Endurance athlete’s 4,000-footer feat is hard on the feet

  • Alyssa Godesky heads back to Grafton County's South Twin Mountain from North Twin Mountain during her record-breaking feat to be the fastest person to summit each of New Hampshire's 48 peaks that stand 4,000 feet or higher. (Courtesy photograph) Courtesy photograph

  • Alyssa Godesky reaches the summit of Mt. Moosilauke with her team during Godesky's record-breaking attempt to become the fastest person to summit each of New Hampshire's 48 peaks that stand 4,000 feet or higher. (Andrew Drummond photograph)

  • Kate Matthews, left, tends to Alyssa Godesky at the Gorge Brook Trailhead, in North Woodstock, N.H., where Godesky ended her quest to become the fastest person to summit each of New Hampshire's 48 peaks that stand 4,000 feet or higher. (Andrew Drummond photograph) Andrew Drummond photograph

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 7/13/2022 9:38:07 PM
Modified: 7/14/2022 9:18:14 PM

There are 48 peaks in New Hampshire that stand at least 4,000 feet above sea level, and nobody has summited them all faster than Alyssa Godesky.

A professional endurance sports athlete who moved this week to West Fairlee, Godesky set the record for the supported fastest known time (FKT) for the 48 highest peaks in the White Mountains last Saturday at 3 days, 8 hours and 56 minutes. Her time beat the previous women’s record by more than a full day and was more than three hours faster than the men’s record, which had been set just a few weeks prior.

“It still feels pretty unreal,” Godesky said. “I actually was feeling stronger physically in that last day and a half as I continued going, which is not something I had ever experienced before. I was kind of having to pinch myself a lot, like, ‘Is this really happening? How am I not deteriorating?’

“To not have that and to feel stronger as I went made me feel like I was doing what I was meant to do. I was at the right place at the right time with the right people.”

Godesky, 37, grew up in Maryland and attended the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis for two years before transferring to the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, graduating with a degree in mathematics. She entered the corporate world after college, working in Baltimore and later returning to Charlottesville for jobs in banking and marketing. But she had joined the triathlon club in college and later picked up ultramarathons and Ironman races.

In 2010, Godesky began working with Hillary Biscay, an endurance sports coach based in San Diego, and as she continued to improve, she decided to forgo her corporate job to become a coach herself while training and racing full-time.

“I had a great job in Baltimore, and I loved the people I worked with, but it just felt like it was the time to follow something like that,” Godesky said. “You definitely have a limited physical window on your body, so it wasn’t something I could pursue in another 10 years if I changed my mind. I knew it was kind of then or never.”

Godesky has finished in the top five in Ironman races seven times, with a personal best of 9 hours, 33 minutes. In 2018, she achieved her first major accomplishment in the trail running world, beating the fastest known time on Vermont’s Long Trail, which stretches 273 miles from the Canadian border to the Massachusetts border. Godesky’s mark of 5 days, 2 hours, 37 minutes earned her the female FKT of the Year Award and was covered on ESPN’s website.

Two years later, Godesky ventured to the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York and set the women’s record for the 46 peaks of 4,000 feet or higher in that range, finishing in 3 days, 16 hours, 16 minutes. While she could see the Adirondacks looking to her west from the Long Trail, the Whites were in Godesky’s view to the east, and she knew she wanted that to be her next challenge.

After assembling a crew of 14 friends and family members, Godesky began planning her trek, laying out a clear schedule for each of her supporters. Several were pacers, running with Godesky along her route and making sure she was at or ahead of her desired pace while carrying food, water and other supplies. Others were in charge of restocking and bringing the van to her rest points so that not a moment was wasted.

Godesky slept for three hours on each of the first two nights and just two hours on the last night.

“Some people were out on the trail doing a bunch of miles; some people were back keeping the crew fed and hiking in to meet us at certain points,” said Matt Cymanski, Godesky’s boyfriend and an Ironman racer and trail runner himself. “So on some of the longer traverses, we would have somebody hike up a side trail midway through it to resupply. Everybody had a really important role, and it would have been tough without any of them.”

Megan Jensen, one of Godesky’s coaching trainees and an Essex, Vt., resident, was another pacer. Kate Matthews, who Godesky met on an adventure race in Pennsylvania in 2018, was part of the supply crew.

Godesky remained ahead of schedule the entire time and lucked out with the weather, especially in the Presidential Range, home to New Hampshire’s highest points, including the 6,288-foot Mount Washington.

“She is not just a phenomenal athlete, but also a phenomenal coach,” Jensen said. “She inspires me to work hard because I know she’s working very hard. I want to aspire to work that the level that she is. I know when she’s writing my plans, it will for sure get me fit for the activity because of her knowledge she’s gained by doing these FKTs.”

Cymanski’s engineering job in Hanover brought him and Godesky to the Upper Valley from Virginia, and they rented a place in Lebanon before now settling in West Fairlee. The move also helped Godesky train for her trail runs, with the White Mountains so close by. Godesky began preparing for this record attempt once the weather warmed up in April, heading to the Whites three times a week to scout the terrain and hiking up Whaleback Mountain with a weight vest on to build her strength.

Godesky has spent this week recovering and focusing on her move, but she plans to get back on her mountain bike soon with local riding groups and prepare for more adventure races. While she’s not sure what’s next in terms of FKTs and trail running, she said she knows it won’t be long before she starts thinking about another record to chase.

“I was never someone who, on paper, people necessarily would have picked for something like this,” Godesky said. “You don’t have to be a record-setting athlete going into it. I’m hoping to inspire people to take these undertakings up themselves, or even just hike one of the 48.

“It really is so special up there in the White Mountains, and hiking the terrain that the East Coast offers teaches you a lot about yourself. I think that’s a really valuable thing for anyone to do.”

Benjamin Rosenberg can be reached at brosenberg@vnews.com or 603-727-3302.

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