Karl “Speedgoat” Meltzer is happy to discuss his just-completed record-breaking trek from Maine to Georgia on the Appalachian Trail, but today he’s also weighing another concern: Getting to lunch on time. A few days have passed since he completed the trek in a Fastest Known Time of 45 days, 22 hours, and 38 minutes—thus breaking Scott Jurek’s record, set last year, by nearly 10 hours. For more details about his record, visit the Red Bull site dedicated to his record.
It’s not surprising that Meltzer is still famished. According to the website established by Red Bull, Meltzer’s biggest sponsor, he burned about 345,122 calories while taking 4,330,207 steps during his journey, at an average speed of 3.28 mph. Every thru-hiker who completes the relentlessly technical Appalachian Trail knows intimately what “hangry” feels like, and Meltzer is no different. Nonetheless, he chatted amiably about his journey with Competitor.com.
This was your third attempt at the Appalachian Trail speed record. What about this trail makes it so important to you?
I grew up in New Hampshire and spent time hiking and backpacking on New England trails, especially around New Hampshire’s Franconia Notch, in my youth. I knew that the AT (Appalachian Trail) is just really technical and hard, which really became my forte in trail running. I eventually moved out West and didn’t spend any time on the AT for about 20 years, but I had a lot of success with trail racing. [Editor’s note: Meltzer has won more 100-mile trail races than any other competitor.] In 2008, I went back East and made my first attempt at the record. I didn’t get it, but I definitely learned a lot. In 2014, I went at it again and did a lot more recon and research, but still wasn’t successful. Then, obviously, in 2016 I finally got the record.
Do you spend a lot of time on trails just for recreation, or are they really your racecourse?
Well, I’m definitely no road racer! I always stick to trails. I just like being out in the woods, and especially in the mountains. If I’m not competing, I’ll do other things outside. I moved to Utah in 1989 to be a ski bum—I’ve been skiing since I was three. I have to be a little careful though because I tend to go too fast and I don’t want to get hurt. I also play golf pretty much any chance I get. But running, and racing, on trails is the main thing.
What made a difference on this year’s speed attempt that resulted in success?
The crew is critical, of course. They have to be really dialed, but also really positive. My crew chief, Eric Belz, is one of my best friends. I also had my dad, and my wife came out a few times. I had help from David Horton, Scott Jurek [Editor’s note: Both are former AT record holders.] and Mike Mason. You also have to have good conditions—it can’t rain for a week straight in the first week like I had in 2008. The weather was very much in my favor this time. Not perfect, but really good. It rained like four times when I was on the trail. That’s pretty lucky. Those were the biggest things this year.
Did you encounter a lot of well-wishers?
We kept a low profile. There was definitely not a wrapped RV with my name on it in the parking lots. We also intentionally posted updates on the website a few days after the fact. I generally prefer to hike alone. I did 98 percent of this trail by myself. I knocked down all the spider webs by myself every morning, which is kind of a nightmare.
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How did you manage to stay physically intact?
I had to work through some issues with my legs. I started discussing the [lower leg] problems with Scott Jurek because he’s a physical therapist. I sort of knew what was going on but he helped figure it out. It was really just my tibialis anterior muscle was super tight, which was making my foot really tight, too You can usually just walk through something like that, which is what I did, but the crew also started getting after it with ice treatments, which helped. It eventually just got better, which is amazing.
Logistically, how does it work with finding your crew and receiving support?
It’s basically just road crossing to road crossing. We had a little bit of bad luck but overall it was great. It’s often 10 to 15 miles between crossings, so those are long stretches. I don’t like carrying a full pack so I just relied on my Speedgoat waist belt, carrying about 32 ounces of water at a time, or some energy drink. I like real food. I think I ate my last gel before New Hampshire—after that it was things I like to eat, just normal food. I would eat, like, a Danish. I loaded up a bag of Ribeye. But that works for me. Stomach issues aren’t really a big deal because there’s a lot more walking than running involved. It’s not like you’re having a hard time getting things down.
So, what was the daily routine?
My goal was to wake up every morning at 4:15, maybe 4:20, and get moving as quickly as possible. That would usually get me to the end of the day before it got dark. I really like to finish as many days as possible before dark. Mentally, it just feels good to finish before night—I certainly had to do it at times. But it’s a good feeling to finish at the end of the day and recover. [Editor’s note: Meltzer has reported that he often had a beer in the evenings.]
Did you pay much attention to the outside world—did you follow the Olympics or anything?
There was an Olympics? I’m joking. But, no, basically I didn’t pay any attention to anything else than getting from point A to point B as quickly as possible every day. No sightseeing, and not much talking with anyone outside of our team. I used my phone to track my progress and to reach my crew, but I didn’t respond to texts or e-mails. I guess I’ll have to start digging through that stuff now.
How hard was it to keep going, and when did you know that the record was going to fall?
I knew I was going to give it everything I had in the final week, whether I was going to set the record or not. I planned on that from the very beginning, so I was ready for it. But, really, I thought I was going to get the record, especially in the last week. You just start doing the math in your head. I was thinking, at Davenport Gap there’s 240 miles to go and I’ll still have four days. I’m not going to all of a sudden start moving at 2.5 miles per hour when I’ve been doing better than 3. Then, at about 30 miles to go, Scott Jurek jumped back in with me. We just chatted about old times and time went by pretty quick until it was all done. I felt surprisingly good, really.
What’s next for you?
Later this week, I’m going to support my wife at a trail race. I might consider a book project, but I don’t really know exactly what that would be yet. I’ll get back to my online coaching and spend some time in front of a computer with all those e-mails. Just get back to work for a while, enjoy being at home and see what happens.