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Seattle Runner Smashes Speed Record For Full Length Of Pacific Crest Trail

Michael Dillon / Run For Colin
Seattle native Joe McConaughy reached the northern terminus of the Pacific Crest Trail in record time Sunday.

A 23-year-old Seattle man has smashed the speed record for hiking the full length of the Pacific Crest Trail.

Recent college grad Joe McConaughy crossed into Canada on Sunday — exactly 53 days, six hours and 37 minutes after leaving the Mexican border on the storied trail.

McConaughy says he felt elation and disbelief at the finish of the 2,660-mile journey.

“I immediately broke down,” he recalled a few hours later. “I was switching between laughing and crying — thinking of all these incredible tales and trips we’d had day in, day out and all the pain.”

There is no official timekeeper for long distance trail records. McConaughy had a support team and a satellite-tracking beacon to verify his time. He says he ran the downhill and flat sections and generally hiked the uphills.

Even McConaughy sounds astonished by the pace he maintained.

“I can’t believe that I averaged 50 whole miles a day over some of the toughest mountains in the West — the toughest mountains in the West,” he marveled.

The Seattle native shaved a full six days off the unofficial record time for a supported end-to-end Pacific Crest Trail hike. Santa Monica College track coach and exercise physiology instructor Josh Garrett, a vegan, held the previous record of 59 days, 8 hours and 14 minutes. Garrett set that mark last summer.

The long-distance hiking fraternity recognizes a separate record for trekking border to border alone, without an accompanying support team. Heather “Anish” Anderson of Bellingham continues to own that record of 60 days, 17 hours.

Credit Michael Dillon / Run For Colin
The record breaking trek relied on a support team, who greeted hiker Joe McConaughy at the finish line. Crew, from left to right: Jack Murphy, Joe McConaughy, Michael Dillon and Jordan Hamm.

Three Boston College buddies of McConaughy’s met up with him almost daily with supplies and camping gear. That meant he could run most days with just an ultralightdaypack. The support team of Jack Murphy, Michael Dillon and Jordan Hamm met with the speed hiker at highway crossings and remote trailheads.

The few times McConaughy and his support team missed each other at planned checkpoints go down as some of trek’s most trying moments. McConaughy pushed onward, counting on the kindness of strangers or a ranger for food or a sleeping bag.

“I have certainly been blessed in a lot of different ways whether it is staying healthy, finding help from people out on the trail — you know, occasionally giving me food or just helping me out in small little ways,“ said the former collegiate runner.

McConaughy also credits the spirit of a second cousin for watching over him. Colin McConaughy died in 2012 at the age of two from a rare neuroblastoma cancer. Joe McConaughy dedicated his trek to his young relative, calling it the “Run for Colin.”

He used his speed hike to raise money for cancer support services. The fundraising tally stood near $27,000 as he crossed the finish line.

One of the first things McConaughy did after he emerged from the North Cascades wilderness nursing shin splints and tendonitis in an ankle was to weigh himself. He says he lost 18 pounds off an already-lean frame.

Through-hikers often take nicknames on the trail. McConaughy’s was “String Bean.”

Correspondent Tom Banse is an Olympia-based reporter with more than three decades of experience covering Washington and Oregon state government, public policy, business and breaking news stories. Most of his career was spent with public radio's Northwest News Network, but now in semi-retirement his work is appearing on other outlets.