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Pete Kostelnick on the Brink of Record-Breaking Run Across the U.S.

Ultrarunner Pete Kostelnick is on pace to break the run across the U.S. record (last set in 1980) by two or three days, with only 500 more miles to go.

The skyscrapers of New York City may be majestic, but they aren’t quite high enough to be seen from Ohio. Yet, as Pete Kostelnick ran through the Buckeye State on Monday, he could feel their pull.

After setting out from San Francisco on Sept. 12, Kostelnick has crossed more than two thirds of the United States. He’s trudged up steep highways in the Sierra Nevada, weathered snow and high winds and is midway through his ninth state.

Just over 500 miles remain to go before his designated finish at New York City Hall, and he’s on pace to easily break the long-standing record for fastest run across  the United States.

Monday was Day 36. The record is 46 days, 8 hours and 36 minutes, completed on Oct. 17, 1980, by Frank Giannino Jr. At Kostelnick’s pace of 70.7 miles per day, he may crush that mark by two or three days.

After completing his run on Monday, he said he believes he’s seven days away. He’s getting a mental boost knowing this may be the last Tuesday—and Wednesday, Thursday, etc.—of his coast-to-coast quest. The thought makes his tired, aching feet feel a little lighter.

“I can definitely feel New York City a little bit, and I think that’s a good thing at this point,” he says. “Knowing that the finish line isn’t too far out is really keeping me motivated to keep pushing along.”

The record has withstood all comers for more than three decades, but it appears Kostelnick will be the man to shatter it.

Jim McCord, who ran across the U.S. in 2002, has been tracking cross-continent runners for many years and documenting their journeys on his USA Crossers Facebook page. He’s never seen anything like Kostelnick’s progress, calling it “superhuman.”

“Honestly, I never thought it would happen,” McCord says. “Pete’s nothing short of amazing. The physical and mental challenge of running 70 miles each day for 45 days is mind boggling. I have no idea how his body is recovering.”

Giannino says he always believed his record was “soft,” vulnerable to a proven ultrarunner in his prime. So when he saw that the 29-year-old Kostelnick—a two-time champion of the grueling Badwater 135-mile race in Death Valley—had reached Fort Collins, Colo., faster than he had in 1980, he suspected the record was about to fall.

But, he’s rooting for Kostelnick. Not just because what he’s doing is terrific, but it gives credibility to his own accomplishment.

“He’s the first young, fresh talent—major talent, and one of the best—to really go after this,” says Giannino. “I knew this would happen as soon as somebody of that caliber got out there and got into the daily routine. And then when he took a day off no less, and still came into Fort Collins two days ahead of where I was, I knew he was going to have no problem to the finish.”

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Making a wise choice

Kostelnick’s day off came on his seventh day out of San Francisco.

After churning out 450 miles—an average of 75 miles a day—he was in bad shape. He had tendinitis in an ankle and shin after the climb over the Sierra. He was also sunburned and feverish.

On Day 7, out in the boondocks between Tonopah and Ely, Nev., Kostelnick and his crew decided to take a rest day, something he never planned. He hunkered down in his RV.

Looking back, he knows that was a turning point. It allowed his body to recover. The next couple of days were a bit difficult, too, but gradually he began to feel better.

It was actually kind of a no-brainer,” he says. “I just wasn’t planning on taking any rest days the whole way and it was one that I felt very weird taking.  But at the same time it was kind of a last-ditch effort to really get the run to keep going because it was pretty bad there for a couple of days.”

Once he got back to lower elevations, he began to feel even more comfortable.

“It’s really pretty miraculous how as the tendinitis went away. It seemed like each day got better and better,” he says.

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Kostelnick has been bothered by various aches and pains, but he’s been surprised by how problems have surfaced and then faded. He had a tight hamstring in Utah, two hurting hips and, recently, a swollen right knee. But, with the help of his four-person traveling team, he’s able to recover. He’s getting nightly massages and help with stretching.

“I’m definitely feeling the aches and pains of my feet from the amount of steps I’ve taken, but I would say from a strength perspective, I feel pretty good,” Kostelnick says.

His team manager, Trasie Phan, says Kostelnick actually seems to be getting stronger as the miles roll by.

“It’s simply amazing every day to watch Pete get up and just go,” she says. “It’s unbelievable.”

Each day, Kostelnick starts running at about 4 a.m. He runs 40 to 42 miles, then takes a 30- to 40-minute break in the RV to eat and freshen up. Then he’s out the door again to run 30 to 32 miles. He often finishes between 4-5 p.m., giving him time to eat, get some treatment and sleep.

Kostelnick says the fact he can do his mileage in two sessions instead of three allows him to get into a better rhythm for running and recovery.

Along the way, Kostelnick has been greeted by high school students out in force to cheer him on. Friends and family—particularly in Iowa, where he grew up and went to school, and Nebraska, where he has lived and worked—gave him a boost. Strangers have also come out to run with him.

Phan says the people they’ve met along the way have been surprised by what he’s doing, but also supportive, providing places to park the RV.

Phan says the first question many people ask is, “Is there anything we can do to help?” That’s followed by, “What does he eat every day?”

“The answer to that question is: He eats everything and he eats all the time,” Phan says. “If there’s anything he wants, we get it for him.”

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