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!
That time of the year is rolling round again and it's time to start thinking about what you're going to buy the man in your life for father's day. If the father in your life is a triathlete, cyclist, runner, or active gym-goer, we have the perfect gifts for him.
1. Race Number Belt – £10
If your budget is fairly small, you can still buy an awesome gift for a triathlete or someone who regularly takes part in races. A race number belt is ideal for triathletes or anyone who does multi-sport races like aquathlon and duathlon. It's something people often don't think to buy for themselves, especially if they are new to the sport.
2. Seamless Boxer Shorts – £10
Any dad will appreciate a comfortable pair of boxer shorts, but the active dad will especially like the Sundried seamless boxer shorts because they're designed for active people and don't chafe or rub during sports and physical activity.
3. Reusable Eco Coffee Cup – £20
If your dad is a big coffee drinker, he will love an eco-friendly reusable coffee cup that saves him money every time he buys a coffee to go as well as being good for the planet. This coffee cup is anti-spill so he can take it on his commute to work and drink his coffee wherever he goes. Perfect!
4. Skipping Rope – £20
If the dad in your life likes to keep fit, stay slim and work out regularly, he is sure to love a great quality skipping rope specifically designed for gym workouts. Perhaps he uses a beat up old rope in his garage or has never even thought about skipping for fitness before. This is sure to be an upgrade as the speed rope is designed for tricks like the double-under and facilitates high level skipping. It has grooves to the handles so it's easy to hold and he will be a pro in no time! It even comes with an expert skipping guide which will be ideal if he's never tried skipping before.
5. Swim Goggles – £25
All triathletes and swimmers need a great pair of swim goggles, but it's something people don't focus on when buying new kit. Treat him to a premium pair of swim goggles so he can get that quick upgrade he needs and perform at his best during training and racing.
6. A Biodegradable T-shirt – £30
For the more eco-conscious man, a t-shirt which is biodegradable will make the ultimate gift. This fitness top is sweat wicking, quick drying, and super stretchy making it perfect for all types of sports from football and running to cycling, CrossFit and more. It's super soft and comfortable and the classic style means it can be worn as casual wear as well as for active pursuits.
7. Cycling Overshoes – £32
Cycling overshoes are the type of cycling accessory that often get overlooked but are perfect for cycling in cold weather as well as getting more aerodynamic during races. If your dad is a keen cyclist, he is sure to appreciate an great quality pair of cycling overshoes which will complement his cycling kit and help him really look the part when he's out on his bike.
8. A T-shirt Made From Recycled Coffee Grounds – £40
Something a little different for the coffee lover in your life! If your dad already has everything a coffee lover could ever want, how about a fitness t-shirt that is actually made from recycled coffee grounds? This t-shirt is sweat wicking and fast drying so he won't have to worry about sweat patches, as well as being super flattering and comfortable. He won't want to take it off!
9. Gym Rings – £40
If the dad in your life is a bit more adventurous, a set of gym rings will make the perfect Father's Day gift. Training with gym rings may well be something he's never considered before, so this will be a great gift for him. Every purchase comes with a free expert gym rings guide so he can become a pro in no time and show off his new moves!
10. A Premium Running Top – £70
On the higher end of the budget spectrum we have a premium quality running top. Some people can be guilty of never treating themselves or running in the same old tatty t-shirt forever. Treat your dad to a technical, comfortable running top that is versatile and stylish and he can wear with pride not only while running but as casual wear too.
Photo courtesy of Mark Grubb
Veteran runner Gene Dykes from Pennsylvania, USA has set a new world record in the 70-74 age group for the marathon, a record that has stood since 2004 and was thought to be unbreakable.
Dykes ran the 26.2 miles in a time of 2:54:23 with an average pace of 6:39 per mile, breaking the previous record of 2:54:48 which was set by Canadian runner Ed Whitlock.
He spoke to Runner's World immediately after he finished the race in Jacksonville, Florida. “My first thought was that this really frees up my schedule for next year,” he said. He can now sign up for the races he enjoys which are ultra-marathons and hard marathons on courses that aren’t record-eligible, instead of trying to beat the world record.
One of Dykes' 'super powers' is that he can recover incredibly quickly from races, meaning he can take part in several tough challenges in quick succession. Just two months ago in October he ran the Toronto Marathon in a searing time of 2:55:17. Then, just two weeks ago, he ran the Vista Verde Skyline 50k (31-mile) ultra marathon and then the California International Marathon the very next day.
“I’ve often said that my ability to recover is my super power,” he told Runner's World. He also said that he’s been tested twice for banned substances; once in competition after a masters track meet and once, about 18 months ago, testers showed up unannounced to his home.
In the first half of his record-breaking marathon, Dykes said he felt strong and was already ahead of the world record pace. However, towards the final stretch of the race, he started suffering cramps in his calf muscles. But knowing he had the world record in his grasp, he crossed the line with a smile on his face. It wasn’t because he ran faster than anyone else his age in history, but because he had set a goal and worked at it. The satisfaction, he said, was being “able to do what I set out to do.”
Sundried ran a public opinion poll and are here to showcase the most popular places to run in the UK as voted for by you!
The Ridgeway is one of many beautiful National Trails in the UK which is maintained by the National Trust. This 87-mile route has been used since pre-historic times and features some incredible scenery as well as ancient relics and stunning secluded valleys. Annual ultra-marathon Race To The Stones follows this iconic trail which explains why it's such a popular event.
The Ridgeway is described as 'Britain's oldest road' and starts at the World Heritage Site in Avebury in the North Wessex Downs AONB, home to Europe's largest neolithic stone circle. The trail travels north for 139km and passes through the gentle woodland of the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
This trail has been used for over 5,000 years and provides runners with unending landscape to explore along with archaeological treasures to discover. The entire western half of this trail follows byways or bridleways that have no stiles or other obstructions so as a runner you can enjoy the freedom of running without having to clamber over obstacles.
The Lake District
One of the most popular holiday destinations in the UK, the Lake District is England's largest National Park and also now holds the prestigious title of being a World Heritage Site. The Lake Distric is home to England's highest peak – Scafell Pike – as well as its deepest lake, providing a stunning backdrop for any adventurer.
Fell runners have been using the Lake District to test their limits for thousands of years and any runner would be spoilt for choice when it comes to trails and routes to follow. The unspoilt and unadulterated views are your reward while the well maintained paths and trails will take you where you need to go.
The Quantock Hills in Somerset are perhaps a lesser known Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, but are still a fantastic place to run nonetheless. Described as an area of wilderness and tranquillity, this area features rugged Jurassic coastline, deep wooded combes, and undulating farmland. This area is largely privately owned which is why it is perhaps not as popular as other areas, however it still attracts up to half a million visitors every year.
The undulating and sometimes challenging hills will provide any runner with a varied and interesting place to run and even if you're new to the area, you shouldn't get too lost. There is one 7-mile section that follows a ridge which will reward runners with uninterrupted views on both sides that will both inspire and motivate even the most casual of runner.
Undulating hills and expansive coastal paths make North Wales a fun place to run while Snowdonia and Garth Mountain add an element of wilderness and challenge if you're looking for something a little more intense.
A popular destination for active people, Snowdonia National Park in northwestern Wales is best known for hiking but of course runners will also be rewarded with the breathtaking views and scenery.
This winter was dedicated to swim training and running cross country. In fact I ran so much cross country, my senior school PE teacher Mrs Mantell would have laughed her head off if she had still been with us. I used to hate cross country at school - always got a stitch... I thus dedicate my season to her.
Here my schedule!
- Essex XC Relays - Ladies 3rd Team
- Couple of South Essex XC League races with my old club
- 5 mile Winter XC Handicap - 1st Lady
- Chingford League @ HQ - 5th Lady
- Chingford League at Hog Hill (in the pitch black!!)
- Essex XC League 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 - Bronze V45!
- Ranelagh Mob Match which was run for the 90th time!
- Essex Vet XC Champs - 5th
- Chingford League at Ally Pally on my birthday - flaming steep hill!!!
- Olympic Park 10k with PB
- Essex Senior Champs - Bronze Women's Team!
- The Mercury (10 miles) - 6th Lady
- Southern XC Champs at Parliament Hill - enormous race!
- Blackheath Mob Match - Orion won!! - tough run...
- Chingford League Relays - Ladies team won!
- Cambridge Half
- Brentwood Half - new PB of 1.38
- Essex 5 mile road championship - Women's Team Gold and V45 Gold!
- St. Clare's Hospice 10k - 2nd overall
So a lot of running. Managed to win the Women's Division 2 at my running club and promotion to Division 1, which is the candy for all that effort! The other big project was some swim training with Cedric Lassonde (French Ironman) x6 in order to sort my swimming stroke out. Definitely seems more efficient. Let's see what it is like in the open water in a few weeks! I have also joined a new club that is nearer to me, so I can actually get to some club training, namely East London Triathletes. A very friendly club of like-minded people. I get to swim on Tuesday evenings at 20.00 which works much better for me and I enjoy the challenge of swimming with others, trying to lead the lane as much as I can. The trainers are from Swim4Tri so we are getting great coaching. Just need to try and get a new trisuit to represent them in the upcoming season!
Racing this much is hard on the body. I have had to work really hard at my muscles during strength training. Wonking glute meds have plagued me a bit, but I have come out the other side with some great rewards. Time in the gym is critical, folks, and you have to keep working at it. Rock on 2017 season!