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Pushing Limits on the Palmetto Trail

Photo of two men smiling and standing in the woods

Two Friends Set Fastest Known Time on 500-Mile South Carolina Route

After years of running spartan races, marathons, and ultra-marathons, endurance buddies Nathan Frantz and Sean Clayton set their sights on South Carolina’s Palmetto Trail. In the winter the duo completed the 500-mile trek, which spans from the highlands of the upstate to the coastal lagoons of Awendaw, in record time, setting a Fastest Known Time (FKT) on the trail by finishing the route in just 10 days and 11 hours. Clayton, an exercise science student at the University of South Carolina, and Frantz, a construction worker, talked to BRO about covering 50 miles a day and more from their adventure. 

Map courtesy of Palmetto Conservation
Map courtesy of Palmetto Conservation

BRO: How did you guys get into ultrarunning in the first place? Did you grow up around endurance sports or was it something you came into in adulthood? 

Sean: I played soccer growing up and ran cross-country in high school but I didn’t take it too seriously. After getting out of the military I heard about running a marathon and decided to do a Spartan race. After that I got hooked on training regularly. Shortly after that, I ran a 50-mile race and got really into obstacle races. During COVID I shifted to ultras and ran my first 100 miler in 2020. 

Nathan: I didn’t really grow up with organized sports but I grew up in Asheville so my family was always out in the woods and generally active. In my late 20s I got introduced to obstacle racing and was pretty good at it off the bat, which lit a competitive fire to do more races. From there, I did two 100-mile races in 2020 and really improved my time from the first to the second run. Sean and I met through these races and we just kept dreaming up the next challenge. 

BRO: Whose idea was it to attempt the Palmetto Trail? Was the goal from the beginning to set the FKT, or were you guys just hoping to do the 500 miles at all? 

Sean: Usually the next challenge after a 100-miler is a 200-miler, but those are really expensive to get into and there are a ton of logistics to handle. So I just started looking for trails nearby and found the Palmetto Trail. At the beginning of 2022 we started planning to do it by the end of the year. As we planned the trip and kept learning more about the trail, we saw that someone else had run it in 11 days 15 hours and that was the FKT. Once we started doing the math on how many miles we’d have to do per day, we thought we’d shoot for a new FKT. 

Nathan: Since we’re both competitive, we definitely wanted to set the goal time to beat the previous FKT. It was a great way for us to push ourselves every day. 

BRO: On the trail, did you feel confident about breaking the record or did you encounter moments of doubt? 

Nathan: We definitely had a couple of bad days. Day 3 was my bad day and day 4 was Sean’s. Mostly it was intense physical pain. My ankles and shins started swelling and Sean had it radiating up his legs. Even with those challenges and even losing some ground on day 4, we felt confident that we could do it, but we were curious to see how our bodies would adapt to day after day of putting in 50+ miles. After those rough days early on, we gradually kept gaining ground on the previous time until we got to the point where we started saying “when” we beat the record instead of “if”. That was a really great feeling.

BRO: How did this rank amongst other challenges you guys have endured? 

Sean: Even having done several 100 milers and a 5-day military training I did when I was younger, this was the hardest. Having to cover so much ground adds a serious mental component. Not only is your body aching, but you look at yourself after completing 250 miles and it is just like congrats, you’ve got another 250 to go. 

Nathan: I agree, there is nothing I can compare it to. The first 100 I did ended up taking me 33 hours and it was hot and miserable but definitely doesn’t compare to this. We had a great support crew that helped make it all possible, and having each other to suffer together really helped as well. 

BRO: What was the most memorable moment? 

Sean: On day 3 we were near Spartanburg and took a picture with the mountain range we had just run in the background, which was really memorable. Running along and seeing alligators along the way stood out, too. 

Nathan: By day 8 we were a full day ahead of the previous record and that was a memorable moment because it was when we knew for sure that we were going to finish with the FKT. The last days cruising along through the scenery of coastal South Carolina was really special as we took it all in. 

Cover photo courtesy of Nathan Frantz

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