Alaska to Florida is a long way to travel, especially if you’re doing it on foot. But Pete Kostelnick, an ultrarunner from Iowa who set the record for the fastest time running from San Francisco to New York City in 2016, is back on the road again, this time running from Kenai, Alaska to Key West, Florida. That’s a distance of roughly 5,300 miles, and a feat that no one has ever attempted before. The inspiration for this journey came from an Alaska road trip he took with his family as a kid. About a year ago, he was reminded of the trip and thought it could make for a memorable, and record-setting, run.
“It just sounded like that next big challenge for me,” he told Men’s Journal over the phone while running through central Illinois. “I’ve always wanted to be a pioneer as well in ultrarunning.”
He began planning his route about six months ago by Googling walking directions and making adjustments, mostly to ensure that he passed through towns where he could spend the night. He set out on July 31, and the journey so far has taken him along the Alaska Highway through Canada, and down through the states of North Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, and Illinois. The rest of his route, which he has mapped out online, passes through Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, and Florida, all the way to Key West. He expects to complete the journey in just under 100 days, which means he’ll have to cover 53-54 miles per day. So far, he’s right on track.
“I can definitely feel the stress on my body,” he said, “but overall, I feel I’m in just about as good of a place as I was when I started the run.”
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Day 1 complete Starting point: Anchor Point, AK Stopping point: Soldotna, AK Today’s miles: 61.2 Total miles: 61.2 Officially jumped in. Soaked my feet in the Pacific Ocean this morning and was off like that at 5 am Alaska time. Special thanks to Summer for driving me 1.5 hours down at 3:20 am! Met a few locals, include Sherry, Dale, and Don, who were “fascinated” by my run. Had some incredible views along the way of the ocean and mountains in the distance in every direction. Tomorrow will be fewer miles, but it’ll be a very rough landing coming into Cooper Landing on narrow roads. Hoping for the best. Song of the day: Sheppard – Geronimo #timetofly @hokaoneone #HOKAclifton #HOKAbondi #chafesafe @squirrelsnutbutter_anti_chafe
Unlike his 2016 cross-country run, speed isn’t the focus of this adventure. Since Kostelnick isn’t trying to beat someone else’s time, he says he’s trying to appreciate his surroundings and enjoy the experience more, including by documenting his journey on Instagram. He’s also running self-supported, which means he’s pushing nearly all the supplies he needs (like clothing, food, and toiletries) in a jogging stroller. There’s no crew making the journey with him, so he picks up his own supplies and food from stores and restaurants on the way and gets replacement shoes shipped to him at the motels he stops at.
A typical day begins around 4 a.m., and Kostelnick will load up his stroller with gear and hit the road by 6. He’ll then run until about 4 or 6 p.m., stopping as necessary to grab food or take a rest—although he prefers to keep breaks to a minimum. Since re-entering the United States, he’s often been joined by a running partner, either a member of his family or sometimes strangers who have been following his journey online.
“Almost everyday I have someone to run with,” he said.
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Day 63 complete Starting point: Willmar, MN Stopping Point: Morton, MN Today’s miles: 43.4 Total miles: 3,384.8 Left Jeff and Casey’s house this morning with some local radio coverage as Mary and I headed out of town. Mary joined me for around 28 miles, she’s going to crush her first 50 miler in a few weeks. James stopped by to hand me an American Legion hat I’ll carry forward. Met my relative Pam as well, who stopped by on her way to work! Missie joined us for a half marathon or so as well before biking back as the rain started to fall in Olivia. I also met Scott and Dick there, with a newspaper and a farming magazine. Got a picture with Dick as I set off with a burger from Casey’s, and saw the guys roll in. Andy, my Badwater friend, came out with Brian and Tim to run the last 20 or so miles of the day with me to Morton. Super fun day, the first day I’ve had running company throughout. One thing I always look forward to each day is where I’ll spend the night. I’ve seen just about every type of accommodation. Usually I have one option, and sometimes it takes 70 miles or 30 miles to get there. I’ve spent nights in motels that face out, motels that face in, lodges, cabins, my tent, on the road, family homes, motels connected to gas stations/restaurants/museums/post offices/strip clubs (don’t ask), hostels, and trailers. Tonight I’m staying at a casino because it’s what was closest to the route and available. Casinos are fairly cheap to stay at, as long as you don’t gamble. Song of the day: Roger Miller-King of the Road #timetofly @hokaoneone #HOKAclifton #HOKAbondi #chafesafe @squirrelsnutbutter_anti_chafe #Ke2Key
When he doesn’t have a running partner, he’ll listen to music on a Bluetooth speaker he keeps in his stroller (“I listen to anything from classical to Kesha”), and at the end of the day, he’ll shop for what supplies he needs, pick up a Subway sandwich or two, and put his feet up in a motel for the night. To keep his body from wearing out, he goes through a stretching routine each night and massages his legs. But a big part of staying in shape happens as he runs: He’ll walk when he needs to, and doesn’t put too much emphasis on going fast.
“Not trying to be a hero with my pace, I think, is a big help to making sure that I’m staying healthy and not injuring myself,” he said.
That doesn’t mean the journey so far hasn’t been challenging. On days 23 and 24 of his trip, Kostelnick encountered a forest fire in southern Yukon Territory in Canada that blocked his route. To make up for lost time, he had to run 90 miles through the night without sleeping, and he ran through a thick haze of smoke for days afterward. But the long, lonely stretches through Alaska and Yukon were also some of the most beautiful, as he passed towering mountain ranges and glaciers.
“I was just so fortunate,” he said. “It kind of felt like it was all to myself.”
He plans to jog into Key West and finish his epic journey “sometime about a week into November” and he’s carrying a vial of Pacific Ocean water that he’ll pour into the Atlantic to mark the end of the road. After that, it’s back to Cleveland, where he and his wife recently moved (Kostelnick works as a financial analyst). But by then he’ll have an impressive new achievement to add to his list: an ultrarunning record where he didn’t follow another’s footsteps, but set out entirely on his own.
“It’s something I think I’ll always be proud of if I finish,” he said. “I’d rather do this than be given a million dollars. That’s how much it means to me.”