Ultrarunner Karl Meltzer recently set out on the journey of his life on the picturesque and diverse Appalachian Trail (AT), the longest hiking-only footpath in the world. The trail winds for 2,190 miles through 14 states from Maine to Georgia, and Meltzer is challenging himself to run the entire trail in one go, a task which countless hikers and runners over the years have attempted with a relatively low percentage of success. On top of that, he’s hoping to average a whopping 48 miles per day in order to complete it in less time than anyone ever has before.
An ultra-distance running legend, Meltzer is one of the most accomplished and best ultrarunners on the planet. He was the 2006 USATF Ultrarunner of the Year, owns the most 100-miler wins in history (38), has 57 ultra-wins and was the first person to run the 2,064 miles of the Pony Express Trail from California to Missouri, commemorating the 150th anniversary of the legendary route. Despite all that, completing the AT in less time overall than any other runner has eluded him twice over the past 10 years.
Growing up within steps of the iconic trail in New Hampshire, Meltzer has always dreamed of running it. When he first attempted it in 2008, he finished seven days off the pace set by another runner in 2005, completing it in 54 days, 21 hours, 12 minutes with trench foot and tendonitis. He’ll need to find some trail magic to knock eight days off that time to surpass his friend Scott Jurek, who completed the trail in 46 days, 8 hours, 7 minutes in 2015.
Meltzer’s punishing run from August into September will be an exercise in patience as he follows approximately 165,000 white blazes (trail markers) in the footsteps of over 15,000 people who have thru-hiked the 80-year-old trail before him. Finishing isn’t about being a rabbit the whole way; it’s about surviving and finding his sweet spot.
Odds are with him, even if the rugged elements of the delicately majestic trail are not. Meltzer’s nickname of "Speedgoat" reflects his sure-footedness on gnarly trails where rivers must be forded and trails run from steep, rocky and rooty to grassy, high-elevation mountains. He will run the trail southbound, starting on top of Mount Katahdin in Maine and finishing on Springer Mountain in Georgia.
For a detailed look inside Meltzer’s latest attempt, follow his progress here.
2006: Earns most 100-mile wins during a calendar year (6).
2008: Runs the AT in 54 days, 21 hours, 12 minutes (fourth fastest at the time).
2010: First to run 2,064 miles along the Pony Express Trail from California to Missouri, doing it in 40 days.
2014: Attempts to run the AT but heads home after 32 days, swearing to never attempt it again.
August 2016: Begins his third attempt to set the fastest time on the Appalachian Trail.
Appalachian trail facts
Total Distance: 2,198 miles (distance varies from year to year due to trail changes)
States traversed: 14
Total elevation gain: 464,500 feet
High point: 6,643 feet at Clingman’s Dome, North Carolina
Lowest point: 124 feet at Bear Mountain State Park, New York
Volunteers: 31 distinct clubs maintain the trail through an army of volunteers
Appalachian trail records
While the record for finishing the trail in the fastest known time (FKT) is not considered official by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, whoever tries to break the record must inform the current record holder. Completing the trail for bragging rights is all on the honor system, with more than 15,000 people claiming to have accomplished the feat. It was first hiked from end to end by Earl Shaffer in 1948 in 124 days.