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On Monday afternoon, October 24, Pete Kostelnick of Lincoln, Nebraska, broke the 36-year-old record for crossing the United States on foot. He covered the 3,100 miles between San Francisco and New York in 42 days 6 hours 30 minutes, an average of around 73 miles a day.
Kostelnick took about four days off the previous record, which dates to 1980, when a runner named Frank Giannino Jr. ran across the country in 46 days 8 hours 36 minutes, via the same 3,100-mile, San Francisco-to-New York route.
“It’s unbelievable,” says veteran ultrarunner Marshall Ulrich, 65, of Evergreen, Colorado, who in 2008 set the masters record for the same trans-America run, in 52-and-a-half days. “I thought somebody might be able to break Frank’s record by a mile a day. He’s doing five to six miles a day.”
Kostelnick began his run on September 12, his 29th birthday, at San Francisco City Hall. The days since have followed a grueling regimen: waking at 3 or 3:30; running by 4; covering 40 miles before lunch, and another 30 after; and getting to sleep by 6:30 or 7.
He ate around 13,000 calories a day, according to a press release from his sponsor Hoka. That included constant fueling while running and meals prepared by a chef, part of the four-person crew.
Kostelnick has a string of recent ultrarunning accomplishments. He won Badwater, a 135-mile road race through Death Valley, the last two years, this year setting a course record (21:56:32). In 2015, he won the Desert Solstice Track Invitational 24-Hour, having run 163.68 miles, as well as the Kansas Fall Ultra 100 Mile, in 14:13:09.
Still, nothing quite compares to a six-week, 3,100-mile road run. “Lady America has made me wince in pain with each step when I was 2,600 miles from NYC in Nevada, wish I had never started this run somewhere around Utah, scream in anger at drivers nearly hitting me every day, and made me cry probably over a hundred times when alone on the road thinking about making it to tomorrow,” Kostelnick wrote on Facebook on Sunday.
“When we do super-long multi-days like this, road or trail, getting through the initial two weeks is the toughest,” says Karl Meltzer, a prolific 100-mile racer who set the Appalachian Trail speed record last month. “Once the body adapts and you survive those first two weeks, it becomes somewhat easier.
“It does take a mental toll,” Meltzer adds, “but if your crew is happy and doing well, it also rubs off on the runner.”
Kostelnick’s record comes after several failed attempts by others earlier this year. Most notably, British runner Robert Young abandoned his attempt in June, a little over a month in, exhausted, injured and beleaguered by allegations of cheating. An investigation commissioned by his sponsor Skins later confirmed those allegations, finding that he was probably “riding in or on a vehicle for large parts of the attempt.”
By contrast, Kostelnick and his crew have taken every precaution to demonstrate his record’s legitimacy—his coordinates were uploaded to the web in real time and sent to Guinness World Records; he wore two identical GPS watches in case one broke or malfunctioned; his crew members gathered witness testimonies and video and photo documentation, and even held on to their receipts from the trip, according to an October 22 press release.
Kostelnick wasn’t immediately available for comment, but Meltzer had a prediction about what comes next: “The ‘fast’ gear takes a while to come back, but I’d be willing to bet 2017 will be a standout year for him. You watch, he’ll start seeing that 100-milers are easy-peasy in terms of distance.”