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A Day in the Life of Pete Kostelnick, Trans-America Record Hopeful

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“Pete, you want something from the Sunset Inn Restaurant?” Dean asks, holding out a simple, laminated menu while Chuck hands Pete a diet Dr Pepper.

Pete Kostelnick slows from a jog to a swift walk, never straying more than a stride beyond the white line that has passed beneath his feet since setting off on his 29th birthday from the city hall of San Francisco, 31 days ago.

He takes the menu and scans through the typical Midwestern fare of burgers, sandwiches and an assortment of fried items on the side.

“The turkey melt,” Pete says, handing the menu back to crew member Dean Hart, who then trots off across the dirt parking lot toward the restaurant.

Kostelnick, from Boone, Iowa, is well tanned, with a boyish face and a polite smile. He runs with his arms tucked close to his sides, almost like he’s moving down the road to a slight variation of the chicken dance. Whatever it looks like, the efficiency of his running form cannot be called into question. Nor the efficiency of his crew, nutrition or schedule, or his unwavering perseverance.

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Kostelnick (center) slowing (but not stopping) for refreshment. Photo by Rickey Gates

This run—an attempt at breaking Frank Giannino’s 36-year-old record of 46 days 8 hours 36 minutes (recognized by Guinness World Records) for the fastest crossing of the United States by foot—was not a goal that Pete had even in his farthest periphery a decade ago. Back then, he weighed in at a chunky 200 pounds. As a means to lose weight, he entered the Marine Corps Marathon, then the Boston Marathon, then, in 2014, the Badwater 135-Mile Ultra Marathon. In a testament to his natural running talents and hard training, in 2016, Pete won Badwater, setting a new course record of 21:56:32.

Curious to see what a day of running across America might look like for Pete Kostelnick, I ventured down from my home in Wisconsin earlier this month and found Pete running a busy county road 100 miles west of Chicago, where the October corn harvest is ubiquitous. Large wind turbines spin, tractors rumble by and Pete waves to every car, truck and tractor passing his way.

Pete hands the soda back to his other crew member, Chuck Dale, eases back into his jog and finds his rhythm again. He hands me the satellite transceiver. “You want to carry the wand for a bit?”

In the wake of several peoples’ failed attempts (including one marred by cheating) at breaking the 36-year-old record, Pete is ensuring the legitimacy of his feat when he arrives at the city hall in New York City in what he hopes to be just 12 days’ time. He is taking every precaution, including wearing two GPS watches at all times, collecting witness testimonies and using this black puck in my hand, which sends a signal to space every few seconds.

We continue eastbound as Pete regales me with snippets of his journey thus far—roadkill, found license plates, the loneliest miles, the windiest miles, vicious farm dogs. He tells me about Trump territory and Hillary territory, and admits he’s glad that the extent of his political engagement this election season has been passing a plethora of lawn signs at a steady nine-minute-per-mile pace.

Pete runs me through his monastic schedule. He wakes at 3:30 in the morning and is running by four. He says he’ll cover 40 miles before lunch, then 30 miles more in the afternoon, walking the last few of those miles. Ideally, he is in bed in the support RV no later than 7 p.m. for an eight-hour sleep.

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Kostelnick on a county road with heavy truck and tractor traffic. Photo by Rickey Gates

A couple of miles down the road, the Chuck and Dean Roadshow, as the crew call themselves, are directing Pete across the tarmac and onto a smaller county road. The two of them are on Pete’s payroll for six weeks.

“If ever you want to attempt something like this,” Pete says, “you’ll want Chuck and Dean.” Pete again slows to a swift walk, drinks some Diet Dr Pepper, listens to directions and returns to a world that is passing beneath him at a steady 6.5 miles per hour. “I probably shouldn’t tell too many people that though.”

“You know what they call ‘music memory,’ like when you hear a song and it reminds you of a place?” he adds. “Well for a run like this, I have that same memory for people. I think of a person that I met and the place returns to me.”

He glances at his watch, calculates some quick numbers and tells me that the day is going well. When the distance is being covered with ease, he is careful to not push it. “Seventy to 74 miles,” he says. “Not 75.”

As attentive as the wait staff at a five-star restaurant, the Chuck and Dean Roadshow is again waiting for him up ahead. Chuck hands him a styrofoam to-go box with a turkey-melt sandwich and a side of fries. Pete slows to his swift walk and inhales some of the 10,000 calories he is burning daily. He hands the box back to Chuck. “Save me those fries, I’ll eat them later.”

He moves down the road, never stopping, the white line below his sandwich making sure that he is moving in the right direction.

Update, October 19: Pete entered Pennsylvania from Ohio this morning. With only a few hundred miles remaining, he is hoping to arrive at the city hall in New York by Monday, October 24—four days ahead of Frank Giannino’s 1980 record. You can track Pete on his website: petesfeetaa.com