What you can learn from a really long walk
Ultrarunner Harvey Lewis is vying to clutch the fastest known time for a supported run on the 2,190-mile thru-hike—and so far he's on pace
“I’m not giving up,” ultrarunner Harvey Lewis told Outside last Friday while he was near the New York–Connecticut border. “The truth is I’m going to finish, and that’s my number one goal. I believe anything is possible.”
Lewis, a 42-year-old high school teacher from Cincinnati, is attempting an FKT on the Appalachian Trail. He set off from the trail’s southern terminus at Springer Mountain on May 30 and for 34 days has been averaging roughly 47 miles a day. He now has fewer than 600 miles left. His attempt is considered supported, meaning he has outside help as he makes his way to Mount Katahdin. This includes a support vehicle, manned by his 78-year-old father, that’s full of food, medical supplies, and a team of folks offering moral support.
Although Lewis boasts some impressive running chops—he won the 2014 Badwater Ultramarathon and has represented Team USA at the 24-Hour World Championships four times—this is by far the toughest run of his life. Upwards of 50 falls have led to a hurt quad, tendinitis, and swollen ankles, forcing him on a few occasions to catch up on lost time by trekking nearly 60 miles in a day with only a few hours’ rest at night. During one especially rough stretch early on near the Virginia border, Lewis says, “Every stride hurt. At that point, it took everything I had to keep going.”
FKTs on the AT can get a little confusing because of all the qualifiers. Right now, there are three main times to beat. Scott Jurek has the supported title for a northbound hike, which he completed in 46 days, 8 hours, and 7 minutes. Karl Meltzer is the overall supported record holder, having run southbound in 45 days, 22 hours, and 38 minutes. But the most impressive was set last year by Joe “Stringbean” McConaughey, when he completed an unsupported FKT in 45 days, 12 hours, and 15 minutes. Not only does he hold the fastest time, but he also did it unsupported, meaning McConaughey carried all his own supplies in a 25-pound pack, set up and broke down his own camp, and slept on the ground each night.
Lewis is vying for the overall FKT, which means he’d need to beat McConaughey’s time. If he falls short, Lewis could still claim either Jurek’s or Meltzer’s record for the fastest supported time.
Before attempting an FKT, runners must follow a set of unofficial guidelines. These have been developed by the small FKT community to prevent dubious claims, and they’ve developed three simple rules to do this:
- Announce your intention.
- Invite previous record holders to observe your attempt.
- Record your attempt in detail.
Lewis has followed those protocols, and his crew is updating his every move via Garmin InReach. His team is also posting detailed and daily social media posts to serve as a record of where Lewis has been, which will make it easier to verify his claim if he does clutch one of the records. “We’re doing the best we can,” Lewis said. “If we get the record, that would be extraordinary.”
You can follow Lewis on his FKT attempt in real time via Road ID, one of his sponsors, or on social media with #WheresHarvey.