Against all odds, British ultra-runner Kristian Morgan has set a new Fastest Known Time (FKT) (supported) Southbound on the Appalachian Trail, completing the 2,200 miles in 45 days, 4 hours and 27 minutes.
Averaging 50 miles a day, Kristian used the runner’s supplement CurraNZ to beat the record by 18 hours, lowering the previous benchmark of 45 days and 22 hours, set by ultra-running legend “SpeedGoat” Karl Meltzer in 2016.
An FKT on this famous North American trail is considered one of the most prestigious accomplishments in the endurance sports world.
The record demands athletes complete the equivalent of two full marathons for 40+ consecutive days and traverses 14 US states. The route involves 468,000 feet of vertical gain and is equivalent to scaling Everest 16 times.
The 46-year-old completed on September 16, despite record amounts of rainfall and storms that led to two abandoned starts, six weeks of delays and unseasonably wet and muddy conditions that escalated the difficulty of the challenge.
In sealing this achievement, Kristian also became the only person to complete the Appalachian Trail in both north and south-bound directions in under 90 days in two consecutive seasons, a record that experts consider may never be broken.
The globetrotting/international ultrarunner and coach is widely regarded as one of the top endurance athletes in the world and a veteran of over 100 ultra-marathons. In 2020 he set the speed record for the South West Coast Path, Britain’s longest national trail, completing 630 miles in ten days.
Kristian says: “This was my fourth attempt since 2019 and I’m so pleased I finished, we had flooded river crossings and 100-mile winds over Mount Washington, which is the most dangerous part of the trail.
“I saw the obituaries of hikers who have died attempting to climb Mt Washington and thought I do not want my name added to this list.
“I had some serious setbacks with the terrible weather conditions that saw one hiker drown on a river crossing while I was there, I felt tremendous empathy for his family’s loss, I persisted with a new-found respect for the trail and conditions. I was able to maintain the pace needed to set the record, despite having some dicey moments, including a river crossing when my foot caught between two underwater boulders.”
Kristian puts his success down to a few factors, with previous attempts providing valuable learnings.
Describing it as a process of ‘breakdowns and breakthroughs’, he says: “I felt a lot more present and mentally strong this time and I feel I ‘cracked the code’ to the Appalachian Trail.
“Last year I didn’t achieve the record despite having perfect weather and less pressure. I had a 27-mile lead, which by day 31 fell to a ten-mile lead and then I fell off the pace and towards the end, felt more beat up and got more and more slow towards the finish.
“This year I didn’t have the same lead which created more pressure on me, but I was able to cope with it mentally and keep on pushing. I ran 85 miles in the same time it took me to run 55 miles last year.
“My longest day was my last day, I ran the final 85 miles in 27 hours with 27,000 feet of vertical gain and technical terrain.”
This was the first time that Kristian has incorporated the high-potency polyphenol supplement CurraNZ into the challenge, used by athletes to support blood flow, energy metabolism and muscle recovery.
“I took two capsules three times a day and felt less fatigued and I think this showed physically and mentally as I didn’t spiral like I did last year. I felt fitter, stronger and had more focus and clarity.
“I’m a big berry person anyway, so to have these high-antioxidant berries in a convenient capsule knowing the invaluable benefits they provide with food-based nutrient support every day, was great. It’s my favourite supplement now.”
Kristian still feels he has unfinished business on the ‘AT’, and still has sights set on the overall record of 41 days on the northbound route.
“This has made me want to return next year and see if I can get the northbound overall record. We’ll see. It’s still early days and I know I can keep on improving.”
*Kristian’s record was ratified on September 27 and can be viewed at https://fastestknowntime.com/route/appalachian-trail
Fun facts – fuelling and kit requirements for a 2,200-mile running challenge across the Appalachian Trail:
- Kristian consumed 6,000-8,000 calories a day, taking on 150 calories every 30 minutes during waking hours
- Kristian consumed two capsules of CurraNZ three times a day in the lead up to and during the challenge, equivalent to over 10,000 New Zealand blackcurrants.
- He slept 7 hours a day, suspended in a tree tent
- He ran, hiked and climbed for up to 15 hours a day
- His mother and friend ‘Iceman’, both in their 70s, crewed for him. Mum was also his social media person.
- Kristian wore out ten pairs of shoes
- At 46, Kristian is two years younger than Karl Meltzer, who set the record aged 48
- The desire to set the record was ignited in 2018 when Kristian paced Karel Sabbe when setting the FKT record for the trail.
- Hiking the Appalachian Trail usually takes five-seven months and has an 85% drop-out rate
- He encountered incredible wildlife, including snakes, bears, bobcats, porcupines and moose – one of his favourite parts of the challenge