February 18, 2006

Forrest Gump gone global

London, Moscow, Chicago. Besides being great world cities, they now have something else in common: Jesper Olsen has run through them.

I’m in training for next month’s More Marathon in Central Park. Four hours of running through my favorite place in my favorite city. The course is 5 ½ loops around the park, where the sights, sounds and social scene keep your mind from dwelling on the masochism you’re engaged in. (See last spring’s Tour de Central Park post for route highlights.)

Marathon training is all about the weekly long runs, which get progressively longer until you tuck at least one 20 under your sneakers and start the sweet taper, which begins about three weeks before the race. This week I tackled my 18-miler.

While prepping body and mind for the 18 and trying not to think about what a scary number that is, I opened the March issue of Runner’s World and read about Jesper Olsen, a Danish political scientist who just nabbed a pedestal in the pantheon of overachieving ultrarunners, wild and crazy zero body fat folks who eat marathons for breakfast.

Eighteen miles? A mere warm-up jog for Olsen. The man just ran around the world. Six hundred and sixty-two days after setting out from Greenwich, England in January 2004, Olsen completed his "World Run Project."

16,263 miles. 26,232 kilometers. On foot. Pushing a stroller filled with 35 pounds of food, gear and extra sneakers. Moving fast. (Oh -- he did walk -- once, in Germany. For 10 minutes, to work out a knee twinge.)

I’ve posted before about interesting people who’ve combined travel with some sort of endurance challenge:
Steve Vaught, who’s walking from California to New York to lose weight and save his life (see Fat Man Walking...across America); and Charles Veley, the self-proclaimed World’s Most Traveled Man (see Has Charles Veley been to the state of Chuuk? ). Vaught’s still pounding asphalt. He’s covered 2,210 miles and is now in western Ohio, some 600 miles from his finish line. And Veley’s still feverishly collecting immigration stamps. When I posted about him in August, he’d visited 518 of the world’s entities. He’s up to 570. Quite a busy six months. I can imagine Veley running his mind over his itinerary: If it’s Tuesday this must be Belgium... and Bermuda and Belize and Baja and maybe even Baker Island, if I can just catch that last plane and then a really, really fast boat and make the International Date Line work for me...

But Olsen really intrigues me. I’d love to party with this guy. (Because I certainly couldn’t run with him. He’s a 2:27 marathoner.) Some stats in Amby Burfoot’s Runner’s World story on Olsen reveal that Olsen’s longest day was 62.3 miles; he burned through 28 pair of shoes; he ran in temperatures that ranged from - 4 degrees Fahrenheit to 117; he lost 20 pounds running through Siberia because all the drought-plagued locals had to share was buckwheat.

When he’s not engaged in some ultrarunning feat (an ultra by definition is any run greater than a marathon), Olsen enjoys his hobbies. On his World Run Project Web site, Olsen shares this glimpse into his “Life besides running:”

“I like reading very much indeed. Philosophy, classical litterature, travel litterature, poetry.... Also light mountain climbing is one of my hobbyes. I have had my go at Mt. Blanc, 4807 meters, and last summer I went for a couple of week to walk in the Kaukasus mountains in the state of Azerbaijan; quite an expirience as many of the people in remote parts of the Azeri' areas has never seen tourists. On the way back I visited the huge and beautiful contry of Alexander Korotkov; Russia - what a training enviroment to have!”

Jesper Olsen. A guy who looks at Mont Blanc as “light” climbing, traverses the Caucasus for a few weeks when he wants some air, and circumnavigates the planet when he goes long.