Sean Blanton - AT Speed Record Attempt

Monday, April 23, 2012

2,184.2 Miles of Single Track

By Sean Blanton

What are you doing?

My goal is to break the current Appalachian Trail speed record this year. I have to rephrase that Denise and myself's goal is to break the record. Denise is my crew chief. Its just me and her. She is the ONLY reason I am able to give this thing a shot. Thank you Denise. 

According to the Awol Guide the Appalachian Trail is now 2,184.2 miles long for 2012. Each year diversions etc add a bit of distance to it. Just like Everest grows taller each year the AT grows longer. So the easiest time to do it is now. Not when you cash in your 401k. 

For me as a member of the La Sportiva Mountain Running Team as you can imagine my favorite thing in the world is running mountain trails. Specifically single track I have never run before. The Appalachian Trail offers me this in a close to unlimited amount.  I have never been a hiker. I was never a runner until some 4 years ago. In fact I thought running was stupid. Now I stand to be both. It's funny where life will take you if you let it. Don't fight adventure just fight yourself telling you to slow down. 

How did this come to be?

It was last year that I went on a trek, or hike as we call it, in the Everest Region of Nepal. The reason I was even over there was to run the Everest Ultra Marathon, the world's highest ultra. Although the day before I left I got an email that said the race was canceled. “ARE YOU SERIOUS!?!?!?!” I yelled at my computer. I couldn't believe it. I had paid for my ticket, arranged my trek to the start and planned a bunch of awesome stuff to do during my 40 day stay in Nepal.  

I got to Nepal obviously disappointed about the race but my plan was to do the course anyway. I met up with the 3 other people I had met on a travel website. We had planned a 25-day trek in the Everest Region. After we all met up in Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal, we flew out to Lukla. Lukla is the gateway to Everest. 99% of treks to Everest base camp start here. 

I remember being in great shape for running and ultras. I however was not ready for what was about to happen to me. Every day of our trek we crept higher and higher. It it was just straight up it would not have been that bad. It was up and down and up and down. Even our “rest days” would involved thousands of feet of elevation change. Every day the first 7 days I woke up in awful pain. My quads and calves were toast! Everyday was relentless 8 hours of hiking up and down these crazy Himalayan mountains. This alone was tough then add in the 10,000-19,000 feet above sea level that we were at for 3 weeks and you're hurting!
 
After about 8 days of agony something happened. I woke up not sore at all. My body had adapted. The rest of the trip I pushed harder with more up and more pounding down hill. Still I wasn't getting sore.
 
At the end of the trip I ditched my idea of the Everest Ultra course for an even crazier run. Lukla to Jiri. Some 50+ miles with some 60,000 ft of elevation change. The goal was to do this in one day. The local Sherpas said that it was not possible. This fueled me more.
 
I took off at 3 am from Lukla on a unfamiliar trail in the dark with thick fog. I got lost. Very lost. Being lost in a 3rd world country on trails you don't know by yourself is kind of scary. I kept my cool and eventually got back on course after about 3 hours.

This trail was insane. Rocky as heck and just up and down. There was one 6,000 + ft climb. Each climb was at least 2,000 ft and just went on forever. I ran-hiked for over 12 hours that day stopping to eat in tea houses with my 35 lb pack on my back. I had to stop shy that day since I got lost earlier that day. 

I figured the next day I would be crippled. I awoke, not even sore. The Himalayas and trekking for some 20+ days had turned me into a beast. I couldn't run fast but I could run-hike forever. Another 12 hours that day and I was done.

It was then and there that I knew I could take down the Appalachian Trail. I had experienced my body adapting to the brutality of hiking and running for the great part of the day day in and day out. I have found that my body recovers really fast from ultras. People tell me it must be nice to be young all the time. I think that is garbage. It is because my body never gets a chance to fully rest. I am always running or doing something active everyday. I referee sports 7 days a week in turn with running, soccer and hiking. PS I hate reffing sports. Turns out people get mad at the ref... A LOT! 

I also realized that the distances I was covering would smash the current record pace. I figured that could set my goal at 50 miles per day. At the time I had not heard of Jenn Pharr Davis attempting the trail again. I knew of Andrew's goal of 47 days and change. My goal was not to beat this but to shatter. I wanted to try and redefine what people called endurance, redefine what it meant to give it your all and I wanted to raise money for The American Cancer Society. Before Everest I had read David Horton's book about him running the AT. It really inspired me. He actually RAN it. I had planned to run-hike it.
 
What and who inspired you to do this?

I'd have to lie if I said Dean Karnaze's book Ultramarathon Man didn't inspire the charity runs I've done. I think his and my quest for something longer and greater are very much alike. I think the biggest inspirations to me to do this are my family and friends. My dad always jokes with me when I go run road marathons, “Oh just a marathon? Did you at least run home afterwards?” I love it. As do most ultra marathon runners we tend to try and do the craziest things possible and then act like we arent phased by the pain. I'm sure you could shoot and or stab most ultra runners and they would still finish the run. Why?  Because it makes for a cool story and that feeling you get from doing something that difficult.
 
I recall reading in some Facebook post something along the lines of “ SHE'S DONE IT! SHE BROKE THE RECORD!” This was in reference to Jenn Pharr Davis breaking the AT record. I knew I had my work cut out for me. But because she was a women it made such huge news. I now knew everyone was going to be thinking that I was setting off to break her record or that I saw her do it and so now I wanted to do it. This is not true. I actually emailed David Horton, who never emailed me back. He never emailed me back because he was in the middle of crewing Jenn. I am sure he thought I was another glory chaser. Really I had been inspired in part by his book. I also remember a couple of years back when Karl Meltzer did it. I remember following that. The guy got trench foot and kept running. He experienced horrible luck with weather. I would try and learn from what they had done. I figured that Karl ran most of it and Jenn hiked all of it. I would try to to meet that in the middle. I look to Jenn and Karl as an inspiration. Both of them are amazing. Speed Goat Karl has been helping answer a lot of my, most likely, silly questions. So again this is not about who set the record it's just someone set the bar and I plan to jump over that bar. Records are meant to be broken. No one sets a record that stands forever. It's the nature of the beast. That is why I don't plan on trying to better the current record by a day or two. I want something that stands the test of time.

Unlike Karl and Jenn I am headed north bound. This is a lot harder. I will be chasing warm weather and more daylight northwards. Everyone has said that New Hampshire and Vermont are the hardest area. Specifically the Green and White Mountains. For others they have liked to start with the hard part at the beginning. I'd rather finish with that. A record has never been set northbound. I like to think of it like this. Nothing has been done until someone does it. It is what it is. Running “uphill” as they say.

I am making a gamble that Baxter State Park in Maine, where the finish atop Mt. Katahdin lays, will be open. So far so good but if we get any late season snow I could be out of luck. 

What are you worried about?

I am worried people will surely misinterpret what I am trying to accomplish.   The trail is a beautiful thing. I hear a lot of hikers and people telling me that running that much a day and going for a record is against the trail code. They call it stupid or put me down. They try to make me feel bad about going fast. My thing is this. Speed is relative, fun is not. The trail is there for everyone to enjoy in their own way so long as they don't take away from others. This is how I enjoy the trail. If anything I am helping the trail because anytime I see trash I pick it up. It makes me sad that people can not see beyond what they do and their way of doing it. If everyone did everything the same way all around the world we would accomplish nothing. There would be no great poets, no great novels, no new music, no good tunes. It would be the death of everything creative in the world.

There are crazies out there like everywhere else in the world. But for the most part its not the hikers but random intruders on the trail. Everyone I ever meet hiking or running is amazing. Everyone their own story. I love it. 2,184.2 miles of smiles. I will however be packing heat just incase.
 
Then you also have to worry about blisters, chafing, dehydration, hyponatrimia, over heating, hypothermia, falling, stress fractures, muscle pulls and strains, rashes, snakes, spiders, ticks, bears, flies, bees, hornets, bacteria, parasites, diarrhea, and vomiting to name a few. Oh yeah and my body is going to hate me for trying to be on my feet running or hiking for 15+ hrs a day! 

I think however my biggest concern of all is keeping enough calories in me so I dont drop too much weight. I will have to consume some 8,000 calories a day to maintain my current weight. I want you to go look at something youre eating for lunch or dinner. Look at how many calories it has then figure out how many of those you would need to consume to get 8,000 calories. IT'S A LOT! Now try to eat that all while still moving forward up and over uneven mountain trails. Thankfully Cliff has donated some 25 boxes of Cliff products to aid me along the way.
 
For me it's not about the record, its about adventure and inspiring people. I hope that I can go out there and entertain people while I put myself through hell. I want people to be so inspired they donate money to the American Cancer Society. I know that no matter how much pain I am in that it is nothing compared to the pain of cancer and those who've been touched by cancer. I think if I did not run for a cause then I would be selfish. It's about running for those who can and inspiring those who can to do the same.
 
If you ask anyone who knows me they will tell you my motto. Run for fun and you always win. I always run for fun. For me it's not about 1st or last its about the journey. For all the races I am at my goal is to have fun. Although sometimes that fun is winning, I will admit.
 
Why the Appalachian Trail?
 
Why not the PCT or CDT or something else. I am born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia. The AT starts in my back yard. Well 2 hours north of my actual backyard. I've had a bunch of friends thru hike before and tell me all the crazy stories. I seek adventure every day and this seemed like the ultimate adventure. I train on and around the AT near Blood Mountain a lot. I always start down the AT feeling good. I just keep going but then I have to stop myself. I realize I can't not run to the end of the trail in a day like all the other trails around here. This fact really peaks my curiosity. Where does it go? I want to follow the trail until it ends. I want to find the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.  The AT will be a life changing event for me I know this. Though one can never really fully prepare for it.
 
What's your strategy?

This is simple. My strategy is to adapt. I will adapt to whatever conditions are thrown at me. If its too hot during the day I'll go at night. After all Petzl sent me some really bright MYO RXP headlamps!
 
If I am not getting 50 miles in 15 hours then I'll go longer. If my feet get so messed up I can't continue. Ill use duct tape and keep going. I will adapt to whatever I need to be to do this.  
 
I guess this comes back to the word endurance. People misuse this as a word for stamina. This is not true. Just look at the word. ENDURance. The ability to endure. I plan to endure what the trail and mother nature has to throw at me. I want to redefine what people see as endurance.  
 

My goal is to be smiling more than frowning. After all the point of this is to have fun. I hope I can inspire people to get out run, hike, donate, and inspire others to do the same.  

Comments:

barefoot tyler, Thursday, May 3, 2012

Great interview! Sean lives around me and I see him posting on facebook frequently. He is a killer runner. If anyone can do this he can!!

Jim Bickelhaupt , Thursday, May 3, 2012

Sean is an exceptional person and athlete. I've run with him plenty and his boundless energy and passion is contagious! No doubt he's going to give it his all and at the same time have a blast! Thanks La Sportiva for assisting him!

Dylan, Thursday, May 3, 2012

Dude is raw folks!

Krys Crawford, Saturday, May 5, 2012

Sean, you are truley inspiring. I admire your will to live life to the fullest and push yourself like you do. The strength in your heart to make a difference is AWESOME. I wish the world was full of more people like you! Good luck on your journey. I will be with you in spirit and can't wait to read all about it. Oh yeah and have FUN!!!!!!!

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