Karl “Speedgoat” Meltzer broke the thru-hike speed record by running the entire Appalachian Trail in just under 46 days. Sure Meltzer did the actual leg work, but it was his support crew who were the enablers for his success. His handpicked, lean-and-mean team played a vital role in the record attempt (which was Meltzer’s third; he failed in 2008 and 2014). Each person had specific work duties, ranging from food prep to recovery to moral support.
His feat, last September, was heavily documented from Runner’s World to The New York Times. But now, you can watch the real-life inspirational story called Karl Meltzer: Made To Be Broken on Red Bull TV. As you’ll notice in the full-length film, the crew’s rapport with Meltzer was as up and down as the A.T. itself, with plenty of tense and joyful moments. So we thought it’d be appropriate to shine the light on the unsung heroes behind the scenes that ultimately propelled Karl toward the record-breaking run. Here’s a breakdown of Meltzer’s pre-run recon and his support crew as told by Speedgoat himself.
For this attempt, I wanted to do more recon and research so I could help my crew be super efficient. That way, they wouldn’t have any issues finding me. I drove the entire trail twice and found every road crossing so my crew wouldn’t get lost. I had Jen Pharr Davis's daily itinerary from her A.T. record in 2011 so it was pretty easy to plan my stops off that. Essentially, your crew has to manage the miles about four days ahead to keep you on pace.
We’d know the miles the night before and would review the crew stops. Each day, I’d run for around three hours before I’d see the crew again at the next aid station. They’d have everything set up on a little table for me and they’d mix the menu up so I’m not just eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches every day for 46 days.
Eric Belz, crew leader
Eric brought life to the crew and always makes everybody laugh. He did a million different things. He would look at the maps and get point to point with no issues. He figured out what my mileage between crew stops was. He made my bed every day. He’d have to do laundry and grocery shopping, which sometimes is a challenge on the A.T. At every aid stop, it was like an Indy car pitstop — I’d be in and out in two minutes. Then he’d tidy up the van and drive on to the next stop. Every night, he had to get out the stove and cook my meals. He was chef, navigator… the happy face and entertainment for the movie. He also was my buffer to the phone and people who wanted to talk to me because I didn’t want to talk to anybody. I only wanted to sleep when I wasn’t running. That’s important when breaking a record.
Karl Meltzer Sr, crew support
Dad was the second guy in charge and was fully self-sufficient. He was textbook on stuff — every day there was the chair, the warm water to clean my feet, the soap, a towel to dry myself, he’d have the ice bags on my shins ready, the recovery drink was right there… the little stuff. He had things really, really dialled in. I think Eric counted 232 crew stops. So they’d have to take the stuff out of the van and put it all back in 232 times. My dad also knows how to handle me when I say something that’s not so nice, which happened a fair bit.
Cheryl Meltzer, loving wife
She was a great helper. But she was back and forth a few different times because of her ‘regular’ job. When she showed up, Eric got pushed out of the van and had to sleep in the truck. She brought all kinds of extra stuff and she took over the van a little more. She was great for moral support but we also made her do some monkey work like laundry. She also ran with me in the early mornings, which was great because an extra headlamp on the trail makes it that much easier to navigate in the dark.
Scott Jurek, former A.T. record holder
I crewed for him but it wasn’t my thought that he’d come help me. When he offered to help me, we both agreed that the story would be pretty cool. So I told him I’d love to have him during the last week to get his inspiration and keep me plugging along. He’d set off on his own in my truck and would run in every few miles and crew me so that I wouldn’t have to go like 18 miles without support. Those little things helped. He even ran in and met me one night at 10pm with camping gear so I could do 56 miles in a day, which put me in the driver’s seat for the record. He also ran the last 30 miles with me, most of it was in the dark. That was the coolest thing ever.
Mike Mason, fill-in crew
He crewed for nine days when my dad had to leave. He had the stuff out for my feet when I was done each day. He’s an old friend and is very mellow; neither of us like to talk much when we’re running. I like the camaraderie of a friend like that.
David Horton, past A.T. record holder
He wasn’t really a crew member, but he was the inspirational help when we passed through Virginia. David knows what it’s like to be out there suffering. So when you hear his words, you can take that inspiration with you. He told me something back in 2008 that I carried with me on this record. He said, ‘Things can always improve, you’ve just got to keep your head in the game. It doesn’t always get worse.’ I kept telling myself that any time it’d get in a funk.