Nina Bridges hadn’t been planning to set the women’s supported fastest known time (FKT) when she set out on the Colorado Trail (CT) on Aug. 15. But she broke the previous record by just under 8 hours.
Originally, she’d planned to go unsupported when she had a few weeks off. And she’d had her eyes on the women’s unsupported FKT for the Colorado Trail — because she knew no one had claimed it yet. “I was like, ‘I’ll start the women’s time. This is going to be awesome.’ I packed all my gear, packed all my food. And then I started the first day,” Bridges told GearJunkie.
But it wasn’t long before disaster struck. “I was 9 miles in, and the backpack strap ripped in half,” she said. She pressed on, though. At least, to get to somewhere she had cell service — somewhere right around mile 25.
“I called up some of my friends, and I was like, ‘I don’t know what to do. Should I just quit?’ But then I’d feel soft, and I was like, ‘Why am I quitting?'” Bridges recalled. She was about 8 hours into the endeavor. “And my friends all said, ‘Don’t quit. You should go supported, and we’ll come support you.'”
So the plan was reformed. Bridges hitchhiked to a town where she could catch a redeye back to Denver. Then she and her network of friends and family scrambled, putting together an entirely new strategy, buying food and supplies, and plotting out meetups and resupply points.
The very next day, she set out again, with a new goal this time: to set a supported women’s FKT on the Colorado Trail. It was a loftier goal to be sure, especially considering that the record had just been broken (for the first time in 20 years) by a woman named Tara Dower in July 2023. And Dower had raised the bar — she’d completed the 486-mile Colorado Trail in just 8 days, 21 hours, and 59 minutes.
That was the time to beat if Bridges wanted this FKT. So, at 5 a.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 16, she set forth again from the Waterton Canyon trailhead south of Denver, bound for the Durango terminus. And on Aug. 24, at 7:15 a.m. she crossed the proverbial finish line of the Colorado Trail with her FKT. She’d broken Dower’s short-lived record by 7 hours and 44 minutes, finishing the entire CT in just 8 days, 14 hours, and 15 minutes.
“It definitely feels cool,” Bridges told GearJunkie when we caught up with her after the accomplishment. “It’s definitely the coolest thing I’ve ever done.”
Q&A With Nina Bridges: Colorado Trail FKT Holder
GearJunkie: So you start on your second FKT attempt on the Colorado Trail in one week — what was it like? Do you remember the whole trail vividly or was it kind of a blur?
Nina Bridges: I think of it as very vivid and fresh in my memory. But I think [my pacing crew] Josh and Zane think I forget a lot. I just had so much fun on this. Like, it was the most fun, silly thing ever. We kept joking that I was having too much fun and not trying hard enough … I genuinely felt like it was a really fun camping trip.
How did you feel after the first day?
I had never walked over — I don’t know, 54 or 55 miles? I did one big day on the PCT, but I can’t remember how long it was. So the first day I started off strong and I was really sore from carrying the backpack that day before. But the first day went really great — just like good chat, in good spirits, I was eating all day, until like 8 p.m., and it started pouring rain … And then Josh and I camped right at the 60-mile mark. And I was like, “Look, Josh, I’m not going to be able to walk tomorrow. There’s no way in heck, I’ll be able to stand up and start walking.” I thought I would just go to sleep and when I woke up; I wouldn’t be able to move a single muscle in my body.
How much sleep were you getting on the trail?
Josh was kind of in charge of how much I slept because he’s done stuff like this before. So he was adamant that I got 4.5 hours of sleep the first night. Then it kind of went down to 4 and then like 3 hours and 40 minutes. But for this kind of thing, I got a lot of sleep. I felt really rested every night, except one night I didn’t sleep very well. But I think I got great sleep overall.
Were there any moments that stick out in your mind as really vivid, fond memories or challenges?
I think it was like Day Six — I had had a slow morning. This was the first night that I didn’t get good sleep, and I woke up and I felt exhausted … So Ben and I are hiking along and like just having a ball at the time, and it was going in between raining and not raining. And right around golden hour, we’re going over this path, and it’s raining and sunny and there was a double rainbow, and we were listening to this song and it was just so amazing.
But then it got dark, and I got really tired. And it was the first time I asked for an on-trail nap … I just felt like I couldn’t walk anymore. And so we sat down, and I slept for 5 minutes, woke up, didn’t feel any more rested, slept for another 10 minutes. Still didn’t feel rested. I was like, “I’m going to need to actually sleep here.” And we were 6 miles from Stony Pass. We didn’t have any sleep gear. We had just brought like a tarp and an emergency bivy. So we set up the tarp and we both got in the emergency bivy, which, you know, like they’re meant for one person. So we put on rain gear and then we were like, squeezed in this bivy.
I slept for like 2.5 hours. And it rained the whole time we were sitting in this bivy tarp thing, which ended up being actually perfect. We took a break so we didn’t get all wet.
What were you eating on the trail typically?
Oh, it was wacky. I had a really bad stomach for most of it, but I ate a lot of applesauce. Udon noodles. And then quesadillas and ham. One morning there was a piece of ham on the stove. And I was like, “That looks really good.” And so I ate a ton of ham for, like, a day. Fruit. Pickles. I ate a lot of hash browns; I would have a smoothie every morning.
I don’t know, I had a lot of trouble eating on this because of stomach issues … Then I also had kind of a weird tongue thing going on. I got this weird tongue rash, like a stress reaction. And I was having a visceral reaction to food, like a visceral, nauseous reaction. Like the thought of eating some foods — I couldn’t even fathom eating some things … I think [my crew] found ways to make sure I was getting enough food. They would have a big ol’ bowl of food at every stop. And that was the bulk of my calories.
Did you have an inner dialogue going on while you were on the trail?
The first three days, every night I was like, “Oh, man, I’m going to wake up, but I’m not going able to move. Like, there’s no chance in hell I’ll be able to walk again.” But I’d have to remind myself of like, “OK, just focus on today. And when you wake up in the morning, it’ll be a new day.” Instead of thinking like, “Oh, I’ve got 200 miles,” just think, “I’m starting at mile zero this morning. It’s just another day.” And that kept me going for a few days.
But then once I kind of realized I actually had a shot at the record, I started focusing on the bigger picture and just focusing on the fun. I genuinely had so much fun hanging out with Ben and Zane and Josh.
What was it like on the last day as you closed the last few miles and approached the terminus?
The last day was the hardest day. By 10 times. It was so hard. I slept through all of our alarms — which, I hadn’t slept through anything. And we didn’t start hiking until 5 p.m., which was the latest [we started]. I woke up, ate some noodles, drank my smoothie, and then threw up everything an hour in. I was so ungodly tired, and it felt like my body had just decided it was done. It felt like I was just going to have to walk myself to the terminus just by pure will. It was a battle all day.
But we powered through. And, I don’t know, I thought there was going to be more of a culminating experience with all my emotions. But it was kind of just like, neutral. I think it’s just I didn’t really comprehend what I had done. Ben and Zane were both super blown away. Like, “Holy fuck. This is crazy.” … I think because I had so much time left to beat Tara’s record, I didn’t feel pressured. And I actually really enjoyed that.
Tara reached out to you a few times while you were on the trail. How did that feel?
She was so supportive while I was doing it. She sent me a voice memo one morning that just totally made my day. And like, she kept supporting me. I was listening to her messages, and she was like, “It’s another beautiful day on the trail! And you’re doing amazingly.” … Then the last day she was like, “You got this, girl. Go, go, go!”
What advice would you give to a hopeful CT FKT-setter? Or to someone who was just going to hike the CT normally?
I think laughter is so invaluable for motivation and staying sane. My crew briefed Josh’s friend on how I was doing at one point, and one of the things they told him was, “She moves way faster when she’s laughing.” I think just making light of the situation was something that kept me going instead of panicking and stressing out about them. Like, one morning, Ben carried 6 L of water for a water carry, and we didn’t drink any of it. And I was almost peeing laughing the entire morning I thought it was so funny. But it really wasn’t funny at all.
And I think for people doing the Colorado Trail in general, I would just say, go do it. It’s so gorgeous. You see so many different landscapes. It’s just a magical trail.
Nina Bridges’ Gear: Colorado Trail FKT
Behind every FKT is a list of gear that helped the hiker set their record. Bridges had never run a proper trail race, nor had she attempted an FKT like this before. But she isn’t new to long-distance hiking. In October 2022, she became the seventh person and fastest woman to complete the “yo-yo” of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). It took her 190 days and 6 hours. So she understands how important gear is.
Bridges told us she isn’t sponsored by anyone yet (hint, hint, all you running and hiking brands out there). But she had an extensive list of gear to share with us when we asked her about what she used to set her FKT on the CT this summer. Here’s what she told us.
- Outdoor Research Women’s Echo Sun Hoodie
- lululemon Run Speed Up shorts // Brooks running skort // Nike Dry 10K running shorts
(I switched off between these but wore the skort for the most number of days.)
- HOKA Speedgoat 5 trail running shoes
- Injini toe socks
- CEP compression calf sleeves
- Dirty Girl gaiters
- Walmart leggings (best things ever; they are so cozy)
- Madbeans Beanies fleece hat
- Big trucker ball cap
Layers and More
- Arc’teryx Beta SL rain jacket
- Montbell Plasma 1000 Down Jacket Men’s Puffy
- Melanzana Fleece
- Marmot PreCip Eco rain pants
- DIY Alpha hoodie (similar to Senchi brand)
- Julbo Montebianco 2 sunglasses
- Patagonia Nano Puff Mitts
- Fishing gloves (The only actually waterproof gloves out there; these are awesome for
winter and rainy conditions. Get them at your local hardware store.)
Things She Carried
- Zpacks 20-Degree Classic sleeping bag
- Therm-a-Rest NeoAir sleeping pad
- NEMO Switchback sleeping pad
- Zpacks Plex Solo 1-Person Tent or Duplex 2-Person Tent
- GooseFeet Gear down booties
- Sea to Summit Thermolite Reactor Extreme Sleeping Bag Liner (My body was having trouble staying warm,
so I had a lot of layers.)
- Raab Argon Down Pant
What’s Next for Nina Bridges?
So you set an FKT on Colorado’s longest thru-hike. What do you do after that?
If you’re Nina Bridges, you start wondering what you’d be capable of if you actually trained for an FKT attempt like this one.
“I’ve never followed a training regimen before. I’m just a person that likes being in the mountains, and I run uphill a lot and I ski uphill, and I do all sorts of stuff like that.” Bridges said. “But I think about what I’d be able to do if I trained. And so I want to start. Like, I just want to get stronger.”
That’s what Bridges is going to spend her winter doing. And the next year, she said she’d love to try running in an actual race — one of the longer ones like the Cocodona 250.
“I think that’s where I could be competitive. I’m not fast enough for a shorter race,” she said. Then, almost as an afterthought, Bridges added, “And then I would love to go for the John Muir Trail FKT.”
Wherever the trail takes her, you can bet that Bridges is going to get there in record time. And if her Colorado Trail FKT is anything to go off of, she’s going to have an absolute blast along the way.