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!
Fitness events are the perfect outing for any fitness lover. Free merchandise, meeting your favourite fitness models and athletes, and learning more about the industry that you love. That's why we've put together a list of the 5 fitness events that you won't want to miss.
The London Health Show
The London Health show is split into 6 different sectors: Nutrition and Supplements, Sports and Fitness, Beauty and Anti-aging, Complementary Health, Organic and Natural Products, and Healthcare Equipment and Technology. Event hosts promise there will be over 120 exhibitors for its thousands of attendees to explore as well as workshops and live demonstrations. Special guests include Dr Christian Jessen - best known for his work on Channel 4’s 'Embarrassing Bodies', Dr Leah Totton - Winner of BBC Apprentice 2013 and founder of Dr Leah Skin Care and Clinics, and Shona Wilkinson - head nutritionist at Nutri Care. Network with fitness professionals, grab some gear, and enter competitions to win impressive prizes.
The London Bike Show
The largest cycling exhibition in the UK is making its return to London's Excel Centre. There is something for everyone at this show, from professional cyclists to those who just cycle to work, or those who are just getting into the sport.
The show hosts ‘Air to the Throne’, a two-day competition which sees some of the world's best freestyle mountain bike riders perform mind-blowing tricks across the AT3 course and battle it out for a £10,000 prize. Joining them will be over 300 brands, plus one of the country’s most recognised Olympians, Sir Chris Hoy, who will be launching the latest bikes in his HOY range at the event. There will also be appearances from over 50 guest speakers including Chris Boardman MBE, who will be discussing all things cycling as well as showcasing the newest Boardman bikes.There will be tracks set up for both adults and children to take their wheels for a test spin and the world's only ‘pop-up’ Velodrome for those cyclists who are a little braver.
Cost: £15-19 depending on which day you decide to go.
Run Expo: Manchester
RunExpo challenges you to lace up for the biggest show in town. Based at Manchester’s Event City, the show is for beginners and experienced runners alike. This is the ultimate festival of running with all the latest gear, celebrities, and competitions. Leaders in the industry such as Nike, Ron Hill, and USN are just some of the show's exhibitors who will be showcasing their newest releases. Plus, the legend that is Paula Radcliffe is attending the show to help with the running event ‘Run Like A Legend’, which features an 800m track running through the heart of the Expo. 2000 runners will take part in their very own dream mile, designed to push you to ‘find your fast’ and hit a new Personal Best within Event City's walls. From gait analysis to a live fashion show there is plenty to get involved with.
Be:FIT is a fitness expo exclusively for women, to empower and inspire. Held over 3 days at Islington's Business Design Centre, 15,000 female fitness enthusiasts will be greeted by fitness classes, cookery demonstrations, wellness experts, and over 125 brands exhibiting their health foods and activewear ranges. Special guests including celebrity chefs and popular Instagram stars will hold guest talks and question and answer sessions. The event promises to keep you busy all day with classes by leading state of the art gyms such as Equinox and Gymbox, from Bootcamp to Yoga.The show is more than just freebies, it offers expert advice that you can take away with you to upgrade your lifestyle and make a positive and permanent healthy change.
Bodypower is the most celebrated fitness event in the UK, held at Birmingham’s NEC. Over the course of 3 days, nearly 100,000 fitness enthusiasts from all over the world join international stars, industry experts and exhibitioners, to witness national competitions, industry previews, seminars and discover hundreds of fitness-focused brands. Past guests include Phil Heath, Kai Greene, and Bill Kazmaier as well as Steve Cook and Paige Hathaway. Nearer to the event, the biggest names in the industry will confirm their attendance, from business professionals to competitors, athletes, nutritionists and models. Amongst the hundreds of fitness stands, Bodypower also hosts a variety of sporting competitions, such as powerlifting and Bodypower's very own ‘Fit Factor’ - the search for the next big fitness model. There are also strongman events and the Bodypower bodybuilding competition.
Cost: £25 - £99
In July 2017, it was announced that the inaugural Collins Cup will be hosted by The Professional Triathletes Organisation, Challenge Family and Challenge Roth in Germany in 2018. Aiming to follow in the footsteps of the Ryder Cup for golf, the Collins Cup sees teams of triathletes from the USA, Europe, and the rest of the world compete for the title of dominating region in the sport of triathlon.
Each team will send 12 athletes - 6 men and 6 women - who will win points for their team based on their performance, and the team with the most points overall will win. Four-time Ironman champion Chrissie Wellington will be heading up the team for Europe thanks to her world ranking status.
Germany has failed in its bid for the Ryder Cup the past two years, so Challenge Roth CEO Felix Walchshoefer said that they are very excited to be hosting the inaugural Collins Cup. The event is set to be iconic in the world of triathlon and could give a breath of fresh air into a sport that is gaining popularity every day and becoming closely watched as an international sport. The Collins Cup is the first global event of its kind and is sure to bring the world together in their love for the swim, bike, run multisport.
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.