As It Happens

Boston man sets new record for solo run of the Appalachian Trail

Joe McConaughy, a.k.a. "Stringbean," ran the 3,500-kilometre Appalachian Trail in a record-setting 45 ½ days.
Joe McConaughy, a.k.a. Stringbean, ran the 3,500-kilometre Appalachian Trail in a record-setting 45 days. (Joe McConaughy/Instagram)

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Joe McConaughy deserves a rest.

On Thursday, the Boston College grad — whose nickname is "Stringbean" — completed the Appalachian trail. It's one of the United States' great hikes, running more than 3,500 kilometres through the mountains, from Georgia through Maine.

Most people can't finish it. The ones who do take six or seven months. McConaughy did it in just over 45 days.

He spoke with As it Happens host Carol Off from Boston, Mass. Here is some of their conversation.

Joe, how are your knees?

My knees are swollen, to say the least.

And your feet?

My feet are twice as swollen. They're pretty bad (laughs).

How long do you think you'll take before you recover from this?

We'll see. I did the Pacific Crest Trail in 2014 and it took a few months before I actually started running again. I might have a serious knee injury, and there's a bunch of swelling. I don't foresee running for at least a few weeks (laughs). 

How often did you stop and rest?

Pretty rarely. I had 15 active hours every day, and maybe three or four hours of camp time. I'd spend pretty much that whole time taking care of my legs, whether that's icing or elevating them — or eating.

So you averaged almost 80 kilometres a day — 48 miles a day?

Yeah, I averaged just under 50 miles a day, just under. 

What exactly were you carrying with you all this time?

I had to use what was available to me. I had 6.8 pounds of gear on my pack. I iced in mountain streams. I elevated my legs by laying them against trees. I had some gauze that I picked up, which is how I compressed my legs.

I had a sleeping quilt, a lighter version of a sleeping bag; and a bivy, which is essentially a tent without any space, almost just a cover for your sleeping bag with some head space; and an extra pair of slightly warmer clothes; and a tarp to cover my bivy in case it rained.

And food — a lot of, lot of food. I mailed myself food. When you go through these towns they'll have little stores. So I was able to occasionally pick a few things up to help me get through. Like, I find out that lip-balm Vaseline does wonders for your feet. I didn't really get blisters because of that. 

You say mailing stuff to yourself in advance, and picking stuff — this is why your completion of this trek is so exceptional, because this is what they call a "self-supported" hike. Is that right?

Exactly. It's technically two separate records. There's a supported record, which typically has be done by people with whole support teams following them in vans or campers helping them from Point A to Point B.

And then there's the self-supported record, which follows what a normal hiker through the Appalachian Trail would experience. You carry everything you have. Your supply boxes are either in towns, or [you're] buying stuff from shops. 

What was your darkest moment?

I figured I could keep up 70 kilometres going through the White Mountains. And I could only do 40 kilometres — I wasn't covering the ground I wanted to.

I go up this mountain called Gale Head, and it's a straight up climb, really challenging. And I take a wrong turn without realizing it. And I go about three hours off trail before catching what I did wrong.

Lost a bunch of time, and also from all the downhill running, I'd aggravated a previous injury I'd had. And then I had to hike all the way back up the same long stretch. It was really devastating. And I really just wanted to give up. But I was able to push myself back on my feet and get going again.

What was your best?

Getting to the top of Katahdin. It was just an incredible time, and really rough conditions at the top. But I get done with this 37-hour push, and I beat the record. And my best friend Josh and my girlfriend were waiting for me in these 37, 38 degree temperatures, 70-mile-an-hour winds. I just couldn't help but hug 'em and smile.

I finally finished this thing off, I was so humbled by the trail, and so grateful that I got this opportunity. And having them be there for me really showed how important it is. The people who love you and support you at the end of the day are the ones who really matter.

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