On August 27th, 2020 Liz Anjos aka “Mercury” completed the 2,193 mile journey by foot on the Appalachian Trail from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Katahdin in Maine, in 51 days, 16 hours, and 30 minutes- the fastest known time northbound for women.
Liz’s record attempt was supported by Warren Doyle aka “Jupiter”, a hiker, educator, and expert on the Appalachian Trail who set an endurance record on the trail in 1973, completing it in 66 days, and currently holds the informal record for hiking the entire trail the most times (18!). Liz was also supported by family in Virginia and Pennsylvania, and friends (new and old) throughout the long distance hiking and trail running communities in the Eastern US.
Why the Appalachian Trail?
Hiking the entire Appalachian Trail piqued my interest as a young teen while on a multi-day group hike on a section of the AT in Pennsylvania, not far from my childhood home in southeastern PA. It was there I discovered a knack for endurance, made even more apparent within the next year or two after beginning to run cross country. I wasn’t a stud runner by any means, but I just really liked to run, and I liked the social aspect and community around it. I continued to run through college (on my own at first, but then joining the cross country and track teams my senior year), and started to become more competitive in my 20s. With an early love for the Appalachian Trail and developed love for running, the wheels kept turning and sometime in 2015-2016 I set my eyes on the summer of 2020 to do a thru-hike of the AT.
What was the backstory on this record attempt?
Knowing I wanted to approach the Appalachian Trail by way of running and hiking, I began to strategize by practicing running while carrying my tent, sleeping bag, food, water, and supplies on local trails in Oregon, and started planning out how to resupply utilizing mail drops and towns along the AT.
In July 2019, I traveled to eastern Tennessee to attend Warren Doyle’s Appalachian Trail Institute, a five day workshop preparing hikers for the mental rigors and logistics of thru-hiking the AT. Each day the class would go on “diagnostic hikes” on the trail, in which I’d practice running and hiking with the weight of my pack. The going was difficult, but manageable, and very good practice for the task ahead. On the final hike, Warren offered to shuttle my pack from the start to the finish, and for the first time on the AT I felt what it was like to run freely along the trail, skipping over rocks and roots, zipping through the forest, feeling light and unbounded. It was a lightbulb moment, opening up possibilities as to how the entire thru-hike of the trail could be. While there, I also watched the documentary on David Horton’s supported Pacific Crest Trail Record, “The Runner”, and what struck me was how much of a team effort it was and how much credit he gave to his crew. I started to wonder if I could do something like that, and if anyone would want to help me.
Following the ATI, Warren and I kept in touch and planned several supported multi-day practice hikes on the AT, in which I’d run and hike with minimal gear, and Warren would meet me at road crossings throughout with food, water, and supplies. I found I could run multiple days of 40+, even 50+ miles at a time and feel pretty good doing it. Something that once seemed merely theoretical for me to accomplish–averaging between 47 and 53 miles per day, day after day–began to feel like a real possibility. Accomplishing big miles out east also inspired me to take on some trail challenges at home, setting several FKTs on popular trail routes in Oregon and competing and placing 4th in my first ultramarathon put on by David Horton, the Hellgate 100K.
In addition to gaining experience on the Appalachian Trail itself, I met AT record holders Jennifer Pharr Davis (and her husband Brew Davis, who supported her records), David Horton, and Karel Sabbe (over email), who graciously answered my questions about the trail and offered words of wisdom for the task at hand. In November 2019, following a near-200 mile supported hike on the trail with Warren, I committed to attempt a supported endurance record on the Appalachian Trail in the summer of 2020.
What’s with the name Mercury?
Mercury is my trail name. A trail name is a nickname that says something about a hiker’s personality or history. The name Mercury was initially inspired by the orchestral piece from Gustav Holst’s The Planets. In the beginning the music is jovial, light, and mischievous before expanding into a more sweeping, pulling, urgent melody. It captures the way I feel running on the Appalachian Trail. Beyond that, Mercury is the smallest and fastest planet in the solar system, named after the Roman deity Mercury, the wing- and fleet-footed messenger of the gods.