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California ultrarunner runs 120K FKT through Joshua Tree National Park

Jake Jackson ran self-supported on an out-and-back route through the desert

Photo by: Jake Jackson

Jake Jackson, an ultrarunner from Loma Linda, Calif., recently completed a 120K run through nearby Joshua Tree National Park. Running the park’s California Riding and Hiking Trail, he went out and back, covering the distance in 12:50:26 and setting the fastest known time (FKT) on the route in the process. Jackson had his eyes on this route, dubbed the Joshua Tree Traverse, for some time, but his plans to run it in 2020 were put on hold due to the pandemic. He finally got his chance, though, and he now owns the route record. 


Originally, Jackson had planned to shoot for the Joshua Tree Traverse unsupported FKT. This means he would have had to run solo without accepting any outside help. Since the route runs through the desert, he had to carry all the water he would need, as there weren’t any streams along the way to refill. 

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The Joshua Tree Traverse has been completed four other times, each of which were also unsupported runs. The time Jackson was aiming to beat belongs to Christof Teuscher, who ran the 120K route in 16:19:30 in 2019.

Jackson set off on his run early on February 8, starting at 3:30 a.m. In a blog post that he wrote after the run, he said he had plans to use a “carry and cache” method for his water, meaning he would drop his bottles along the route as he ran, lightening his load on the way out and saving water for his return trip. This is the same method Teuscher and the other Traverse FKT owners used when they ran.

Jackson starts his FKT attempt on the Joshua Tree Traverse. Photo: Jake Jackson

This plan worked out well for Jackson at the start, and he left several bottles along the way. Shortly after turning around at the halfway point, he found that he had left some of his water in direct sunlight, and it had warmed up. This was far from a disaster, but not ideal. Matters got worse a while later, when his water supply was running dangerously low. At this point, he decided to abandon the unsupported FKT attempt and switch to a self-supported run, and he filled his bottles from a water jug he found at a service road. 

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With just 30K to go, he hit another obstacle, as he couldn’t find another one of his water caches. He figured someone had stolen his bottles and carried on, refilling from another jug he found near a campsite. It was only a few kilometres later, though, that he found his bottles and he realized he had forgotten exactly where he left them. 

Photo: Jake Jackson

“I guess this is why we depend so much on our crews to make levelheaded decisions for us late in races,” Jackson wrote. Despite having lost time in his search for the misplaced bottles, Jackson made it to the finish line in record time. Granted, his 12:50:26 is the only known self-supported run on the Joshua Tree Traverse, but it is still hours ahead of Teuscher’s time, and now that Jackson has the experience on the route, he could smash the unsupported FKT if he gives it another shot. 

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