Karl Meltzer Sets New Appalachian Trail Speed Record

Today we speak to ultrarunner Karl Meltzer about his new speed record on the Appalachian Trail.

Karl Meltzer
Photo courtesy of Josh Campbell/ Red Bull Content Pool

On September 18, just over a year after Scott Jurek broke the previous record set in 2011, ultrarunner Karl Meltzer has bested that record by more than 10 hours. The 48-year-old Meltzer started his supported run on August 3 from Mt. Katahdin, Maine and completed the 2,190 mile (3,524km) Appalachian Trail in 45 days, 22 hours and 38 minutes.

The record breaking accomplishment comes after two previous record attempts in 2008 and 2014.

The 2,190 mile Appalachian Trail stretches from Mt. Katahdin, Maine, to Springer Mountain, Georgia, and runs through 14 states. Just to give a little perspective, the average hiker takes between five to seven months to complete the journey. 

We caught up with the ultrarunner as he continues to enjoy some much deserved downtime to discuss the highlights from his journey, trail diet and what’s next.

After 2 previous attempts, how does it feel to have finally set a new world record?
I don’t look at it as a “world record”. It is simply the fastest time on the AT. It does feel good to finally achieve the goal after trying two other times. Success is always gratifying, but with as much effort as it takes to do this, the recon and preparatory work was the real key to success. I’ve put a lot of time and effort into doing this, and finally I can say I don’t have to go back.   
 
What did your caloric intake consist of?
I consumed roughly 8,000-10,000 calories per day.  Spree candy, a good beer when finishing, and many sweet treats, along with an ice cold Red Bull at each stop. Ice cream was always a favorite too (when available) and lots of BACON!
 
What was your favorite section of the trail?
I like the Max Patch and Roan Mountain areas the best. These are above tree line sections in North Carolina. Also, New Hampshire has the White Mountains and Mt. Washington, which are all above tree line.
 
Aside from the obvious (completing the trail), what was your favorite highlight?
Being able to walk, jog, and hike in the “woods” is the real attraction to the trail. The AT is a true green tunnel, which is the real beauty of it all
 
What was the toughest section of the trail?
Mahoosuc Notch in Maine, or the Wolf Rocks section in Pennsylvania. Both are very different, but crazy hard, rocky and technical.
 
What was the longest section completed between crew checkpoints?
24 miles. A section near Sugarloaf Mountain in Maine.  It takes about 8 hours to hike quickly thru it.  It is very technical and hilly.
 
Did you do anything different this time in preparation for this attempt? 
I set up a stellar crew. This time, the crew worked perfectly. In the past, it was a scattered selection of random friends. This time, we did recon with the crew 3 times. Therefore, they knew everything on where to go, what to eat, etc.  It was super helpful.
 
For those that did not follow along daily, what did a typical day look like on the trail?
I would typically wake up at 420am, and hope to get on the trail at 5am.  We would have meeting locations mapped out the day before, and I would meet the crew at these locations where they would feed me, give me some supplies for use on the trail, then tell me how far to the next one.  At the end of the day, I would wash my feet, check for any issues with them. After washing my feet, I would ice my shins and eat dinner at the same time. Once I was done eating, I’d go right to sleep. Usually, it was about a half an hour after arriving. It was very efficient to give me the maximum amount of sleep.
 
Scott Jurek broke the previous record last year and lost a significant amount of weight in his attempt. He maintained a vegan lifestyle, how did you fare during your attempt?
I lost only three pounds, and have gained it back and then some already. I would never be able to do it vegan style. Bring on the bacon. 
 
You hold many records for ultrarunning, what’s next for you?
I don’t have any real plans right now as I’m decompressing. Perhaps I will go for the 50 and over record at Western States 100, assuming I can get in.  And, to play many holes of golf.
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