Beyond the Bison: Ultrarunning on the rise

Isabelle Hinckley, Senior Writer

Grabbing sports headlines recently, ultrarunning is quite possibly the most extreme pastime among athletes to date. And after ultrarunner Karl Meltzer’s recent Appalachian Trail record, this is definitely a booming fad to follow.

So what is ultrarunning, after all? Ultrarunning is defined as any race beyond the marathon-defined stretch of 26.2 miles. It encompasses the sport of long distance running, which often presents obstacles of severe terrain, challenging routes, and navigating difficulties. Within the world of ultrarunning, many experienced competitors take on the 2,189-mile Appalachian Trail as an ultimate feat.

Several years ago, I completed 50 miles of the Appalachian Trail with a group of fellow hikers and friends. Beginning somewhere in the middle-of-nowhere New Hampshire, we averaged about 10 miles a day—walking—before ending at Mt. Katahdin in Maine. I spent the subsequent weeks telling anyone who would listen about my accomplishment while endlessly complaining about the pain in my knees and back. My experience probably contributed to this new fascination I have with Meltzer, the 48-year-old ultrarunner who completed the entire Appalachian Trail in a record time of 45 days 22 hours and 38 minutes.

But what I find most interesting about Meltzer is what differentiates him from the other top ultrarunners and previous Appalachian Trail record holders. Popular culture, especially within the field of professional athletes and competitors, obsesses over clean lifestyles and strict diets. From vegan to vegetarian to celiac to paleo diets, it seems like modern day food ideologies only become stricter, more limited, and more absurd. Meltzer, on the other hand, disregarded all of this.

Meltzer’s diet gained attention recently for resembling that of a college boy’s, and not a professional ultrarunner. His drink of choice was Red Bull, which he relied on daily for extra energy. When Meltzer needed an extra boost, he would devour a pint of ice cream. He frequented rest stops along the way to buy candy like Spree, 3 Musketeers, and other chocolate bars. Most surprising to other runners, Meltzer ended each day on the trail with a couple of beers. When he finally completed the entire Appalachian Trail after about a month and a half of continuous running, Meltzer descended the final mountain before eating an entire pepperoni pizza.

I don’t know about you, but I’m beginning to seriously rethink this vegetarian, gluten-free, organic, farm-fresh, clean-living lifestyle.

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