Robert Corcoran, a Missouri native and enthusiastic member of the Columbia trail running community, set a new supported fastest known time (FKT) for the Ozark Trail last fall, completing the 230 miles in three days, 13 hours, 7 minutes, and 4 seconds. He gives much of the credit to his team, who fed him, paced him, and motivated him along the way.
Corcoran was no stranger to the trail before this most recent accomplishment. His first overnight experience on the Ozark Trail (OT) was backpacking as a Boy Scout. Corcoran thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail in 2014 before tackling his first OT thru-hike in 2015 with his boxer mix, Tank, by his side.
Corcoran ran track and cross-county in high school, but his attraction to both running and nature did not fully collide until 2015, when a friend encouraged him to participate in the Columbia Multisport Club’s Thursday Night Trail Race Series, also known as the TNT races. Corcoran continued to embrace backpacking and running from that point on, completing both a Pacific Coast Trail and Continental Divide Trail thru-hike and competing in ultramarathons. He ran the OT 100 for the first time in 2019.
These years of growth inevitably led him to his next goal: setting an FKT on the OT, which he first attempted, self-supported, in 2021. He fell short, stopping 47 miles from the finish, but this did not deter him from trying again. With a few adjustments to training and planning, including accepting support, Corcoran hit the trail again on October 13, 2022.
“I felt like it was so tough doing it alone,” said Corcoran. “This [time], knowing I had a team with me was a driving force to keep motivated and keep moving. I didn’t want to fail them…I definitely had doubts going into it, but I must have still had this belief that I could set the record.”
On the Run
Trail running opened Corcoran up to a new community and introduced him to his wife, Heather, who served as his No. 1 supporter during his FKT success. His crew also included TNT race organizer Shawn Goertz, who served as his numbers guy; Karen Hodges as chef; and Caleb McMurry, Ryan King, Andy Emerson, and Matt Landis as pacers.
Corcoran began his journey at 5:58 a.m., running the first 28 miles alone along the challenging Eleven Point Section. He was greeted by his crew at 10:34 a.m., where they swapped his hydration vest for a fresh one — the benefits of a team strategy already paying off.
But when Corcoran’s knee began bothering him 20 miles in, the self-doubt caught up to him. “Definitely early on, I thought, ‘Can I do this? Am I really going to be able to do this?’”
He started the Between the Rivers Section with McMurry as his pacer. They arrived at camp at 12:37 a.m. after covering another 28.8 miles.
At 5:05 a.m., Corcoran was back on the trail, this time with King behind him. As they ran past frost-covered fields and wild horses, Corcoran’s knee really began to bother him. He and Emerson ran 4 miles after dusk before reaching burgers and a miracle knee sleeve. Six more miles along the Blair Creek Section finished off day two as they arrived at HWY P TH at 9:44 p.m.
It was Heather’s turn to pace as they started the Karkaghne Section at 3:08 a.m.
“It was so nice to have her with me,” Corcoran stated. “We were moving well, and the miles just seemed to fly by.”
He picked up Landis at the next stop, who ran 26 miles with him. Corcoran grabbed another meal and McMurry at the next stop, who fed him ibuprofen and played music to distract him through the Trace Creek Section. They stopped at 10:30 p.m. for four hours of sleep before continuing.
Concerned about the clock, Goertz told the team they needed to keep moving at the first stop on the final morning. Corcoran continued along the Courtois Section with a change in strategy: McMurry pacing him in front instead of behind. After a quick stop and a biscuit, Emerson paced from the front.
They made good time, arriving at the next stop nearly an hour earlier than expected. Corcoran inhaled a quesadilla as Heather got ready to pace him for the last 19 miles.
The pain and exhaustion were at their worst, but the reality that he was going to accomplish his goal set in as they entered the final miles. Heather read him encouraging messages from her phone, a result of sharing his beacon three days before. Corcoran finally saw the light of his friends ahead and sprinted to the finish, slapping the sign at 7:07 p.m.
“It was a very amazing time to have done it and with the people I did it with…I would say I’m pretty close to having covered all of the trail about four times now,” said Corcoran, who spoke of how the memories from his previous experiences on the trail served as positive distractions as he ran through each section.
“I love the OT. It’s a very special place. It’s home, you know?”
Ozark Trail FKT Records*
Supported – Robert Corcoran – 3d 13h 7m 4s – 10/16/22
Self-Supported – Nick Fowler – 3d 14h 15m 0s – 4/3/22
Unsupported (male) – Kevin Kotur – 4d 11h 28m 30s – 10/1/22
Unsupported (female) Sarah Bradley – 9d 6h 45m 0s – 5/24/22
*Source: fastestknowntime.com, 11/17/22
Author: Sydney Joy Willis is a regular contributor to Terrain Magazine.
Top Image: Robert Corcoran on the trail. (Avery Abbott)