Like a scene out of the film “Forrest Gump,” Ohio runner Pete Kostelnick will be running across America because it’s what he loves, and he loves to dream big.
Kostelnick, who already owns the Guinness World Record for unsupported coast-to-coast run from San Francisco to New York, is now reaching higher. The 30-year-old ultra runner is attempting to run from Anchor Point, Alaska, to Key West, Florida, in what he has dubbed the “Ke2Key” challenge.
It’s a journey that Kostelnick said he is doing more for the experience, not the record headlines.
“Last time, I didn’t really have a chance to stop along the way and experience things,” he said. “It was run, eat, sleep, repeat.
“This run will force me to be aware of my surroundings; it’ll be a chance to really take it in.”
Kostelnick began Tuesday morning at 5 a.m. in Anchor Point, just a few miles up the Sterling Highway from Homer, completing the first day of his mega journey with a 61-mile run to Soldotna, where he arrived Tuesday evening. The run continued Wednesday with a 49-mile jaunt to Cooper Landing.
The self-supported run attempt is one that has never been done before, Kostelnick said, and since he is taking this one easy, he expects to make it to Key West in just over 100 days, or mid-November.
Kostelnick said the last time he ran across the country, he averaged 70-plus miles a day. This time, he is shooting for 50 to 60 miles per day.
“I kind of wanted to come up with a bigger challenge for myself,” he said Monday evening. “This one will be more challenging.”
Kostelnick said the reason he is starting in Anchor Point is due to the town’s location as the furthest west point on a major U.S. highway system, and Key West, Florida, is basically as far south as the American highway system goes.
It’s not the first transcontinental jog he’s attempted.
Two years ago, Kostelnick set the record for fastest crossing on foot from San Francisco to New York, a 3,067-mile journey that took Kostelnick 42 days, six hours and 30 minutes to complete, erasing four days from a mark that had stood for 36 years. Kostelnick averaged 72 miles per day on his record-breaking run, and said he experienced the gamut of emotions throughout that six-week jog.
“It’s honestly different every day,” Kostelnick said. “Some days I’m enjoying the sights, some days it’s great knowing you can do something like this, and it’s really something no one has ever attempted. It’s pushing the limits of what’s possible.”
This time, Kostelnick will be attempting to complete about 5,319 miles self supported. Kostelnick will run with just a stroller to push in front of him, with the essential supplies needed to keep him moving.
Hailing from the suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio, Kostelnick supports his running career with a financial analyst position. Kostelnick also enjoys sponsorship from HOKA ONE ONE shoes, a California-based company that originated in France, and has raced a handful of prestigious endurance trail races around the country, including the Badwater 135-mile ultramarathon in Death Valley, California, which he has won twice in five attempts, and the Western States 100 in California.
In May, Kostelnick completed 163 miles in 24 hours on a one-mile course, a feat that allowed him to qualify for the U.S. 24-hour running team.
Until last Saturday, Kostelnick’s only Alaskan experience was a 1999 family vacation when he was 11. He said he doesn’t remember many details of the drive up the Alaska Highway.
Now, however, he plans to see that same road from a new perspective.
Kostelnick said he began running to lose weight. During his senior year in college, Kostelnick ran his first marathon, the “Marine Corps Marathon,” during a 2008 internship in Washington, D.C.
“I never thought I’d run another marathon,” he said.
The ironman has since completed over 50 races measuring over marathon distance, or 26.2 miles.
Kostelnick said a key turning point in his running career came in 2011, when he began to make the transition to ultra running. A trip to the Grand Canyon provided a pivotal change of heart when he ran from the south rim to the north rim and back in one day, a 47-mile trip, with a few friends.
Since then, he’s taken to the beauty of the countryside, where he has truly flourished.
Kostelnick’s planned 5,300-mile route will take him on the Sterling Highway to the Seward Highway, before merging to the Glenn Highway in Anchorage. From there, Kostelnick will roll northward on the Glenn to Tok, where he will begin the long journey on the Alaska Highway, which ends its southern terminus in Dawson Creek in Canada.
Kostelnick will then hop onto the highway system through Canada and into the United States via North Dakota. The rest of the route travels diagonally through the country and into Florida.
Kostelnick said during his coast to coast run in 2016, he had groups of interested runners join him for sections of the journey, as they anticipated his arrival by tracking him via a satellite device he carried with him.
It was those runners, in true spirit of the Forrest Gump film, that kept him moving all that way.
“I know I’m going to meet some amazing people along the way,” Kostelnick said. “The last time, there were so many kind people, it makes you a lot more optimistic about it.”