Can This PCT Runner Maintain a 58-Mile-a-Day Pace?

Karel Sabbe just blasted through California's section of the PCT—will he set a new FKT for the whole trail?

Photo: Christopher Thienel / iStock / Getty Images Plus

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Belgian dentist, Karel Sabbe, just set a new Fastest Known Time (FKT) by completing the 1,691.7-mile California section of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) in just 29 days. In order to make it through this section of the trail at that pace, Sabbe had to tackle an average of 58 miles per day for a month straight during a wildly snowy year in the Sierra

With fewer than 1,000 miles of the PCT remaining, if he maintains his current pace, Sabbe could finish the trail in 45.6 days total. Doing so would reduce the current supported record on the PCT, which is held by Timothy Olson, by about 5 days. Comparatively, the last two record holders claimed their titles by reducing the record by about a day each. 

In a recent Instagram post, Sabbe wrote: “Thanks to my fantastic @karelsabbe_crew, I managed to run a sub 30-day California! It took me 29 days 23 hours and 58 minutes to complete the California section of the PCT – a new record.”

Sabbe and Joe McConaughy were the two previous record holders on the PCT. McConaughy nabbed the title in 2014. Sabbe set a new record in 2016, and Olson set the most recent record in 2021. In his 2016 effort, Sabbe managed to complete the PCT in just over 52 days, a record that stood for about 5 years. And now he’s aiming to take it back. 

Only a handful of athletes have completed the PCT at such a speedy rate. The first recorded supported FKT was established by David Horton in 2005. Since Horton set the bar, only four reported athletes have managed to surpass it. In order to complete the PCT, athletes have to climb about 400,000 feet and hike or run 2,652.6 miles. The typical thru-hiker takes 4 to 5 months to complete the PCT, but athletes like Sabbe aim to challenge the limits of human capability by slicing that time in half. 

In addition to making a significant mark on the FKT community over the past decade, Sabbe nabbed the coveted title of “Barkley Finisher” this year when he managed to finish the notoriously difficult trail ultramarathon in just under 60 hours. Sabbe’s accomplishment made him the 17th finisher of the race since its inception in 1986. 

“The Barkley Marathon was without doubt the most extreme thing I will and can ever do,” Sabbe said. “It was quite a puzzle to combine physical strength, mental resilience, and finding your route using map and compass. It took me several years, but this year I finally succeeded.” His record attempt on the PCT this summer could be the next great challenge.