Jennifer Pharr-Davis Post-Appalachian Trail Record Interview

Over the past two months, one incredible woman took an incredible journey on foot. That woman, Jennifer Pharr-Davis, covered the 2,181 mile Appalachian Trail in 46 days, 11 hours, and 20 minutes. No one, man or woman, has ever covered the trail more quickly. iRunFar’s Meghan Hicks sat down with Pharr-Davis just four days after the latter completed her journey at Springer Mountain, Georgia. Below is that interview.


[Click here if you can’t see the video above.]

Jennifer Pharr-Davis Post-Appalachian Trail Record Interview Transcript

iRunFar: Good afternoon from Salt Lake City here at the Outdoor Retailers Show. It’s a cloudy afternoon. It’s sprinkling on us. I’m Meghan Hicks of iRunFar.com. Here with me is…

Jennifer Pharr-Davis: Hi, I’m Jennifer Pharr-Davis.

iRunFar: Get it? Far?

Pharr-Davis: P-h-a-r-r.

iRunFar: If you don’t know, Jennifer Pharr-Davis is a really big thing. She moved along the distance of the Appalachian Trail, two thousand…

Pharr-Davis: One hundred eighty-one miles.

iRunFar: In a time of or rather a day of or a trip of…

Pharr-Davis: 46 days, 11 hours, 20 minutes.

iRunFar: Did you get that? She went the distance of the of the Appalachian Trail in under 48 days.

Pharr-Davis: It actually averaged out to 46.93 miles per day, which is hard for me to wrap my head around. We never really focused on the numbers, we just said, “We’re going to do our best.” So at the end when we realized that, we were like, “Whoa, that’s crazy!”

iRunFar: This girl tracked along the Appalachian Trail, an ultramarathon a day every day for less than 47 days. Incredible. It’s really raining.

Pharr-Davis: It’s just like the trail.

iRunFar: Before Jennifer finished the trail… she just finished four days ago on Sunday.

Pharr-Davis: I’m exhausted. I’m so tired.

iRunFar: The previous record was a day slower than that.

Pharr-Davis: 47 days, 13 hours, 31 minutes, which is still a phenomenal, phenomenal record.

iRunFar: You took 26 hours off of the record?

Pharr-Davis: Yeah, just about.

iRunFar: We’re talking to a pretty tough girl. One of the question I really want to ask you is how you prepared for this. Ultrarunners prepare mentally; they prepare physically; they prepare logistically. It’s probably something like that for you, too.

Pharr-Davis: Yeah, I definitely believe in mental preparation. This is something that for over two years I had my heart set on it. There was never a day that went by that I didn’t think about it or dream about it. I had my “ideal schedule” worked out long before hand, and since it was my third time to do the Appalachian Trail, I could really visualize the terrain. I could say, “Okay, this day I have this many miles, and it’s over this mountain. I have this section, which is really nice; I can gain some time. That section is going to be really slow and tedious.” Going through that process in my mind as much as possible really helped. Then physically, the best preparation was, again, the fact that I had already done the Appalachian Trail twice. Knowing the course, knowing the terrain is so beneficial. Besides the AT, I had a lot of other through-hikes in my previous history. That multi-day experience is something that is really beneficial for a trail record because, for example, even if you’re doing a 50- or 100-mile race, you still get the bed, you still get the shower, you get to go home, and you get to see friends and family. On the trail, it’s day after day after day of being stinky, being tired, being away from your support network. That background is very helpful. Logistically, thankfully, I had my husband helping me. He had helped me in 2008 when we set the women’s record. He already had experience crewing entirely on the trail. It’s funny. He’s never crewed an ultra, he’s never crewed a 50-mile race, but he’s crewed two 2,000-mile record attempts. So because he knew the roads, because he knew what to expect, I really trusted almost all the logistics over to him.

iRunFar: He was the ultimate crew.

Pharr-Davis: He is the ultimate crew… and “Brew.” Ohhhhhhhh…

iRunFar: It’s not like you’ve used these puns before, have you?

Pharr-Davis: We’re so funny!

iRunFar: I want to clarify that, Jenn, you said you’ve been on the Appalachian Trail twice. Once, you hiked it, just as a through-hiker. You put a backpack on your back and went unsupported.

Pharr-Davis: Yes. Right.

iRunFar: The last time was how many summers ago?

Pharr-Davis: Three summers ago, Brew again helped support me, and we went out to set the women’s record which at that point was 57 days.

iRunFar: This year, you came back and not only reset the women’s record, but set the overall non-gender-specific record.

Pharr-Davis: Yes, exactly.

iRunFar: I think there are some men shaking in their trail running shoes right now.

Pharr-Davis: No, no, they shouldn’t. They shouldn’t. They can still do great things, but I think the message is, so can women. The further the distance with the ultras and what the multi-day events are showing is that when it’s not based on speed but simply endurance, women and men are on a lot more equal playing field than maybe most people may imagine.

iRunFar: Let me turn our sights to your days on the trail. Ultrarunners are used to suffering. We suffer in our training. We suffer in our events, but usually our suffering is over a limited scope of time. We suffer for 100 miles, and then we go home and lay on our couches for two weeks. Or if we do a stage race, we suffer for seven days and then lay on our couches for a month. You were out on the trail day after day every day for the majority of every 24-hour period of time. What was that like logistically? How do you make your mind and body function and keep functioning?

Pharr-Davis: I think it’s just a different animal than a long ultra—a 50- or 100-mile race. Compared to the Appalachian Trail, a 100 miler is like an anaerobic exercise. It’s like a sprint. You do hurt really badly in an ultra. On the trail, you hurt, too, but it’s a longer, duller pain. If you try to hurt the same way you do in a 100-mile race, you’re going to burn out. Yes, there’s a constant ache. There’s a constant suffer. But by spacing it out more, by going a little slower, by putting in longer days, you’re able to endure that and, like the ultras, enjoy it at different points. Because of, again, the duration of the event, there were times where I was really having fun. I was laughing. I was relaxed. Then there were times where I thought, This is the most painful thing I’ve ever done in my entire life. You get all of that into the experience, but it’s just a really, really long experience.

iRunFar: Let me ask you, you just finished four days ago. Now you’re on this whirlwind publicity, press, excitement-because-you-just-set-the-record tour. When you go home, what will you do?

Pharr-Davis: I’m definitely going to rest physically. I have no plans to start running anytime soon. I really believe my body needs four to six months of light stretching, hiking, and maybe easy, easy jogging. Because of my history of long treks, I’ve also given my body proper rest periods afterwards, and that’s allowed it to heal. It’s expecting that. So we will have a very laid-back fall. I’m really fortunate because I love the trail so much that I’ve turned it into my career. I write and speak and guide. So, I’m really excited telling this story and sharing it with other people because I don’t expect it to encourage someone to go set a record, but if they want to go hike for the first time or spend an overnight in the woods or run their first ultra… whatever they can take from it is the message I want to put out there.

iRunFar: You have a website, and you have a book.

Pharr-Davis: The website is blueridgehikingco.com, and the book is Becoming Odyssa, which is my trail name. Yeah, it’s available online and in bookstores. It talks about all the things I did wrong on my first through-hike and all the lessons I learned as a 21-year-old out in the woods. That was a very influential journey. I never would be here, if it wasn’t for that trip.

iRunFar: On behalf of all of us in the endurance community, and on behalf of all of us ladies, thanks for being such a bad-ass.

Pharr-Davis: Yes, thanks for having me.

iRunFar: Congratulations. I hope you get to recover.

Pharr-Davis: Me, too. Thank you!

OUTTAKE

iRunFar: Who are you?

Brew Davis: I am Brew Davis. I am the sugar… what did we call it?

Pharr-Davis: Sugar daddy?

Davis: No, I’m the husband.

iRunFar: You’re Brew, the crew?

Pharr-Davis: Brew, the crew!

Davis: I’m Brew, the crew.

Pharr-Davis: Logistical mastermind!

Davis: I’m the pit crew chief—that’s what we call ourselves—we’re the pit crew. Jim was the Nascar car and driver and we were the pit crew. Also, we never showered, so our armpits stunk all the time.

iRunFar: You were the pit crew.

Davis: We were.

iRunFar: Brew, you’re probably in recovery, too.

Davis: I’m in recovery, yes, not quite as much physically as Jenn… although sleep deprivation, we’re catching up on our sleep.

Pharr-Davis: He tore his ACL this spring, so he wasn’t able to hike with me as much as possible. So, we are both recovering. Sometime this fall we’re gear it up. We’ll do a five-mile run.

Davis: That’s true. Yeah.

iRunFar: Congratulations to you both.

Davis: Thank you.

Meghan Hicks

is iRunFar.com's Senior Editor, the author of 'Where the Road Ends: A Guide to Trail Running,' and a Contributing Editor at Trail Runner magazine. The converted road runner finished her first ultramarathon in 2006 and loves using running to visit the world's wildest places. For more information on Meghan and her adventures, please visit her personal website.

There are 26 comments

  1. Sara

    Nice interview, and incredible record! I read Jennifer's book over the weekend and *highly* recommend it. I couldn't put it down, it was so good.

  2. Casseday

    Great interview and even better folks. Andrew Thompson's record was extremely stout. I don't think many people really understand just how difficult it would be to cover over 46-miles per day on the AT. Hour after hour, day after day; covering the miles becomes who you are. What folks like Andrew, Jenn, Horton, Pete Palmer, Meltzer, and others have done on the AT are truly amazing feats. There's no t-shirt or belt buckle at the end — just satisfaction and priceless memories.

  3. swampy

    I have heard Jen speak and had the opportunity to meet her and her husband Brew at Mountain Masochist. Not only is she an amazing athlete and gifted speaker, she is a truly humble person in spite of her accomplishments. Bravo to you Jen and to irunfar for the recognition. I highly recommend her book as well.

  4. Ben

    So the running coach says "Slow down! It's a marathon, not a sprint!" …to which the ultra runner says, "But a marathon IS a sprint!"

    Then there's JPD who just said that a 100 miler is a sprint! 8-O

    Amazing athlete and woman. Congratulations on a monumental achievement.

    Great interview Meghan.

  5. Sophie Speidel

    Thanks for the great interview! As I posted on my FB page, "two cool dirt chicks talk about Jen and her excellent adventure." No offense, Goat, but I loved the girl bonding. Thanks, Meghan!

  6. Christopher Norcross

    Great Run. I am sure The Appalachian Trail is about to get very busy. You are on the bus with Marshall and Dean. Outstanding!

  7. Matt P

    Meghan asked really interesting questions. The remark about a 100 as a sprint struck me too– but makes sense as a way of thinking about how Jennifer could budget her energy. Still, what she accomplished boggles the mind. Just the 15 mile AT section of JFK50 is enough for most of us. Amazing.

  8. Tony Mollica

    Nice interview Meghan!

    Congratulations Jennifer (and Brew) on an awesome accomplishment! It is definitely hard to understand how you could average so many miles for so many days in a row. Recover well!

  9. Andy

    Truly amazing and inspiring. Haven't had a chance to track down the book yet, and maybe some of this is discussed there, but I'm sure some of us would be interested in the logistical aspects of your odyssey, e.g., how many hours on the trail most days? what kind of gear? How much (if any) running vs. hiking? Longest and shortest days? etc. etc. Not that most of us will attempt this, but getting to the nitty gritty enhances the vicarious enjoyment. Kudos!

  10. Meghan

    Thanks to all of you who commented in support of Jen and her fantastic record, as well as this interview!

    Some notes:

    1. I, too, think her comparison of a 100-mile race to a sprint is hilarious. Nothing like 46+ days on a trail to garner that perspective. :)

    2. As Christopher pointed out, I'm pretty certain that her accomplishment and all this news about it is going to inspire a record attempt or two on the AT next year. That will also be fun to watch.

    3. Andy, Jen's husband, Brew, kept a really nice blog that documented Jen's day-to-day existence on this summer's record outing here, http://jenniferpharrdavis.tumblr.com/. He talks about all the nitty gritty stuff, how long she was on trail every day, how many miles she covered, all the crazy stuff on which she dined, etc. Fascinating read!

    Adventure on, friends!

  11. Fred E. Smit

    According to what I heard her say in PBS, Her husband lugged the supplies to varies

    way points and met her there .. so she was able to travel light. In other words, she

    didn't have to do it solely on her own. I don't know if other attempts were done in the same manner.

  12. Jeff Wise

    That is just an amazing accomplishment and it's really a testament that we really can do anything we want. I would have liked to know what she ate and drank during those 46 days.

  13. Meghan

    Fred, thanks for the note.

    In the long trail record culture, there are usually three record designations, for records that are unsupported, self-supported, and supported. Jennifer set the supported record, meaning that her husband and other friends/family crewed her along the way. She did all the walking on her own, of course. ;) So, to answer your question, yes, other supported attempts have been done in the way that she described.

    Check out this link, http://fastestknowntime.proboards.com/index.cgi?b… which explains the differences in the different kinds of records.

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