Scott Jurek is going for the Appalachian Trail speed record—again. In 2015, Jurek broke Jennifer Pharr Davis’s northbound record by 3 hours and 13 minutes. But his time of 46 days, 8 hours, and 7 minutes was later shattered by Karel Sabbe in 41 days, 7 hours, and 39 minutes in 2018.
“I feel like I left something on the table,” said Jurek. “The last time was like an on-sight project.”
For this attempt, he’s heading southbound, starting in Maine and finishing the 2,189-mile route in Georgia. Jurek is already four days into the trail, having left on August 4 at 7 A.M. ET. Karl Meltzer set the current southbound record time of 45 days, 22 hours, and 38 minutes in 2016. But Jurek’s goal isn’t simply to break the southbound record. He wants to break 40 days, which would make him the fastest AT thru-hiker of all time in either direction by more than one day.
“The goal is to really go for it,” said Jurek. “Hopefully I can utilize and learn from last time.”
“Just when I think I have gone to the edge, I have to go out even further on that edge. That part of me had been explored in ultrarunning, but not to the level I had to go on the AT.”
Jurek is the seven-time winner of the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run and has notched victories in the historic 153-mile Spartathlon in Greece and some of North America’s most grueling ultramarathons, including the Hardrock 100 and the Badwater 135-Mile Ultramarathon. He is The New York Times best-selling author of Eat and Run and North, which he co-authored with his wife, Jenny, about his record-breaking northbound run on the AT.
“The terrain is mind bending at times, the mountains are big, the way the trail courses, the social aspect, the history,” he said. “Coming out to the East feels a little like a homecoming to me.”
In his second run on the AT, Jurek will have more experience and knowledge to draw from, especially when things get rough. “The amount I learned last time was huge—vast,” said Jurek. “What amazes me with endurance events is the depth and level I am able to go. Just when I think I have gone to the edge, I have to go out even further on that edge. That part of me had been explored in ultrarunning, but not to the level I had to go on the AT.”
Metzler’s current southbound record is ten hours faster than Jurek’s northbound time, though Metzler thinks his record is “soft,” explaining that he had several “lousy” days. “I was great for 18 days, and then I had shin problems,” said Metzler. “It didn’t all click in the middle sections for me—there is room for improvement.”
While Jurek agrees the southbound record can go lower, he also says with a laugh that “it’s definitely not soft.”
The typical thru-hiker takes five to seven months to complete the AT, and most prefer the north-to-south direction because the terrain is more manageable to start and it gives them time to get their trail legs under them. But Metzler thinks a well-trained runner can be faster going southbound by running the more technical and challenging terrain early on while the legs are fresh, and then moving quicker at the end.
“It’s a personal preference,” he said, but “it’s not easy either way.”
“It’s not just about the record, it’s about experiencing the land and my body’s potential.”
Since his northbound record in 2015, which is still the third-fastest today, Jurek has become a dad twice. “Nothing has changed at all,” he joked. “No, really, things have changed drastically. It’s tough finding a balance and ways to incorporate things we love to do and hauling the kids around.”
That’s why it’s taken six years to find the time to go back to the AT. Since having kids, Jenny has been working on regaining fitness and running marathons. The entire family has spent a lot of time on the track together. Now Scott is looking forward to his kids being a part of his own endurance goals for the first time.
Jenny will again be driving a support van with Raven (5) and Evergreen (3), but she won’t crew full time and will be off and on the trail finding playgrounds and spending time with friends and family along the way.
A full-time, three-person crew including Metzler, Thomas Gathman, and Cate Striplin will support Jurek in another van.
“It is a gift to be able to explore the world, moving through the land with an appreciation for the people who came before us,” said Jurek. “It’s not just about the record, it’s about experiencing the land and my body’s potential, but I just love being out there and looking at plants and trees and rocks.”