Last updated: 05-Nov-18
For some runners it is about personal fitness, for others it is about winning, some just love to run, some need to break themselves, but for all of us it is about taking on challenges and getting through them. Rob Pope, has taken on something pretty extraordinary. He ran across the United States and now he is running back again. We caught up with him to find out what it is all about.
Q. Rob, tell us a little bit about yourself.
A. I’m Rob. Rob Pope and I just felt like running. I appear to getting known more as Robla, my nickname these days, but that’s cool with me. I’m from Liverpool and I suppose I still am a veterinary surgeon, though maybe I’m an ultra runner now! I’d say I was an outgoing person, who likes to include people in what I’m doing and I try to do what I can to make people happy, whether it’s making them laugh, feel wanted or just having a chat.
Q. This challenge sounds insane – twice across the US. Where are you at with it?
A. I started my run on the 15th September, 2016 (The same day of the year that Forrest started his run). I ran from Mobile, Alabama through Mississippi, New Orleans, Texas (including Houston, Austin and El Paso), New Mexico, Arizona and California, reaching the ocean at Santa Monica Pier 72 days and 2230 miles of running later. Of course, when I got there, I turned round… I picked up the run after a short, enforced break and I’m writing this from just outside Las Cruces in New Mexico (another 1,050 miles in), after visiting Death Valley and Badwater (where it snowed), Las Vegas and Phoenix. I’m planning on going to Roswell, Nashville and all the big cities up the east coast, before reaching another ocean at Marshall Point Lighthouse, in Maine, hopefully via the Boston Marathon in April. From there… you’ll have to wait and see!
Photo credit: Nadine Strawbridge.
Q. Apart from the sheer joy of doing it, what do you hope to achieve with the run?
A. I’ve wanted to run across the States for about 10 years now, with the idea of replicating Forrest’s run being the focus for about half of that. The reason why I went this route was to try and maximise the appeal of the run to raise as much money as I could for my two charities, the WWF and Peace Direct. I’ve sort of satisfied the athletic ambition of mine with the first crossing, though I am pushing a bit more this leg, so my main focus now is to try and run for as long as possible, to maximise the exposure and fund-raising for the causes. After this, maybe I’d like to try and see where I can go competitively in ultras, with a pop at the Marathon des Sables certainly on the cards.
Q. Your causes are clearly really important to you. How did you choose them?
A. I chose my causes after a line in the film where they ask Forrest what he was running for. Reporters questioned whether he was running for women’s rights, world peace, the homeless, animals or the environment. In fact, through these two charities, I cover all bases. As a vet and a keen environmentalist, the WWF was a natural choice and after hearing about Peace Direct through a friend, then doing my own research, I have developed unbelievable respect for their work. I’ve raised about £8,000 so far, but have lofty ambitions of raising over a million, if the run goes the distance.
People can donate via the website: www.goingthedistancerun.com
Q. Tell us about your daily routine when you are running – the hours, nutrition, breaks…
A. I generally get up about 7 am after a couple of snooze bashes. Breakfast is typically a two stage affair. First breakfast, before the first run is a couple of Nakd/Trek bars with an SiS REGO shake made with milk. I drink a lot of milk. I’ll then go out for my first run – usually 8-10 miles. Second breakfast is a huge bowl of porridge with about 50ml golden syrup and jam in. Lovely. I’ll usually have a squash or an electrolyte drink at this point too. I’m trying to keep all my runs around the 8 to 10-mile mark, dictated by where the RV can stop safely for breaks, though I have done up to a full marathon where lack of drivable roads has demanded this.
After the second run I’ll eat, usually some cookies, gummy bears, if I remember (I know, I know…) and have an SiS GO electrolyte drink. Lunch is after the third run and is usually four rounds of ham sandwiches, pretty much every day, surprisingly I don’t get bored, a can of Dr Pepper (like Forrest – not deliberate – I just like Dr Pepper), a pack of crisps and something sweet. Sometimes I’ll have a power nap before the fourth run, or if I’m behind due to my inherent ability to faff – taking photos, social media, chatting – I’ll walk a mile or two so as not to waste time digesting food sitting down.
After the final run I’ll have another SiS REGO, a big standard dinner, another can of Dr Pepper and most nights, a beer. I have a weakness for craft ale and it’s something to look forward to. Hydration wise, I just try to stay ahead of the game. In Alabama to early Texas I reckon I was easily drinking eight litres of water a day, and I was having to change my kit 4-5 times daily due to the 40C heat and 90%+ humidity.
Photo credit: Rick Beer.
Q. With such a massive adventure, what kind of crew do you have supporting you?
A. I have a crew of one, my girlfriend, though due to the money running out, she has to head back in March AND then I’m on my own! I’m weighing up options for different parts of the run as to how I’m going to do this – rucksack/pram etc. We’ve had some friends come out for a few days to a couple of weeks and two of these have done some running, though a max of two of my five runs. One of them has gone from being a non-runner to entering his first half this spring, in Reading.
Q. How is it going generally? What are your highs and lows?
A. I’ve recently upped my mileage from the 32 a day for the first leg to over 40 and it’s going…ok. More niggles, less time on my hands, but managing it at the moment. I like to feel that I’m actually running, so I mix up my paces. I try to do about eight minute miles for the majority, with slow/walk recovery periods mixed in every run. This makes me even out about nine min/mile on a typical run. I usually find I’m like a modern Formula One driver, managing his tyres and fuel, as I’m constantly having to reign my pace in, especially when I’m feeling good. Keep telling myself we’re in for the long haul.
Best moments were running through the Joshua Tree National Park and Death Valley, seeing Texas change as I traversed the 900 or so miles of it and reaching the ocean, though there’s just too much amazing stuff I’ve seen and experienced to sum up in one go! Being in Tombstone for election night in a proper Wild West saloon was pretty unique.
The worst moment had to be having an emotional meltdown in a gas station in Houston as I’d developed anterior tibialis tendinitis, which I thought was going to be a run-killer as it can be 6-8 weeks of rest. Fortunately, some good physio and K-tape coupled with me easing off from my initial 7:30 min/mile average seemed to pull me back from the brink.
Q: We all know that running is a mind game. How do you keep your head straight for this kind of a challenge?
A. The toughest part is getting up and out of bed every day, but that’s the same for me whatever I do – I don’t do mornings. Once I’m running though, things are generally just fine. The scenery is stunning and I often get through with the help of my music which I have on most of the time. I’m not allowed to walk during any ACDC tunes and U2. Bruce Springsteen, Nick Cave and Coldplay feature heavily on my running playlists.
I do stress about the funding side of things as we need to acquire a sponsor for subsequent legs after we reach Maine as we’ve funded the first bit ourselves and are coming up to flat broke. So that and injury are my biggest stressors currently. I use the charity aspect as a big motivation and I imagine how impressive my beard will be, if I manage to get through the full plan!
Photo credit: Nadine Strawbridge.
Q. How did you make the move into ultras? You were a very speedy marathon winner with some great wins under your belt, but this is a different kind of thing.
A. I took a leap of faith. Better to die trying than to live wondering is a good motto, I reckon. I’ve always been better suited to distance running and I have what has been described as a good ultra runner’s gait, so why not? I’d only done one competitive ultra before, winning the 2016 Rat Race Runstock event – a really good family affair. This was a 50km, with an unlimited distance category. I’d done the 50km and was eating my lunch and having my second pint when I saw that people were actually going further. Off I went for another 25km…
Q. The million dollar question – how did you train and prepare for this?
A. Again, I didn’t think I could do much. I tried to have a good core and improve my flexibility a bit in advance of the anticipated negative effects on these, but to prepare for this properly, you basically have to do it. It’s not compatible with normal life, as I’m running about six hours a day, every day! I also put on about 3kg, thinking I’d lose a ton of weight on the run…but that hasn’t happened!
Q. So, how much longer have you got to do and where will the finish be?
A. It depends. I’d love to do the whole run, but that is, as I mentioned earlier, dependant on the acquisition of funding. I’m optimistic as I believe that this will be the most publicised running event of the year, apart from maybe the Worlds in London, if it reaches its proper conclusion. I’m also a lover of running. I don’t want this to become a chore and like Forrest, who stopped pretty much just when he was ready to, that’s the same for me. I want to look back on this with fondness and a sense of achievement. I just hope that this will be in early 2018 in Monument Valley, surrounded by friends old and new, possibly with a huge gaggle of runners trailing me into the distance.
Best of luck to Rob aka Forrest! If you want to join him for a leg, donate or just find out more, all the information is on his website:
YouTube: Rob Pope
Photo credit: Rick Beer.