Joe McConaughy just set a land speed record.
Not like Usain Bolt or a NASCAR driver, but a record that took a whole lot longer.
McConaughy’s “speed” was 45 days, 12 hours, and 15 minutes — over 2,190 miles known as the Appalachian Trail. If you don’t want to do the math, that’s an average of 48 miles a day.
That would be one heck of a commute by car, much less by foot, running, uphill, in rough terrain, carrying a 25 lb. backpack.
“It’s actually some of the nicest time in my own head that I’ve had,” said McConaughy, whose trail name is “Stringbean,” in an interview with Bill Bartee on the Jesse Brown’s Carolinas Outdoors Podcast.
McConaughy, took his adventure one step further — literally — by making the trek “unsupported.” That means he didn’t pre-plan help or a crew to give him food or supplies along the route. His record is for the fastest “unsupported” hike along the AT.
He even posted his journey on his Instagram account, @thestring.bean, a day or two late so fans wouldn’t come out and try to help.
The quest to make his hike “more authentic” by being unsupported added pressure.
“Every single day, every single hour was important,” said the former Boston College cross-country runner, who was constantly worried he wouldn’t make his daily times, or have enough water.
Then there were the injuries.
“Skin infections, tendinitis, intense swelling around muscles, muscle overuse tears in quads…” The list goes on. The worst, said McConaughy, was when his left quadriceps around his knee “swelled up to the size of a small grapefruit.”
That one injury forced him to walk, instead of run, for almost two days. Those days, he walked for 15 hours each day to make up the time. Oh, and he did it all with blisters on his feet.
If you’re intrigued by learning how someone runs nearly 50 miles a day up a trail across 14 states, you’re in luck. One of McConaughy’s friends is making a documentary using his photos, footage from his GoPro video camera, and the GPS tracker he wore along the way.
“I was pretty good at multi-tasking,” he chuckled.
McConaughy said he got through all of the hours alone by thinking of loved ones who supported him, humming songs to himself, and imagining “what tub of ice cream I’d eat when I finished.”
The ultramarathon runner first came up with the idea to make the record-breaking attempt on the Appalachian Trail after hiking the Pacific Coast Trail in 2014. A meeting with a manager, who encouraged him with support and time off work, made the idea a reality.
Despite the long hours, the injuries, and a good bit of weight loss, McConaughy did his best to soak up the surroundings and the experience every way he could.
“I am in shock and pain, joyful and thankful, humbled and tired,” he wrote on Instagram when he reached the finish on Mount Katahdin in Maine.
Mostly, he reminded himself along the way: “I really was lucky to be there.”
Listen to Stringbean on the Carolina Outdoors Podcast here: https://soundcloud.com/jessebrownsclt/carolina-outdoors-september-30-2017-stringbean