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Vermont ultra-marathoner completes Long Trail in record-setting time

A photo of two people hiking up a rocky trail.
Lance Pitcher/Darn Tough Socks/Courtesy
Richmond, Vermont native Ben Feinson completed the Long Trail in record time.

The Long Trail follows the main ridge of the Green Mountains from the Massachusetts-Vermont border up to Canada. It's ruggedly beautiful, but at 273 miles, it's also a pretty tough hike. Now, try running it.

That's what Richmond, Vermont native and ultra-marathoner Ben Feinson did, completing in days a route that usually takes weeks for even the most seasoned of hikers to navigate. And he did it in record time.

The incredible journey was captured in 2021 in a documentary film called, Supported, which is one of the featured films in the Made Hereseries.

Vermont Public’s Mitch Wertlieb spoke with Ben Feinson about the challenges he faced, and his motivations for attempting the Long Trail in record time. Their conversation below has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Mitch Wertlieb: Ben, first of all, what inspired you to attempt the Long Trail — to run it in record time?

Ben Feinson: As someone who grew up in Vermont and hiked the entire trail with my best friend in 2010, it's always been a really big inspiration. It's my very favorite place. And when I had a community of ultra-running friends, who were also really in love with the trail, I think the opportunity just presented itself. It seemed like the right time and the right place to try it. And we all gave it everything we had.

A photo of a green sign with gold lettering that reads: the long trail, footpath in the wilderness extends length of state, this 261-mile hiker's trail, built by the Green Mountain Club during the years, 1910-29, extends along the mountain summits from the Mass. state line to the Canadian border. Convenient shelters are provided for the hiker at regular intervals.
Lance Pitcher/Darn Tough Socks/Courtesy
Vermonter Ben Feinson has the fastest-known time for completing the Long Trail. His journey is documented in the film "Supported."

Now you accomplish this feat, of course on your own, but not exactly. I mean, you had a crew of folks with you. Who were they and what were they doing?

There are unsupported records for the Long Trail, and then there are supported records. And when you have a support crew, they can feed you, they can hike with you, they can do basically anything except walk the steps. You’ve got to walk the steps yourself.

And so these are some of my best friends who I run on the trails with all the time, and a lot of folks who help run the local trail running club, the Richmond Trail Running Club, with me.

So that's why the film is called Supported, instead of "unsupported."

More from Vermont Public: Native Vermonter Sets Sights On Breaking Long Trail Running Record

I am wondering, though, just logistically, again — you ran this. So how did these folks keep up with you? What was the logistical process of making sure they got you on film?

I think running is a strong word. The Long Trail is extremely technical, so there's quite a bit of hiking. We're really only running on the flats and the downhills. But the logistical support for this is very complicated, and I think makes it a very challenging record for people who aren't locals with a big familiarity with the trail. And so having all those folks who knew every inch of the trail, every side trail, every road by heart, was absolutely fundamental. So it made it a really special challenge for all of us.

A photo of two people, both smiling, running on a bridge with trees in the background.
Lance Pitcher/Darn Tough Socks/Courtesy
To achieve the fastest-known time on the Long Trail, Richmond native Ben Feinson had help from a community of trail running friends.

I'm glad that you specified about the running in certain parts of it, because of course, it is very technical, lots of rocky terrain, very difficult. And you'd have to hike a lot of that. But really, this was about the time, you know, finishing this complete journey in record time. And the fastest time back before you broke the record was in 2009 —four days, 12 hours and 46 minutes. You beat that goal by how much? What did you finish in?

Really only an hour. I broke it by an hour and two minutes. Which up until the very end, we weren't certain that it was going to happen.

And why is that? 

Well, in general, there's just so many variables. There's so many different things that can go wrong. If you get a rainstorm and you don't have your layers dialed, or even if you just don't eat quite enough in one hour. And you bonk — as runners call it — your energy tanks, and all of a sudden you slow down. You have to manage all of these little variables. And if anything, any one thing goes a little bit too out of balance, you might lose an hour, you might lose half an hour, and these just add up. You have to be ruthlessly efficient when you're doing something like this.

So when it became clear that you had a chance to break the record, but again, you know, one hour maybe sounds like a long time, but did it feel as though you were kind of coming down to the wire there and that you may or may not make it?

The last night of the trail I actually quit, I decided that I was done. And it took about an hour or two for the crew to help convince me to keep going. And once I had made that commitment to finish the trail and spend the last, I don't know 24 hours pushing through, something changed in my head where I became convinced that we were going to do it in time, and I had a very high confidence. But I think there were a lot of people in the group who were really not certain that it would happen. It was very tenuous for a lot of us.

More from Vermont Public: Middlebury College alum wins major ultramarathon in French Alps

Obviously this is a very physically challenging thing to do, but also psychologically, emotionally. What were the challenges there?

Setting the record wasn’t the most important thing to me. That was the biggest challenge. The most important thing was having a memorable adventure with my friends. And when the going got really, really tough, it was hard for me to convince myself that the record actually mattered. But I think that a little bit of pushing from the community and my friends helped remind me that it would be just a little bit of icing on the cake for this big adventure, if we did actually get that record.

A photo of a piece of graph paper with a list of food like pringles, fritos, chocolate pretzels, etc.
Lance Pitcher/Darn Tough Socks/Courtesy
A sample food list from Ben Feinson's record-breaking journey on the Long Trail.

You mentioned obstacles, like something like a rainstorm that comes out of nowhere. What was the weather like for most of this run? What time of year were you doing this, and tell us a little bit too about what you had to take in each day into your body to keep yourself going physically? 

The weather is a huge challenge. But we were very fortunate with our weather window, we started north and got through the rocky peaks — Jay, White Face, Camels Hump, Mount Mansfield, Bolton — and they were pretty dry. If the weather isn't dry enough, it can be really challenging to move quickly up there. We got a lot of rain in the southern sections. And that was extremely wet. But down there, the terrain is a little less technical, so it's not quite as bad to have those really wet conditions. And of course, the food — I was probably eating 6,000 or 7,000 calories a day — a combination of junk food and, and really healthy food, sandwiches, fruit, grilled cheeses, and soup. All good stuff.

How did it feel when you learned that you had actually done this in the fastest time, faster than anyone had ever done before?

A lot of the emotions were processed in the last 24 hours before finishing, hearing the voices of my friends and community supporting me and coming to the realization about 14 miles before the finish at Route 9, that was kind of the point where I realized that we were going to get the record. And I had done all the emotional processing, laughing, crying and all that, before I even got to the finish. And when I got to the finish, it was just a very calm sense of joy and satisfaction. I just felt very full.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or tweet your thoughts to@mwertlieb.

A graduate of NYU with a Master's Degree in journalism, Mitch has more than 20 years experience in radio news. He got his start as news director at NYU's college station, and moved on to a news director (and part-time DJ position) for commercial radio station WMVY on Martha's Vineyard. But public radio was where Mitch wanted to be and he eventually moved on to Boston where he worked for six years in a number of different capacities at member station a Senior Producer, Editor, and fill-in co-host of the nationally distributed Here and Now. Mitch has been a guest host of the national NPR sports program "Only A Game". He's also worked as an editor and producer for international news coverage with Monitor Radio in Boston.
Karen is Vermont Public's Director of Radio Programming, serving Vermonters by overseeing the sound of Vermont Public's radio broadcast service. Karen has a long history with public radio, beginning in the early 2000's with the launch of the weekly classical music program, Sunday Bach. Karen's undergraduate degree is in Broadcast Journalism, and she has worked for public radio in Vermont and St. Louis, MO, in areas of production, programming, traffic, operations and news. She has produced many projects for broadcast over the years, including the Vermont Public Choral Hour, with host Linda Radtke, and interviews with local newsmakers with Morning Edition host Mitch Wertlieb. In 2021 Karen worked with co-producer Betty Smith on a national collaboration with StoryCorps One Small Step, connecting Vermonters one conversation at a time.
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