I have come up with the idea of running around the world, and quite by accident. The other day I was in [the] library. The odd book out on the shelf was a colourful " Guinness Book of Records." That's what lured me, so I picked it up.
—diary entry of Robert (Runningman) Garside, January 1995, London
In April 1998, Robert Garside, a native of Cheshire, England, found himself staring at the maggot-infested urinal of his jail cell in Huzhou, China, about 100 miles west of Shanghai, if only to avoid eye contact with the other prisoner. As far as he could tell, he'd been arrested for running in a restricted area. "I had to hide from the police for three months and run at night [because I was paranoid], but in the end it was either get caught or head back into the Himalayas," says Garside, who had a Chinese-speaking friend negotiate his release after he had served five days of a 30-day sentence. "They didn't understand who I was."
Who, exactly, is he? Garside, 33, is an inspiration to all who have longed to be yoked to nothing but their curiosity. He was running across China because on Dec. 7, 1996, he had begun a six-year run around the world from London's Piccadilly Circus. He plans to cross the U.S. border from Tijuana, Mexico, around August 15. He has already broken the long-distance running world record of 11,134 miles, set by Sarah Lovington-Fulcher of the U.S. in 1988, and by the time he finishes his global run he will have logged almost four times Lovington-Fulcher's mileage.
Garside was a psychology student at Royal Holloway University in London when, like so many bored students before him, he sat in a library wondering what direction his life was taking. "I just wanted a change," he says. He was already an avid runner who jogged two hours around campus every day. Whereas Lovington-Fulcher ran around the perimeter of the U.S. to promote fitness, Garside's odyssey began as a trivial pursuit. "At first I thought it would be cool to break a record," he says. "But it's not about that anymore, because there's too much hard work involved."
The ordeal, though arduous, is less of a logistical nightmare than it seems at first glance. The "around the world" route that the record keepers at Guinness approved for Garside entails running the length of each continent and flying to the next one. Garside started from London, crossed the English Channel by ferry to France, then ran through Europe, across Russia, India and China, down the length of Japan, across Australia and up South and Central America. He plans to spend the rest of the year crossing the U.S. from west to east before tackling Africa, the Middle East and finally, in the fall of 2001, Antarctica.
Along the way he's been robbed, chased by police and thugs, threatened with an ax and pelted with stones (which, he points out, "really hurts"). He avoided Colombia—which was not required running because he had already traversed the eastern side of South America—for fear of being kidnapped by leftist guerrillas. Last month he had to outrun three armed men outside Acapulco. Earlier, in Russia, he was fired upon by a sniper. "Sometimes you get an instigator who gets the crowd on his side and tries to create trouble for me," Garside says. "I don't know why. I guess people get suspicious of someone just running down the street."
People stare at me alot [sic] and sometimes shout "Ah Gump!" and then laugh. Ah Gump is a Chinese translation of Forrest Gump.
—March 1998, Tibet
Garside Jogs eight hours a day, usually from 9 to 5, during which he says he covers at least 50 miles on flat ground, fewer in mountain ranges or jungles. He wears a hip belt with a video camera attached (for evidence of his record) and a 15-pound backpack containing clothing, water, a camera, visas, his passport and a hand-sized computer. When he arrives in "civilization," he uses a computer to receive E-mail and to update his Web site, www.runningman.org.
His attire varies with the climate, of course, ranging from a Himalayan suit made of goose down and Gore-Tex to shorts and a vest. Amazingly, after 20,000 miles, the 5'11", 154-pound Garside has yet to sustain an injury. "I should have," he says.
Temperatures over 40�C most days and I spend most of my time with bush flies. I turned 32 yesterday and will celebrate my birthday in Melbourne. Just 300km to go, the soles of my shoes have fallen off and they smell. I need a new pair.
—January 1999, Horsham, Victoria, Australia