After Scott Jurek's inspiring 2015 traverse of the Appalachian Trail, we didn't think we'd be talking about another speed record being set on the trail for some time. Now, just one season later, ultrarunner Karl Meltzer conquered the trail in just 45 days, 22 hours, and 38 minutes, shaving nearly 10 hours off Jurek's time. Like Jurek, Meltzer ran the AT supported, which means he used a crew to supply meals and set up camp. The accomplishment was especially satisfying for Meltzer, who has made two prior AT record attempts in the past eight years, falling short by a week on the first and aborting the attempt early due to injury on the second.
We caught up with Meltzer at his hotel in Georgia after the feat to talk about his physical and mental state, his candy-fueled diet on the trail, and what’s next.
It seems third time’s a charm for you. How does it feel?
I finally got it done, the monkey is off my back. I’m super happy with the performance. I realize it was kind of like an on-and-off, back-and-forth kind of thing with my miles — there were definitely some problems out there — but now I feel great. And I’m pretty psyched to go home and chill out on my own couch.
How is your body holding up?
It’s actually in really good shape. I mean, when I’m sitting in this chair right now and I get up, I’m walking around kind of slow, but I don’t have any injuries. I’m not hobbling around where I can’t move or anything like that. With that said, I don’t plan on going running anytime soon. I’ll do it again for that first time when I feel like it, which could be two weeks, two months, I really don’t know yet. I’ll just let that evolve, let it come. Naturally. But generally speaking, my feet are in great shape, and I only lost like three pounds on the whole thing, which is essentially nothing. I think that’s one of the reasons I’m feeling so good — I’m not emaciated. My body is recovering well. I expect it will take three to four months before I’m probably, hopefully, back up to speed, if you want to call it that.
Your diet on the trek, was, well, unusual, especially compared to Scott Jurek, who eats very cleanly.
Yeah, Scott lost 19 pounds when he set the record last year. He’s vegan, so he’s not taking in as much fat as the rest of us. And I think with long adventure things like this, your body needs fat. And yeah, sure, I realize it sounds horrible to say I was eating bacon and sausage and fried chicken, but it’s not like I eat those things normally, or regularly. At home, I actually have a pretty good diet. But when you’re out there, the body wants fat, it wants fuel. I mean, your body is basically like a furnace when you’re doing these things. And the second something goes in your mouth, 10 minutes later it’s like it’s already burned — it’s like throwing a piece of kindling on a raging fire, it just burns right up.
What exactly was your kindling?
You want, like, a list? Okay, let’s see. Cinnamon rolls, ice cream, Spree candy — I ate Spree every day — Milky Ways, 100 Grand bars, rib eye steaks, a lot of oatmeal raisin cookies, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, pierogies, chicken, pork loin — I ate as much meat as I could for protein — sweet rolls, donuts. I never buy donuts, but my crew was like, "Hey, we bought you a dozen donuts," and I was like, "Bring those over here," and I’d wolf three down like nothing. Donuts are great for energy. Bacon, I ate a lot of bacon out there. My dad would buy me Oreos. Chips Ahoy, I definitely loved Chips Ahoy. My crew would make me things like quesadillas, steak-and-cheese wrap, grilled cheese, pizza. The only things I don’t like are mayonnaise, vinegar, and sour cream. I’ll eat anything other than that.
What was your favorite part of the AT Trail?
Roan Mountain in North Carolina is a really cool place because you get above tree line and the valleys are super green, and it’s super beautiful up there. And you’re up higher, so it’s a little bit cooler.
Max Patch bald is a place that’s just super nice, beautiful, so kind of southern and central Virginia, those types of areas are really nice. But my favorite part of the trail was just the fact that it’s a green tunnel and you’re in the woods all the time. That’s really the beauty of the AT. It’s not the viewpoints, it’s the tunnel part. Maine and New Hampshire have the best tunnel for sure. You don’t see anything. It’s just like this tunnel right in front of you. It’s awesome.
What kept you going out there?
When you do something like this, you treat it as day-to-day or section-to-section. You kind of have to, because it’s so, so long, When I’m in Maine and have like 40 days to go, you don’t think okay 40 to go, 39 to go, 38 to go. You just think about how far it is to the next leg, to the van. You just treat it like, "Okay, every day I gotta go 50 miles," or whatever it was. The hardest part is getting up in the morning, at 4 a.m., and being like, "Okay, I’ve got to go again all day." My goal was always to get to the van so I could get to sleep so I could be ready for the next day. I don’t do good with sleep deprivation, so I wanted to get down every night by at least 8:30 p.m., which I did most of the time. So I was really focused on just getting done with the day so I could get enough sleep. And then eventually it was day 40 and I had a chance to get the record.
You went hard on the last day — 83 miles nonstop, finishing at 3:38 a.m. That sounds brutal.
The plan is always to go big on the last day. I’ve done so many 100 milers that 83 miles is nothing. I mean, it wasn’t nothing, it was hard, but it was just another day, except that I had to go until four in the morning instead of until eight at night. So it wasn’t that big of a deal to go that far at the end. I just wanted to be done. The weather was perfect too, so it was just really nice to be out there. Scott Jurek ran the last 30 miles with me, so that was like a pretty special thing too, for both of us to be out there and just reminisce about old times, chatting about whatever. We’ve known each other for 15 years, we’re good friends, so it’s always cool to run with Scott. It’s pretty inspiring any way you look at it.
Rest and relaxation. As far as what I’ll race next year, I’ll do something, but I don’t think it will be early season, probably more of a fall season thing. Like I said, I’ll go running when I feel like it, and that could be two weeks or it could be two months. I’m going to Hawaii in April with my wife for our anniversary. Other than that, I don’t have anything major planned right now. It’s just to decompress, enjoy the moment of having the record, and just chill out, play a little golf, do some stuff around the house, just kind of tool around and get back to the real world.