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!
In December 2019, four childhood friends from South Devon will embark on the challenge of a lifetime.
Tom, Lewis, Chris and Charlie make up team All Oar Nothing and will attempt to row 3,000 miles unassisted across the Atlantic as they compete to win the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge – the world’s toughest rowing race – in support of four incredible charities.
We spoke with the boys about their challenge to find out more.
What made you decide to embark upon this challenge?
All Oar Nothing are working around the clock to raise money for:
Kidney Cancer UK – Tom’s Dad, Adrian, has beaten kidney cancer only to see it return again and the battle is ongoing. There is no better man to row in aid of. Kidney Cancer UK seeks to increase awareness and knowledge around kidney cancer.
OneSight – Lewis has a prescription of -9.00 and struggles to see anything without corrective lenses. Unfortunately, not everyone is so lucky. 2.5 billion people in the world need vision correction but over 1 billion don't have access. OneSight aims to help those people with quality vision care.
Right to Play – Play gives give children the opportunity to learn about themselves and their surroundings. Chris was lucky enough to have that opportunity, but millions of children do not. Right To Play use the power of play to educate and empower children to overcome the effects of poverty, conflict and disease around the world.
EHE Race Cancer Charity UK – In 2015, Charlie’s brother Harry was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer called EHE. After 2 major bowel and liver operations he has regular 6 months scans checking for recurrence as currently there is no cure. EHERCC supports patients around the world whilst promoting and funding research into EHE.
How are you training for this challenge?
All Oar Nothing has a specialist ocean rowing coach, Gus Barton. The training is divided into 8-week blocks that focus on mobility, strength and power. Each block is then broken down into 5 or 6 sessions per week with a combination of weights and indoor rowing. On top of this Tom, Lewis, Chris and Charlie have a daily stretching routine, take yoga/Pilates classes and, most importantly, are out on the water every week improving their rowing!
What do you eat to fuel for this type of endurance event?
The crew will burn over 1.5 million calories during the crossing – equivalent to 40,000 per day or 10,000 per person per day. With no outside assistance permitted, seawater from the ocean will be processed through a solar powered desalination unit (water maker) producing approx. 6 gallons of water per day for cooking and hydration. The diet will consist of mainly freeze-dried rations; the crew will be testing various nutrition and hydration strategies during 24, 40 and 50-hour practice rows in May 2019.
What has been the toughest thing you've had to overcome so far in your journey?
With Tom and Charlie based in London, Chris in Singapore and Lewis in Sydney, All Oar Nothing has to coordinate its campaign through three different time zones so the level of admin is like a second job. However, injuries have been the team’s biggest obstacle to date – both Tom and Lewis have suffered severely with back injuries, which left them side-lined for weeks at a time.
What has been the highlight of your journey so far?
In April 2018, All Oar Nothing completed a 24-hour indoor row in London and Singapore – rowing non-stop, together the crew rowed over 880,000 metres.
What are you most looking forward to for the actual challenge?
Rowing across the world’s second largest ocean will push the crew to their physical and mental limits; there’s a reason that more people have climbed Everest than have successfully navigated the 3,000 nautical miles from La Gomera, off the coast of Africa, to English Harbour, Antigua.
The World Record set in 2017/2018 race is 29 days and the longest time to cross is 120 days. As the name suggests, the crew is aiming high and want to get across the Atlantic in the shortest time possible, ultimately aiming to win the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge. In order to do this, it is going to require immense sacrifice and sticking to an agreed process no matter the pain to achieve our goal. The crew agreed their goals and understand what it’s going to take to realise them.
What are you most nervous about for the challenge?
There is a real risk of capsizing in the middle of the Atlantic – in the 2017/18 race 26 of 28 boats capsized. The risk is even greater at night when “freak waves”, which can exceed 40ft, are less easy to spot. In addition, the underside of the boat must be regularly cleaned to avoid barnacles developing – this means that all of the crew will have to take turns diving off into shark-infested waters.
What advice would you give to other people thinking of taking on a similar challenge?
Start early: the challenge is far more than just the row, it is a two-year mission of meticulous preparation.
Speak to past participants: the crew is working closely with Dutch Atlantic Four who won the 2018/2019 race and Row Row Row Our Boat, whose boat – Emma – we will be rowing in this year’s challenge. Both teams have been incredibly open and honest about the challenges that lie ahead!
How can people support you?
Without the support of sponsors, All Oar Nothing will not be able to make this unique global challenge a reality. Sponsorship will allow the crew to cover the costs necessary to get to the start line, including the race entry fees, the boat and specialist navigation equipment, which in total amounts to almost £100,000.
Sponsor at: www.alloarnothing.co.uk/sponsor
Get in touch with All Oar Nothing in the following ways:
Lee Patmore is a Sundried ambassador who suffers from life-limiting illnesses. Along with his band of brothers, he took on the impressive challenge of travelling from Land's End to John O'Groats on a hand-cycle. Lee talks us through his incredible experience, which was in aid of Help For Heroes.
About The Challenge
In May 2017 I started on a journey that would take me from the northernmost point of the UK to the southernmost point. The legendary John O’Groats to Lands End adventure, but not the normal route that is around 874 miles, this journey has a major twist. I’m a military veteran and also a Help for Heroes beneficiary, and belong to the group within Help for Heroes know as Band of Brothers. Along with two other Band of Brothers and a support crew, we took on a journey that would see us cover 1,300 miles, along with close to 60,000ft of climbing. On our route we visited the Help for Heroes Recovery Centres and a number of active military bases. We started on the 1st of May and finished on the 29th of May. For me, it was all about arm power and the mental battle to push myself beyond limits I’ve never been to, and the daily battle just to get out of bed and get in my hand-cycle.
We started our journey in John O’Groats, which was very cold, very windy, and just miserable weather. Approximately two and a half months before we started, during what should have been the peak of my training period, I had a major flare-up with my Fibromyalgia. This ended up leaving me bed-ridden for two weeks. When I say bed-ridden, I got out of bed once per day to go to the loo, and the rest of the time I was in extreme agony with tiredness and just couldn’t function. The flare-up came without warning and basically ended my training prematurely along with removing the ability to tap into the full level of fitness I had achieved. At this stage, just before we set off, I could just about manage 2 miles in one go on a flat route. Nothing like the 40 to 60 miles per day needed, especially when you start in Scotland and know the terrain is anything but flat.
The first three days were hell.
The hills were relentless and seemed never ending. There were some great downhills that saw me coast at speeds of up to 40mph, but these were short lived and nowhere near enough time for a recovery to tackle the next hill. It was clear that I needed some help getting up the hills. The guys with me would get off their road bike and take the weight enough to allow my arms to continue to power myself uphill.
At this stage I had a theory. As long as my arms could physically move and power the cranks to get me up the hill, I was still working. If my arms failed (and they did) I would get off my hand-cycle and with a locked out left leg, I would drag my Handcycle and weak leg up the hill as far as possible. If my legs failed and I couldn’t get myself and my hand-cycle up the hill by my own doing, I would call it for that day and we would then need to decide if we stayed within the time frames and planned stops or if we would move the stop and then try to make up the time later on. Thankfully, it never came to that, as we made all the planned stops and even managed to get in a double-leg to give us an extra day's rest towards the end.
The real turning point was day five. Out of nowhere, my fitness came in again, and as much as I still needed the short recovery stops, I was not given help from this point on.
Day one was the farthest I’d ever cycled in one day, and day three was the first time I’d cycled more than two days in a row.
The never-ending hills
Before we got to Colchester, we had some of the worst sets of hills on the way to Catterick. We are talking a couple of miles with gradients staying between 10% and 15%. With many short recovery stops I took on each hill and made it to the top. My speed was very slow, cadence was also very low, but I powered up each hill and sections of each hill under my own power and was determined to not be beat.
The scenery was epic.
A memory to hold forever along with the achievement of the journey. I have photos that spark a memory, but I was in such a tired state each day that it was only about completing that day’s route. I wasn’t interested in where I was or what I’d just ridden up, it was about how far we still have to complete that day’s route.
For me, it was about each day was its own day, and a unique challenge in itself, with good friends and excellent support.
Ride to Recovery across the whole of Great Britain.
A trio of ex-servicemen is in training for an epic 1,400-mile bike ride through Britain to raise thousands of pounds for their wounded comrades. Former Royal Engineer Steve Craddock, Naval veteran Lee Patmore, and retired Royal Marine Brian Kilgannon will cycle from John O’Groats in Scotland to Land’s End in Cornwall in a bid to raise money for Help for Heroes. But when their feat begins in May, the former warriors will not be content with the challenge that has tested the mettle of cyclists for decades. Instead of taking the usual 960-mile route through the western spine of Great Britain, Steve, Brian, and Lee have set themselves the added challenge of visiting seven military bases along the way. These diversions will add almost 500 miles to the route and will mean cycling up hills, totalling a whopping 63,000ft – the equivalent of more than twice the height of Mount Everest.
This is a tough ask of anyone, let alone for Steve and Brian who both suffer from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) from their time in services and will be fighting their own mental demons along with the physical toll the route will take. However, Steve and Brian will get inspiration from Lee who suffers from Fibromyalgia, a condition that causes heightened pain and extreme tiredness.
Lee, from Essex, is now mainly confined to a wheelchair and will take on this mammoth journey on a custom-made cycle he will power by his arms. He works as a disability fitness instructor at Brentwood Leisure Centre and qualified as a personal trainer after completing several courses with Help For Heroes.
Retired Sergeant Steve, from Chatham in Kent, said: “I hope you can begin to appreciate the sheer effort, guts, and determination that will be needed for Lee to complete this challenge. Lee will be in pain and discomfort the whole time. He will not know from one day to the next how his body is going to cope. However, Lee has his Band of Brothers with him, and we will be doing whatever is needed to get him to complete this truly amazing challenge."
Former Colour Sergeant Brian is no stranger to endurance cycling. He has already cycled from the most northerly part of mainland Britain to its most south westerly point via (as he puts it) ‘the easy route’. In 2006 he set a world cycling endurance record on an indoor turbo trainer, clocking up a staggering 1,017 miles in 60 hours.
Brian said: “I have volunteered to assist Lee and Steve in this epic ride, having cycled for the Royal Navy and Royal Marines for the last twelve years. Since leaving the Marines I found that I had personal problems both mentally and physically, therefore the thought of doing this challenge with Lee will also give me fulfilment. Having already cycled from Land's End to John O’Groats and holding a world record for distance riding I am fully aware the problems we are all going to face.”
The planned route is as follows:
- John O’Groats.
- Livingstone (Gore Bike Wear).
- Catterick, North Yorkshire (Phoenix House).
- Colchester, Essex (Chavase House).
- Brentwood, Essex.
- Brompton Barracks, Chatham, Kent.
- Tidworth, Hampshire (Tedworth House).
- Plymouth, Devon (Hasler Company).
- Land’s End.
The Band of Brothers are hoping to complete the challenge within 30 days and are aiming to cover between 60 or 70 miles per day, with three rest days if required.
The National Fitness Foundation, the official nonprofit of the President's Council on Sports, Fitness & Nutrition, has announced LaRhonda Burley as its new Vice President of Partnerships & Marketing.
The National Fitness Foundation was congressionally chartered in 2010 to support and strengthen the mission of the President's Council by generating private sector investments and partnerships to help all Americans live active, healthy lives. The Foundation established the National Youth Sports Fund, the first-ever national endowment dedicated to supporting and expanding youth sports participation.
"We're excited to welcome LaRhonda as the Foundation's new Vice President of Partnerships & Marketing," said Clay Walker, Executive Director of the National Fitness Foundation. "LaRhonda's diverse experience and her ability to build dynamic sports marketing partnerships will be critically important to the successful launch of the National Youth Sports Fund."
Burley joins the Foundation with over 10 years of sports marketing experience. Following a graduate internship with the Tiger Woods Foundation, Burley joined Monumental Sports & Entertainment with a focus on business operations for the Washington Wizards and Washington Mystics where she managed the Mystics jersey naming rights partnership with Inova Health System as well as the presenting partner of the Mystics Youth Summer League, Kay Jewelers. Following her tenure at MSE, Burley managed the sponsor portfolio for the 2013 Citi Open as a consultant for Lagardere Sports & Entertainment before joining the Washington Redskins sponsorship group in 2014. As Senior Director of Partnership Marketing for the Redskins, Burley managed the sponsorship activation group as well as the Team's affinity marketing initiatives, Redskins Salute and the Women of Washington. After four seasons with the Redskins, Burley was hired by the NFL Players Association where she served as the strategy lead for 32 NFL clubs, advising on best practices for use of athletes in sponsor programs. A Maryland native, Burley earned a bachelor's degree in international business from the University of Maryland and a master's degree in sports management from Georgetown University, where she currently serves as an advisor.
"Spending the majority of my career on the business side of professional sports, it is easy to see the positive impact of youth programs," said Burley. "I believe in the power of sport as a vehicle to build character, foster positive communication and lead to social change, which begins at the youth level. I am excited to work with the Foundation to help advance its mission, while building the character of tomorrow's leaders, on and off the field."
About the National Fitness Foundation
The National Fitness Foundation is the only congressionally chartered nonprofit focused on health and fitness. Established in 2010 as the official charity of the President's Council on Sports, Fitness & Nutrition, the Foundation develops public-private partnerships and raises capital to accelerate solutions that prepare children for a lifetime of health & fitness through youth sports. The Foundation also leads the Presidential Youth Fitness Program, the nation's model for fitness education in schools.