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Man breaks Superior Hiking Trail record, and his leg

Ajay Pickett takes a selfie in a clearing just north of Grand Marais. Pickett hiked the Superior Hiking Trail in 7 days, 20 hours and 56 minutes, breaking the previous record by more than 10 hours. Photo courtesy of Ajay Pickett.1 / 2
Ajay Pickett looks out from the top of Mount Trudee near Silver Bay. Photo courtesy of Ajay Pickett.2 / 2

When Ajay Pickett completed the Superior Hiking Trail on Thursday, he did it with a broken leg.

He finished the hike at 4 a.m. and blew away the trail's record time.

"I'm not a superhuman athlete," said Pickett, a 32-year-old native of Woodbury, Minn. "But I have lots of knowledge about ultra-light gear. I enjoy backpacking more than running. So I thought, maybe I should try an FKT."

FKT, or Fastest Known Time, is a website that reports records for trail hikes, ranking hikers based on the amount of time it took to walk a trail in its entirety. The previous record for the 310-mile Superior Hiking Trail was set by Mike Ward, who finished in 8 days, 7 hours and 59 minutes. He set it on Sept. 9, 2016.

Pickett completed it in 7 days, 20 hours and 56 minutes — 10 hours and 3 minutes faster than Ward.

"My plan is to take the mileage that Mike Ward did and just do longer hours and more miles every day," said Pickett. "Every day, I made sure I did at least 3 to 10 more miles than he did."

Pickett was on track to soundly beat the record, then on day five, his foot made contact with a tree root veiled by brush. What started out feeling like stubbed toes turned into a swollen ankle and shin. A doctor's visit after the hike would reveal a probable hairline fracture.

"The pain was like an eight or a nine," said Pickett. "I'm thinking, 'Am I done?' So I decided to take it one step at a time."

Pickett's hiking pace had slowed from 4 miles per hour to just 1. Besides numbing the pain with ibuprofen, his solution was to walk each mile slower until his leg had loosened up enough to continue at a faster pace.

While the injury affected what time of the day he would stop hiking, Pickett said it didn't affect the timing of the trip. Already with a good idea of how far ahead he was, Pickett assessed that even with the injury, he was still going to beat the record. However that didn't stop him from starting the seventh day at 6 a.m.

In 22 hours, he walked 56 miles in the final leg of the trip.

"It's such a weird feeling to be done," said Pickett. "You went through agony for the last eight days, and you get to the end and it's just a sign. There's the proof."

Walking for almost a complete day may seem terrible, but Pickett is used to being mobile for 24 straight hours. As an ultra-marathon runner, covering that kind of distance is nothing new to him. Also an avid hiker, completing an FKT trail meant incorporating both running and hiking, the perfect combination.

"It's a hybrid blend of backpacking and ultra-running," Pickett said.

Pickett was carrying 27 pounds when he started hiking, the majority of that being food. Instead of a tent, he slept on a hammock under a tarp. He said he prefers sleeping suspended in the air because he wouldn't wake up in the morning with sore hips and shoulders.

FKT ensures the accuracy of the records set by having its participants submit GPS updates at the end of the hike. Pickett also took photos and submitted them for proof.

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