In 1980, Frank Giannino Jr. ran across the U.S. in 46 days. Since then, dozens have tried and failed to beat that record — three attempts in 2016 alone. Then came 29-year-old Nebraskan Pete Kostelnick, who decided to take a data-fueled approach. Using Google Maps, he devised the shortest route that would avoid most high mountain passes. Once on the road, he and his crew carried GPS trackers to make sure they were on the correct route. His sister even drove ahead to scope out potential hazards. “We had our routine down in the second week,” says Kostelnick. “A lot of people are less consistent when they do runs and not as scientific as we were.” Here’s how he topped a record that once seemed unbeatable.
1. Prep and Launch
Kostelnick trained by running 30 miles every day for three months. Upon setting out, he immediately realized he hadn’t counted on one thing: Bay Area congestion, which held up his support crew and created a series of dicey situations.
“I felt like I wasn’t getting anywhere the first day,” he says.
Kostelnick had a strict regimen: wake up at 3 a.m., eat breakfast, run 40 miles, take a lunch break, then run another 30 to 35 miles. He ended around 5:30 p.m. to get a full night’s sleep. But delays were inevitable, including a storm in Utah that forced him to walk for miles in up to four inches of powder.
3. Road Raging
One constant danger was narrow or nonexistent road shoulders. “You’re basically swimming with sharks,” he says. “Thousands and thousands of cars were driving by, and it would take only one person to be distracted. Sometimes there was nowhere to run but into a ditch.”
4. Running in the Rain
Three vehicles followed Kostelnick, including the RV in which he slept and got nightly massages. But the car roof over his head couldn’t stop him from being pelted with two days of precipitation while running across Pennsylvania. “Constant heavy rain,” he says. “That was the worst.”
5. New York
By day 42, Kostelnick had suffered through a swollen knee, aching hips, hamstring issues, and tendinitis (which flared up in Yosemite, forcing him to stop for a day). But his reception in New York made up for it. “We were running through Times Square, and people were cheering me on,” he says.
A Quiver of Shoes
Eight pairs of Hoka Clifton running shoes (and the same number of socks), which Kostelnick alternated throughout. “Most were straight out of the box, and I’d break them in and rotate them, especially on a rainy day. Also I wanted to make sure I wasn’t getting any overuse injuries by wearing the same pair.”
A Record Diet
Breakfast was instant oatmeal, toast, and a banana, often followed by a McDonald’s breakfast sandwich — no coffee but lots of V8 and the occasional Diet Coke. During his runs, Kostelnick threw back trail mix and Gatorade. In his RV at night, his team prepared homemade meals, especially red meat to stave off anemia. He consumed 10,000 to 14,000 calories daily.
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