Belgium’s Karel Sabbe made a name for himself in the world of ultrarunning after he ran the farthest of anyone at the 2019 Barkley Marathons, completing a “Fun Run,” which refers to running three 20-mile loops of the infamous 100-mile race in under 40 hours. While there’s no doubt that Sabbe would have loved to have been in Tennessee for the Barkley this year, it wasn’t feasible due to the pandemic. Instead, he ran a solo ultra challenge, and he set the fastest known time (FKT) for a 59K route along the coast of Belgium.
— Fastest Known Time (@FastestKnown) March 22, 2021
The route Sabbe followed is called the GR 5A Kustroute. It’s 59K long, starting at the border between Belgium and France and stretching almost all the way to the opposite border with the Netherlands. The route stays on the coast for most of the run (hence the name Kustroute, which translates to “Coastal Route”), only drifting away a few times throughout the nearly 60K, passing by miles and miles of what is almost uninterrupted beach.
The route took Sabbe (and anyone else who has tackled it) on sand dunes, through forests and on several bridges, which is an important note when it comes to his run. There are two variations for this route — one involves taking a ferry across the harbour of the city of Ostend, while the other (which Sabbe ran) bypasses the short boat trip.
Sabbe followed a few bridges and made his way around Ostend’s harbour. Around 15K after bypassing the ferry, he made it to the end of the route, stopping the clock in record time.
The time to beat on the Kustroute was five hours, 45 minutes. This time belongs to a runner named Anton Vanhee, who set this record (the first on the route when skipping the ferry ride) in December 2020. Sabbe handled Vanhee’s record easily, shaving close to half an hour off his time and crossing the finish line in five hours, 17 minutes.
“I started off late in the morning,” Sabbe wrote in his post-run report on fastestknowntime.com. “It was a cold, rainy, windy day, but the wind came from the side so mostly there was no headwind.” He continued, writing that things went well for him.
One hiccup that slowed his progress came when he hit a bridge that was up and letting several boats pass through. This cost him 10 minutes, but it didn’t matter in the end when it came to the FKT. Had this not happened, he notes that he “might have tried to push on for a sub-five-hour [result].”
This is the fifth FKT of Sabbe’s career, and it joins a pair of extremely high-profile runs on the Appalachian and Pacific Crest trails in the U.S. Sabbe set the record on the Pacific Crest Trail (which runs through California, Oregon and Washington) in 2016, completing the more than 4,000-kilometre route in 52 days.
He returned to the U.S. for the Appalachian Trail FKT in 2018, covering this route (which spans 3,500 kilometres between Georgia and Maine) in 41 days. He is the only person to have held both of these FKTs at the same time, and he has now added another route record to his resume.