On Sept. 18 at 3:38 a.m., professional ultrarunner Karl “Speedgoat” Meltzer emerged from the Appalachian Trail’s southern terminus at Springer Mountain, Ga., and set a new Appalachian Trail thru-hike speed record with a time of 45 days 22 hours and 38 minutes.
The 48-year-old Red Bull athlete completed the 2,190-mile Appalachian Trail in a record 45 days 22 hours and 38 minutes. His last day’s effort produced 83 miles after completing 44 consecutive days of 47-mile hikes.
Meltzer started his supported run at 5 a.m. on Aug. 3 from Mt. Katahdin, Maine, and averaged approximately 47 miles per day at a pace of 3.2 miles per hour. Meltzer’s time beats the previous record by more than 10 hours, which was set by Scott Jurek in 2015.
The accomplishment for Meltzer comes after two previous speed record attempts on the Appalachian Trail in 2008 and 2014.
“It’s been a long journey,” Meltzer, a Red Bull athlete, said. “I’ve been trying to get this record for eight years, and I was finally successful. It just took me three tries to do it. It’s a very special time right now, definitely a stamp on my career.”
The project, in planning for more than two years, was accomplished with a small core crew consisting of Meltzer’s father, Karl Sr., and crew chief Eric Belz. Others joined the crew to support Meltzer for short periods throughout the hike, including Meltzer’s wife and fellow ultrarunners. The crew traveled alongside Meltzer every day, providing him with food, water, medical attention and logistical support. Meals were prepared and taken in a van, which also served as Meltzer and Belz’s sleeping quarters.
“Eric Belz was the best. Karl Senior was amazing,” Meltzer said of his crew. “For the crew, enduring 46 days of this was probably harder for them than it was for me. Without them it wouldn’t have happened.”
Meltzer’s time on the trail typically began around 5 a.m. and ended between 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. with several big meals during the day consisting of steak, fried chicken, ice cream, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, hamburgers, steamed vegetables, pasta, Red Bull and beer (at dinner). Meltzer averaged 60-70 minutes between the time he came off the trail and when he went to sleep; on a few occasions he slept on the trail itself rather than in his support van.
After completing nearly 46 consecutive days, Meltzer took approximately 4.2 million steps (92,300 avg. per day), burned 345,100 calories (7,500 avg. per day), ran for 678 hours (14.8 avg. per day) and used up 20 pairs of shoes. Meltzer’s crew kept up with him using a satellite-linked SPOT tracker that reported his current location every two-to-three minutes.
The Appalachian Trail runs from Maine to Georgia stretching 2,190 miles through 14 states. It is roughly the distance between Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., as the crow flies. A thru-hiker will experience 464,500 feet of elevation change, or 16 climbs of Mt. Everest. Thousands of people attempt an Appalachian Trail thru-hike every year, yet only one in four hikers finish the journey, and they typically take five to seven months to complete the entire trail, according to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy.
“The highlight of the trail is sitting here (at the end), but it’s also the magic of the place. Just being on the trail is really a highlight,” Meltzer said.
Meltzer is among the world’s most accomplished ultrarunners and holds the record for the most career wins in 100-mile races, including five Hardrock Hundred Mile Endurance Runs and six Wasatch Front 100 Mile Endurance Runs.