunity this summer to provide insight into two dedicated athletes giving their all, against the odds, to break a legendary trail running record”.

It’s a well shot and captured film with plenty of excitement, humour and brilliant observations. I recommend it whether you are a runner, an ultra runner or an armchair sports fan.

To view Totally FKT see this Vimeo link. It costs £5.98 to download. (The film will also be available on Amazon.)

John has a sleep. Credit: Steve Ashworth
Damian. Credit: Steve Ashworth

The spoiler

If you don’t want to read the results look away!

It was in 1989, on the hottest weekend for 13 years, that Mike Hartley set his time of 65 hours and 2 minutes. Since then, few attempts had been made to challenge this time on the intimidating route and all had fallen short – until this summer.

First, John Kelly, an American runner who lives in England, set a new record in a time of 64 hours and 46 minutes on July 15.

Nine days later, British ultra runner Damian Hall eclipses his time with a new record of 61 hours 34 minutes on July 24.

Nicky said of John: “How he did what he did on the Pennine Way, I will never understand.”

Damian, who was thrilled to become the record-holder, said: “There is a competitive element, there is a deadline, but there is also the adventure.”

Trees Not Tees: For this project, Summit Fever Media partnered with Trees not Tees, which offers race directors an alternative to event t-shirts – planting a tree instead.

Chris Zair, director of Trees not Tees, said: “Thanks to John Kelly, Damian Hall and the wider running community, Trees not Tees will have planted more 18,000 native broadleaf trees in the UK in 2020.”

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