When Pete Kostelnick set out from San Francisco on Sept. 12, his goal was to break a record that had withstood every challenge for 36 years.
To do it, he hoped to run at least 70 miles a day for more than two months to New York City, a feat of physical and mental endurance that some believed was nearly impossible.
But on Monday, Oct. 24, Kostelnick not only broke the record, he crushed it by roughly 4 days.
Kostelnick, 29, jogged onto the steps of New York City Hall late Monday afternoon in 42 days, 6 hours and 30 minutes, beating the mark of 46 days, eight hours and 36 minutes set in 1980 by Frank Giannino Jr. For the new record Kostelnick averaged just over 72 miles per day, covering a total of 3,067 miles.
Accompanied by a small group of runners who escorted him through the streets of Manhattan, Kostelnick looked almost fresh in his bright blue shirt, sunglasses and backward baseball cap as he finished off an 87-mile last leg that began at midnight. He finished his run at City Hall, the same location where Giannino finished his run decades ago.
After climbing the steps, accompanied by his wife, Nikki, they shared a kiss and a long, emotional hug.
“I am not running back!” Kostelnick said to those who had gathered.
“I think it was more mentally and emotionally challenging then physical,” he added. “Everyone who came out was incredible. That’s what got me through this run, meeting so many awesome people across this country. I couldn’t have done it without them … It was an incredible journey.”
Giannino, who was there to see the record-breaking finish among a crowd of Kostelnick’s family, friends and runners, had known for weeks that his record would fall.
“He’s at the top of his game,” Giannino said on Monday. “He has this thing completely measured.”
Giannino, in fact, helped hold the finish-line banner. After Kostelnick ran through it, he presented a gold baton to him, a symbolic passing of the record.
“Congratulations, brother!” Giannino said as he handed it over.
The run didn’t start out smooth for Kostelnick, a financial planner originally from Iowa. After six days, he needed to take a rest day because of problems with his ankles and shin. But after that, Kostelnick got back on the road and kept churning. As time went on, he said he felt stronger and stronger.
Five years ago, Kostelnick first started thinking about going after the record when he met standout ultra runner Marshall Ulrich at a race in Colorado and they talked about Ulrich’s cross-country run. Kostelnick said recently that he knew he wasn’t ready to attempt it then, but he kept the idea in the back of his mind.
This year—after winning the Badwater Ultramarathon for a second straight year—he felt he was ready.
Ulrich didn’t know who Kostelnick was when he first met him. “I didn’t know him from Adam,” Ulrich said—but he followed his running progress with interest the last couple of years.
Now Ulrich, who ran across the U.S. himself in 52 days back in 2008 at the age of 57, says it’s hard to explain how amazing Kostelnick’s feat is.
“I’m in awe of it,” he said. “It almost makes me speechless.”
The fact Kostelnick chose to run essentially the same route that Giannino had run in 1980 is also impressive. Ulrich explained that route is longer and more difficult—because of crossings through the Sierra and Rockies—than a more southerly route.
Ulrich also said he thought someone might come along to beat Giannino’s record, but he never believed anyone could shatter it the way Kostelnick did.
“I’ll tell you what, this is probably, at least in my book, the most significant running feat that has taken place in probably the last three decades,” he said. “The combination of physical and mental challenges to run more than 3,000 miles is a high hurdle.
“The big question was: Did he have the mental prowess overall? And he’s proven over and over that he does,” Ulrich said.
Nikki Kostelnick hadn’t seen her husband since August. But she was there to greet him at City Hall on Monday. She’d stay in contact with him, making phone calls along the way, but it was hard to connect because of Kostelnick’s running and sleeping schedule.
Just before Kostelnick finished, she said Pete had been feeling “pretty rough” and “ready to be done.” But she said she always knew he could break the record once he started.
“Once he gets into his rhythm, he has no problems,” she said.
At the moment, Nikki says her husband is not going to be running anywhere for a while. “I’m going to force him to rest,” she said. “He needs to take at least a month off.”