Blisters, glory in U.S. craze for extreme hiking, trail running

Tue Jul 14, 2015 12:43pm EDT
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By David Sherwood

PORTLAND, Me. (Reuters) - It required running at night on rock-strewn slopes, then sleeping as little as an hour before resuming the daily pace of 47 miles (76 km) that would shatter the record for the fastest-ever completion of the Appalachian Trail.

Scott Jurek claimed the title of quickest trek of the 2,180-mile (3,508-km) trail from Georgia to Maine, finishing on Sunday after 46 days, 8 hours, 7 minutes. He beat the previous record by more than three hours.

“It was an emotional roller coaster. Plenty of times I thought I wasn’t going to make it,” said Jurek, 41, a professional athlete from Boulder, Colorado, who regularly runs ultra-marathons beyond the standard 26.2-mile marathon.

Recalling his ankle-threatening night runs and the painful blisters that formed beneath calluses on his feet, Jurek said what didn't kill him made him stronger.

That sentiment has become the hallmark of a U.S. trend toward more extreme, but more rewarding, forms of running and hiking, participants say.

“There are so many people that have tried a big city marathon, or even run 15 or 20 big city marathons. Now, they’ve started to ask, ‘What’s the next challenge?'” said Bryon Powell, editor-in-chief of, a website dedicated to long-distance trail running.

The number of trail running and hiking competitions people can enter has boomed recently, Powell said. In fast-packing, they don backpacks. Some have support, as did Jurek — with crews carrying their food and camping gear. Others go it alone.

What they all have in common is an unorthodox race track such as the Pacific Crest trail along the entire U.S. West Coast, and a need for speed.   Continued...