- Karel Sabbe
- 41:07:39 day(s):hour(s):minute(s)
- United States ()
The fastest time to complete the Appalachian Trail is 41 days 7 hr 39 min and was achieved by Karel Sabbe (Belgium) at Mt. Katahdin, Maine, USA, from 18 July to 28 August 2018.
Karel is an experienced hiker and ultrarunner who has achieved a Guinness World Records title once before: Fastest completion of the Pacific Crest Trail on foot.
We asked Karel why he decided to attempt another adventure, and he said that it was in large part due to how he felt after completing his first record-breaking journey. “I have experienced what it does to me to set a world record. It helps you to get to know yourself in a way that would otherwise take a very long time.” He chose the Appalachian Trail because it’s considered one of the most epic hikes in the United States and Karel wanted to see if he could perform better than some of the elite trailrunners who have completed the trail before him.
Next, we asked Karel what kind of training and preparation he did. “Of course there were hours and hours of map-studying, reading reports from hikers as well as previous record setters.” Another key factor was making sure to cover an even number of miles on each day. This was to minimise the risk of injury and to keep Karel’s body used to a similar level of challenge throughout the journey. Then, of course, there were hours and hours of running practice “hill repeats, gear testing and gym sessions, to get my body and mind ready for this incredible challenge!”
Karel also reflected on the lessons he learned from his journey across the Pacific Crest Trail. “I was very naive in thinking that running about 80km a day would be relatively easy. [..] Reality was that there’s no way that in that kind of challenging terrain you can run at 8km / hour. You’re climbing, hiking on rocks, facing extreme heat,etc.” One useful tip he shared for running in the heat was to dip one’s shirt in water to prevent your body spending too much energy on cooling down.
So when it came to the day to day, how did Karel cope? He credits friends and local runners who joined him on different sections of his journey as his main support network. He would also listen to a lot of music and lots of comedy podcasts. “It helps to stay relaxed and not worry about all the scary noises that you hear coming from the dark forests (and the eyes that you see reflecting your head torch beam).”
Karel’s trail was always full of wildlife. On one occasion, he ran by a mother black bear and four cubs! He made sure to be loud and noticeable to alert the mother so she wouldn’t see him as a threat as he approached her young.
With such an intense journey and so many challenges each day, did Karel ever consider throwing in the towel? “I did not! For such a long and challenging adventure and record attempt, nowhere in your head you can have the option of giving up”. Karel actually wants to be a triple record holder and has already go his eye on his next challenge, Fastest crossing of New Zealand on foot. “This trail is about 3054km long and would be my shortest Guinness World Records journey (Pacific Crest Trail was 4279km, Appalachian Trail was 3500km), but possibly my most scenic one.”
Finally, when asked what it means for him to be a Guinness World Records title holder, Karel says it really means a lot to him. “I think it’s something very special to be the world’s best or fastest at something. I also like that people are excited to see me get the GWR too.”