Ultrarunner Smashes Pacific Crest Trail Speed Record by Five Days

Karel Sabbe on the Pacific Crest Trail in Northern California (via karelsabbe/Instagram)

Karel Sabbe, a Belgian dentist and endurance athlete in his early 30s, achieved a remarkable feat on Saturday morning as he reached the Canadian border in Washington State, completing the 2,650-mile Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) in record time. Sabbe’s GPS tracker indicated an unofficial finishing time of 46 days, 12 hours, and 56 minutes.

This achievement shattered the previous record set two summers ago by about five days. Sabbe’s astonishing average pace was approximately 57 miles per day, an impressive accomplishment on a rugged wilderness trail that traverses remote mountain ranges. This is especially notable given the challenging conditions this year, with the High Sierra buried under deep snow for most of the summer and wildfires in Washington leading to trail closures, forcing Sabbe and fellow hikers to navigate alternative routes.

This is not the first time Sabbe has etched his name in the PCT’s history. In 2016, he completed the trail in 52 days, surpassing the then-fastest known time by about a day.

In contrast to most thru-hikers on the PCT, who embark on self-supported journeys, Sabbe and renowned ultrarunner Timothy Olson, who also held the record for a brief time, had support crews to provide them with sustenance, shelter, and medical aid. The challenges they undertook, pushing beyond 50 miles per day, are typically attempted only by a select group of elite endurance athletes.

For Sabbe, this year’s endeavor was about reclaiming the record. He embarked on his journey on July 10 from Campo, near the Mexican border, and battled through scorching temperatures in the Southern California desert.

Sabbe’s updates on Instagram portrayed a focused and determined individual. In one video post, he shared, “I’m feeling tired but strong and, yeah, onwards we go. As Canada is getting closer and closer, it’s incredible. The PCT is the most magnificent trail in the world and at the moment, there’s no place I’d rather be.”

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