Amazing Places

5 Life Lessons from Karl Meltzer, the Runner Who Set an Appalachian Trail Speed Record

When it comes to trails, the Appalachian Trail (A.T. to its friends) is the most formidable out there. It stretches a whopping 2,190 miles (3,525 kilometers), from Maine to Georgia, making it the longest hiking-only footpath in the world. With stats that daunting, of course there are people who want to run the whole dang thing. In fact, many have: Jennifer Pharr Davis set a speed record in 2011, Scott Jurek broke that record in 2015, and Jurek's friend Karl Meltzer broke that record a year later. Although the new record has since been surpassed by 26-year-old Joe McConaughy, Meltzer — or "Speedgoat," as his fans call him — had plenty of advice to dole out after his hard-earned victory. Here are five lessons we can all learn from him.

Focus on What You Can Control and Forget What You Can't

For anyone who's embarking on a long, challenging journey — whether that's hiking the world's longest footpath or starting a Ph.D. program — mindset is everything. To get through his nearly 46-day run, Meltzer didn't sweat the small stuff.

"I rarely thought about the 'whole thing,'" he told The Cut. "I focused on the process instead. I took the entire hike day-by-day, section-by-section. If my task is hiking over 2,000 miles in 45 days, I'm not so sure I can do it. But if my task is hiking 8 miles to the next break point, I know I can do it."

Keeping your mind on the task at hand instead of the enormous project ahead of you will keep you from feeling overwhelmed and disheartened.

Stay Positive, No Matter What

This is a big one for Meltzer, who's known for his fantastic sense of humor. "I will never forget when I passed him during my first 100-mile race," ultrarunner Stephanie Howe Violett said in an article about Meltzer in Trail Runner Magazine. "He said something like, 'See, 100 miles isn't that far.' I was like, 'Right ...' He taught me to not take it too seriously!"

During his big trek, "I tried not to think about negatives or injuries," Meltzer said to Outside Online. "I hated it when someone would say, 'Hey, how's your shin doing?' It brings your attention to a negative. I'd be like, 'What are you talking about?'"

"... If I'm in a race and I feel crappy, I kind of laugh at myself: I think, 'Here's the bad patch!' instead of saying, 'Ah, I'm gonna drop out.' You can't let stuff like that bother you. You live once, man, come on."

You might call this keeping a positive frame of mind, but psychologists have a technical term for it: cognitive reappraisal. It's been shown to help people with everything from learning to love running to getting over a breakup.

Enjoy the Ride

It's one thing to feel challenged. But if you're not enjoying yourself, what's the point? After all, it's really striving for a goal, not reaching it, that gives the human brain the biggest burst of feel-good chemicals.

Meltzer, for one, is enjoying himself. "I enjoy doing it; that's why I do it," he told Trail Runner. "It's not just because I want to win. I like being out there. I like the struggles, and that's why I'm still doing well."

He was even more specific with iRunFar.com. "I'm sort of obsessed with the stupid trail," he said. "... I'd love to hike it like a normal person one day just to kind of get that feeling of camaraderie."

Show Up

When you're running 45+ miles a day, sometimes just getting out of bed the next morning is half the battle. "It's really about getting from point A to point B each day," he told iRunFar.com. "My goal was always to get out of the van at 5:00 am or better. I didn't miss that. One day I was 5:40; one day I was 5:20. Every other day I was 5:07 or before. I was money on that."

"It's okay to stop — but only after you start," he elaborated to The Cut. "I promised myself that I would show up every day."

Just doing the smallest things you need to to get started on your goal can give you the momentum you need to go all the way.

Practice Gratitude

Meltzer did something amazing, but he also recognized all the people who helped him get there — not only his support crew but also the runners who had come before him. "I had the prior record holder [Scott Jurek] pacing me and I was following the itinerary of the record holder before him [Jennifer Pharr-Davis]," he said to The Cut. "Scott, Jenn, and so many others helped me in a big way. I don't think that makes what I did any less special. If anything, I think it makes it more special."

"Perhaps the easiest way to boost your mood is to be nice to people and show gratitude. I have no idea why or how it works, but whenever I was feeling down I'd think about how much my crew was doing for me and thank them. After giving thanks, I immediately felt better."

Appreciation and gratitude have a long list of research-backed benefits. People who make a point to notice the things they're grateful for are happier, take better care of their health, feel less aggression, and even make friends more easily. When you're in your darkest times, take a moment to look up and realize how many things you have to feel thankful for. It can really help.

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To read about more amazing achievements of long-distance runners (and find out why everyone started running barefoot and eating chia seeds in 2011), check out Christopher McDougall's international bestseller "Born to Run." We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

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