Where's Karl? Taking on the 2,174-mile Appalachian Trail running record

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Karl Meltzer is an ultra-marathoner who regularly runs - and wins - 100-mile races.

But the 40-year-old Sandy man needed a new challenge. How about running 2,174 miles in 47 days?

On Aug. 5, Meltzer will set out to break the speed record for running the Appalachian Trail. That means running from Maine to Georgia in less time than the current record of 47 days, 13 hours and 31 minutes held by Andrew Thompson of New Hampshire.

Meltzer has won 23, 100-mile trail races and 49 of the 92 ultra-marathons he's run. He also holds the record for winning the most 100-miles races in a year - six in 2006.

He makes his living as an ultra-running coach and also is director of the Wasatch Speed Goat, a 50K trial race that was held at Snowbird on July 26.

Meltzer needed to raise the bar in the sport of ultra-running and give himself a new personal challenge.

"I could have done a bunch of 100s this year and been fine, but when I was a kid, I thought it would be cool to do the whole trail," he said.

Meltzer grew up in New Hampshire running cross country in high school and lived for the outdoors. His dad, Karl, summed it up this way: "I kind of took him to the mountains and he never came back."

Running the Appalachian Trail won't be a walk in the park by any means. Meltzer says about 2,000 of the 2,200 miles are rough and rocky, more difficult to navigate than the smooth trails he knows in Utah and the West.

That's partly why he chose the trail.

"It's not necessarily running hard, it's a lot of hiking. The [trail] is technical, it's hard, it's hilly, and it's not going to work that way. It's time spent on your feet just moving forward," Meltzer said.

Meltzer typically goes through about 14 pairs of shoes a year, but has 12 pairs ready for the trail and expects them all to be trashed when he's done.

Another challenge will be staying in the game mentally. Even with a support team helping with cooking and setting up camp, the pressure to stay on schedule is all on Meltzer.

"After 45 days, I'll be delirious and fried. I think once I get up and eat and get moving, I'll be fine, but getting up in the morning will be hard. It's really a mental thing," he said.

Fellow ultra-runner Ian Torrence says running the Appalachian Trail is definitely ambitious. Torrence once attempted to set a record on the 400-mile Colorado Trail and had to opt out after seven days.

"I knew that when he said he was going to take the entire [Appalachian Trail], that it's hard, and it's not fun and games," Torrence said. "Some people say it will be great to see the beautiful countryside, but he has to do like 40 to 50 miles a day. Your body starts to reject that after a while, no matter who you are."

Torrence said he would never attempt the Appalachian Trail record but says if anyone can do it, it's Meltzer.

Meltzer has a tentative itinerary, but isn't sure he can follow it exactly day to day. He says some days he might feel like going further but other days may stop short of his daily goal, which ranges from 26 to 55 miles a day.

Meltzer's wife, Cheryl, says she was surprised when he told her about his idea to break the trail record.

"It's not typically something that he does. It's different from all the races he's done before, but I think it's a pretty neat idea and I'd love to see him break the record," she says.

Backcountry.com is the main sponsor among seven companies supporting the Where's Karl? RV, which will be Meltzer's main means of support. One of seven Backcountry.com employees will pair up with one of Karl's friends or family members to make a two-person crew. They will be responsible for cooking, cleaning, driving the RV, running errands, doing laundry, setting up camp, taking photos, getting video and blogging about the run.

Fans will be able to track Meltzer's every move via GPS and an interactive map.

"It's an incredible adventure," Meltzer said. "How many people get to do this? The fact that I have so many people supporting me is really cool. I might fail, but the bottom line is, I get to do it, which is really cool.

"What happens, happens. It's the way I feel about most things in life. If I don't meet my goal, if I drop out, I did it for a reason."