PORTLAND, Maine — An ultramarathoner overcame an early injury, difficult terrain in New England and sleep deprivation on the final stretch of the Appalachian Trail to complete the trek in record time.
Despite getting about 10 hours of sleep over the final four days, Colorado resident Scott Jurek reached the summit of Mount Katahdin on Sunday afternoon to finish the 2,189-mile run from Georgia to Maine in 46 days, eight hours. That bests the previous record held by Jennifer Pharr Davis by three hours.
The 41-year-old Jurek nearly aborted the run in the mountains of Tennessee and North Carolina because of knee pain and a muscle tear that required him to walk for several days.
But he kept going.
"The biggest thing I'm looking forward to is putting my feet up, being home and enjoying some downtime," he said Monday after getting his first seven-hour stretch of sleep since starting the run.
Jurek, who has won several elite ultramarathon races, launched his extreme run May 27 at Springer Mountain, Georgia. His wife, Jenny, provided support for the run and joined him for the final race up Katahdin.
Atop Maine's highest summit in Baxter State Park, about 200 miles from Portland, he kissed the mountaintop trail marker. Then he popped a bottle of Champagne, took a long swig and posed for pictures.
He said it wasn't until the final stretch that he knew he'd break the record. Davis, the previous record holder, tweeted her congratulations with a photo showing her hoisting a beer in his honor.
His finish represents the fastest known time, but no organization tracks or verifies trail records. "Everything is based on the honor system," said Javier Folgar from the Appalachian Trail Conservancy in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia.
The trail is a difficult challenge.
Hiking it means climbing more than 30 peaks, wading several dozen streams and rivers, and enduring the famed "100-mile wilderness." And that's only for the segment in Maine. The trail passes through 13 other states.
Only about one in four of the estimated 2,500 to 3,000 people who start the hike actually finish the trek.
"Every individual hikes the Appalachian Trail for their own personal reason and their own personal goals. It goes along with the saying, 'Hike your own hike,'" Folgar said. "We'd like to congratulate Scott and all other thru-hikers and section hikers and other folks who attempted to hike the Appalachian Trail."
Jurek said his days as a competitive runner are numbered and he viewed this endurance run as his "masterpiece" before starting a family with his wife. In the end, he said, it didn't go exactly as he planned because he had to try to make up for lost time at the end. But he said he had no regrets about doing something he'd never tried before.
He said everyone should push themselves, whether it's hiking or other activities.
"That's what makes it a true adventure. It was about pushing my body mentally and physically but also going into that unknown space," he said. "Anybody can do that. It may not be on the Appalachian Trail or running a marathon. It's putting yourself in a situation that's a challenge to find that source of strength that you didn't think you had."
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