Rob Pope is the real life Forrest Gump. He is the first person ever to run across the United States of America four times in one year and has run over 15,000 miles so far on his journey. I managed to catch up with Rob to ask him about this incredible adventure and the causes for which he is raising money and awareness.
How would you describe the moment when you decided to embark on this incredible journey?
There wasn't one distinct moment when I decided to do the run - it was an idea that developed over a long time. It changed from a single crossing of the USA to multiple when I became more motivated by the desire to make a difference and to do something special for my two charities, the World Wildlife Fund and Peace Direct.
About 300 people have run across America, so while that's impressive, it isn't unique. However, no-one had done the exact route that Forrest Gump ran (apart from Forrest, obviously.) My aim was to see if it was possible for a mere mortal to achieve and to take people along with me for the ride, even in just a virtual sense.
I was excited when I started, but I'm not one to get in over my head, so I was pretty calm and just started running.
How does this type of ultra running differ from running your average city marathon? How do you hydrate and fuel?
They're completely different beasts. I'd be more nervous at the start line of a marathon than another trans-continental run. I run a lot slower and with a different, lower vertical oscillation gait and I'm taking photos left, right and centre and I'm happy to chat to passersby. That's what's coolest about America: the people.
My nutrition was based on the "see-food" diet. See it, eat it. Hot dogs, chocolate, crisps, donuts, fizzy drinks, fast food. There was the occasional bit of oatmeal and I tried to either have a protein shake or a good bit of milk each day to ensure I was getting something other than carbs and fat. I didn't lose any weight on the run and only got food poisoning once, so I was obviously doing something right.
What keeps you going on your darkest days?
I just didn't entertain the idea of quitting. I'd have had to have been carried off the road injured or completely penniless. I funded the first three-and-a-half legs myself with life savings that should have gone on a house deposit, after the hoped-for sponsor didn't materialise. Finances were a constant source of stress.
The weather and finding places to stay and eat were variably involved in busting my chops and the constant threat of an overuse injury was always there - sometimes physically, sometimes mentally. I'm also not a morning person, so waking up in a tent in minus temperatures knowing I have to run 40 miles isn't exactly the greatest. I coped by just telling myself that I had to do it, removing the choice, and once I'd done that it was "easy".
I'd focus on short and mid term goals, ranging from crossing a state line to getting excited about lunch. I always had the big picture in mind, which was the finish and my fundraising efforts. My charities never stop, and neither do the problems they deal with, so why should I?
What has been the highlight so far?
Too many to mention. The start, Crazy Al's bar in Louisiana (A Cajun Cheers), running across Texas at its widest point, my U2 pilgrimage from Joshua Tree National Park to the actual Joshua Tree in Death Valley (where it snowed!) then seeing them at the midpoint of my third leg in Chicago perform the Joshua Tree in full.
Reaching the oceans: first in Santa Monica surrounded by friends; second at Marshall Point Lighthouse in the mist with a good buddy and me in floods of tears, the third in Bandon, Oregon, becoming the first person to run across the States three times in a year, then becoming the Oregon state 10k champion the next day.
Heading home for Christmas after reaching the fourth in Beaufort, South Carolina, where a large part of Forrest Gump was filmed...then the end. We all know that was the best marriage proposal ever.
How has the reception been by the people in America? How do locals receive you when you run through their small towns and suburbs?
People in America have been incredible from start to finish. I can count the number of bad eggs on one hand and I've met thousands of people in total. I would have liked a bit more company running, but hey, maybe it was cooler to do it alone! People along the route have offered me rides to my destination (which I could never accept), bought me dinner, and even put me up for a night or more, in some cases, taking me to and from a stop/start point. I've met so may interesting people and heard stories you'd never believe!
Do you think Tom Hanks will reach out off the back of this incredible feat? How would you react if he did?
Unfortunately I didn't get to run with Tom - I'd love to know what he thought of the run - even whether he knew about it!
Maybe there's still time... I have to admit, I'd love to meet him one day, he seems like a really nice guy and I'd love to share a story or two with him.
Is it tough running dressed as Forrest Gump? Do the vintage running shoes give you blisters?
It's tough running 40 miles a day, of course, but I didn't have too many problems with blisters. In the first few weeks, I developed large blisters on the soles of both feet, which took up about a third of the sole, but they soon went and my feet were pretty hardy after that.
In terms of other injuries, I had tendinitis in both my anterior tibialis and my achilles, tore a quad muscle, had a painful condition called piriformis syndrome, a groin strain which went chronic, and 5 days of food poisoning. Blisters were the least of my worries!
What was it like running the London marathon as Forrest Gump?
I've actually run two marathons as Forrest, the Boston marathon and London. I'm going to do Berlin as well - I should just go nuts and do Tokyo, New York and Chicago and become the first Forrest to do the Abbott World Marathon Majors series!
Running the London and Boston Marathons were amazing experiences and both were very different. Boston was more fun as I just started that jogging and had a beer at mile 11, before I decided to go quickly and got in under three hours. I was flying at the end and probably looked quite a lot like Forrest in his college days.
London had more pressure as I was trying to break the Guinness World Record for fastest marathon as a film character and I felt that I wasn't really in the kind of shape to do that.
I managed to pull it off though, with a time of 2:36:24 and afterwards got to meet Mo Farah and Eliud Kipchoge, the winner. The crowds were amazing in both and I reckon only the winners had more cheers than "Forrest" on the way round. I'd recommend it to anyone!
Can you describe some of the other life-changing experiences you've had while embarking upon this adventure?
The whole run was potentially life-changing, but I still think I'm the same person I was when I started. I wanted to make a difference then and I do now, but the wealth of experiences have enriched me somewhat. I learnt about how kind people can be if you manage to engage with them, how we should break down the barriers that keep us apart.
For example, I was frequently told not to go to certain areas as they are dangerous, or had surprise expressed when I met someone in one of these areas. We're all just people and it's the belief that some areas are full of good people and some with bad people that is the most dangerous thing in society today, along with the associated wealth gap. I saw some terribly poor areas within a mile of huge gated communities full of castle-sized houses. I mean, that can't be right, can it?
Not that this changed me,per se, as I like to hope I was like this before, but it certainly affirmed my belief that if you WANT to help, you can. When we were in Arkansas, we encountered a starving stray dog who was super friendly. After all local houses said they didn't know whose dog it was and after being told it would probably get shot to put it out of its misery, my girlfriend and I took her in and named her Hope, after the town we found her in.
With help from the local community and veterinary hospital we got her to a local animal sanctuary from where she was eventually re-homed to Massachusetts, where she still lives now. It's so easy to turn away from a problem, but so rewarding to get stuck into one. Don't look away next time!
What's next for you?
Well, being a dad to my new daughter and getting married are my two main priorities now, but running-wise, Berlin marathon is on the cards for September, after competing in the Red Bull Quicksand event. I have a few other VERY cool things up my sleeve too, but you'll just have to stay tuned for that.
You can do that by following me on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram by searching @runroblarun and by visiting my website Going The Distance Run where you can also donate to my two amazing charities - the WWF and Peace Direct.
Please do - I'm so close to my fundraising target!