Rob Pope is AMAZING. He has a great sense of humour, an entertaining YouTube channel, he is cool, he’s a veterinarian and is running in the fictional character Forrest Gump’s footsteps, for real! He is also expecting his first child with Nadine, the love of his life for 10 years.
Rob Pope is the only person to have run across America three times in a year. The veterinarian from Liverpool wanted to do something that would “make a difference”. So he decided to follow in the footsteps of Forrest Gump and run across America. At time of writing this, Rob is two days away from reaching the ocean which will make it his fourth crossing.
Initially he started out with girlfriend Nadine and their friend Olivia as his support team. They bought a secondhand RV and named her Jenny. Unfortunately there was an accident. Although Olivia was injured, thankfully it was nothing serious. However Jenny is now off the road. Nadine and Olivia had no option other than to return to the UK. Rob is now completing his challenge alone and uses his trusty three wheeled pushchair named Pramsolo, to transport his essential equipment with him.
His achievements to date are pretty mind-blowing. Rob was the Youngest British runner in the 1997 New York City marathon. He was the Australian Men’s Marathon Champion 2015, Winner of Liverpool Rock and Roll Marathon in 2015 and 2016. He is the current Oregon State 10K Road Race Champion and Winner of Prefontaine Memorial Race.
I was intrigued to find out more about this venture of Rob’s and had so many questions. Thankfully I tracked him down and Rob kindly agreed to an interview.
What date did you start running?
15th September 2016, thirty seven years to the day that Forrest started his run.
How many miles have you run so far?
13,293 miles as of Dec 17th
How many miles have you got left?
Less than 3,000 potentially…but who knows? Depends when I get tired and want to go home!
What cities that you are planning to run to next?
I’ll be running to Beaufort, SC, where they filmed a lot of Forrest Gump then turning round and heading via Atlanta, Decatur, Amarillo, Albuquerque and Flagstaff, before heading into Monument Valley, Utah.
Can you tell me a bit about your childhood?
My dad left when I was six months old, so my mum brought me up as a single parent and despite limited income, I never wanted for anything, apart from maybe when she became ill. She was fierce and proud of me and drove me to succeed, though only rarely crossed the line of an embarrassing parent.
I remember her tearing a Conservative MP to shreds when we appeared on Kilroy in an episode about single parents being the ill of society. I was sat next to her and yeah, that was one of those embarrassing things at the time that I’m hugely proud of now.
I’m proud of her overcoming alcoholism and although she didn’t quite succeed at beating cancer, she kicked its ass for a long time, including a 14 hour pioneering operation where her whole jaw was replaced with shin bone and titanium. She went back to University to study law and in her first year received the first ever 100% mark in a particular area. She became ill again towards the end of her second year and died before she could finish, but she saw me graduate as a vet, which she said was more important.
She was awarded the degree posthumously and I collected it at the Anglican Cathedral in Liverpool after a lovely eulogy in front of a thousand people. I was more proud of her graduation than any of mine. She was the one who told me to “do one thing in life that makes a difference”. She would have done, if she’d been allowed to follow her law career in social justice. I’m making sure that I carry that forward for her and do my job now.
I understand Sir Richard Branson flew your mum out to the US to see you run?
Yes, he was amazing. He flew her out to New York for the 1997 marathon after I was the youngest British runner in the race. She somehow managed to get through to him on the phone in a request for sponsorship. When he politely explained that Virgin didn’t sponsor individuals for things like this, he asked how else he could help and queried if she was coming to see me. She explained it was beyond her means and he solved the problem by providing a business class return, where she was even invited into the cockpit as they flew over Manhattan, in what was obviously another era of aviation!
Why did you chose to be a vet?
I wanted to be a vet since I was eight after seeing a vet make my cat, Henry, better and letting me give an injection. I thought that was a pretty cool job and haven’t changed my mind yet. My most memorable incident was removing 6 Kinder eggs from the stomach of a Labrador. Yes, I did build the toys afterwards!
Is there a Jenny?
Yes. We named the RV Jenny. Unfortunately she was severely damaged in an accident in Nevada that also injured my friend, Olivia, who was driving. Jenny is now twiddling her tyres in a garage in Salt Lake City, awaiting news on whether she is repairable or not. Since the accident I have reverted back to pushing my trusty stroller, Pramsolo, that carries all my gear, including kit, shoes, sleeping bag and tent as well as food supplies and electronics etc.
What is an average day like for you?
I wake up at six, eat a few cereal bars or a motel breakfast before heading out about 7, or first light if I’m organised enough. I’ll run about 10 miles with the odd stretch or walking and photography before a second breakfast of oatmeal sachets, protein powder and water in a shaker. I’ll then do about 15-20 miles in a couple of runs before lunch, which depends on what is available. This is usually fast food or gas station specials, with healthy options often at a premium. My major nutritional strategy is cheap, calorific and tasty. I’ll then put in another 15-20 miles on a typical day. All the while I’ll be arranging places to stay, engaging with social media and replying to emails from engaged parties as necessary.
When I finish, I try and eat as soon as possible after stretching and try and maximise recovery. Laundry and sorting out the next day’s kit takes up time too. The quality of all of these is very variable! I’ll get to bed about 10 and get ready to do it all again!
What things would help make the rest of your trip better?
My kit is pretty much sorted now, especially after help from Nike and Sealskinz. I’d like Nadine to be out here obviously, as well as having a physio on staff, but both are pipedreams! All I want is to have a degree of support for the last month, as grateful as I am to my mate Pramsolo, I’d like to run naturally with arms swinging for the last 1000 miles.
What is the biggest challenge you face on a day to day basis?
Getting my feet out of the door and the first run or two done. Everything seems better once a good chunk of mileage has gone.
What’s the funniest thing that has happened to you during your challenge?
Being stopped by police who’d had reports of a lady pushing a baby down the highway is always amusing when you consider I have a foot long beard.
Is there anything about your journey that you don’t like?
I hate seeing how people often keep dogs, tied up in a yard with little social interaction and inadequate shelter. Seeing the huge amount of roadkill including some truly impressive animals such as deer and coyotes is always upsetting, especially when their little faces look wracked with pain. I can’t get accustomed to it despite it being a 10-20 times a day thing often.
Do you have any motivational stories from your journey?
I met an incredible chap called Chris Conlon, a stroke survivor at the Boston Marathon who since his stroke has completed numerous marathons and an Ironman triathlon. We’ve met up since in Chicago and I love him to bits.
We also rescued and removed (with the help of a local animal rescue and veterinary practice) a starving, mangy dog we named Hope, after she followed me for five miles, running through New Hope, Arkansas. She now lives with a family in Massachusetts and is a testament to the attitude I try to have of taking responsibility for things you believe in and following through, even though it is easier to stick your head in the sand sometimes.
Out of all the places you have visited so far, which ones do you want to go back to and which ones will you never return to?
I love the desert. From the Saguaro and Joshua Tree National Parks through Death Valley and the New Mexico border lands, I feel at peace here and find beauty in the landscapes, the hardiness of the plants and wildlife and also the isolation. Glacier National Park was also amazing despite it not being the ideal time to visit when I was there and to be fair, I could go on about so many places. City wise, I loved Chicago, Nashville, DC and Boston. The people have been lovely everywhere, though I have to give a special mention to Maine and Tennessee for a high density of friendly natives. The country is so vast and varied, very few people will get to experience and grasp. I’m just lucky to be one.
I don’t want to go to the highway in Pennsylvania where I confronted a local yob over his appalling physical assault on his dog that I witnessed. The subsequent chase by a man who had no chance of catching me but had access to a truck and possibly a gun was terrifying.
Can you offer any tips for people who want to start running but are scared?
Your body doesn’t want to run, however it is very good at it. It’s built for it, we’ve evolved to run. As such, it will fight you to start with. It will complain, it will hurt, you will struggle for breath. It’s only pretending though. You’re fine. After two weeks of running (even if you have to walk a bit, don’t be scared, walk) it will get bored of protesting until you up the ante again. You also ignore these protests. As long as you don’t run through pain that is increasing daily beyond a 3/10, and you’re not ill to the point of being weak/off work, you’ll be fine. Treat yourself. Get to your local running shop, get your gait analysed, get some pretty shoes and set goals. That’s the key to progressing to whatever level you want to be at. Once you achieve them treat yourself and re-evaluate. Keep things varied too, not everyone is weird like me.
Why do you love to run? How does it make you feel?
Do I love to run? I don’t know! I do sometimes, it’s just what I do. It’s such a part of my life currently I maybe take it for granted. I experience highs and lows in my running as I do in my life. When it all comes together, whether scenery, results, pace or mood is the key, it’s pretty special. People talk about the “Runner’s high” – I don’t know if I’ve ever truly experienced that. I’ve experiences highs whilst running but it was more of a holistic thing or consequence of the running. Approaching the finishing stages of the Prefontaine or my first Liverpool win were pretty overwhelming experiences to be fair.
Do you really think your fundraising can make a difference and how?
Definitely. I have to. It’s not just the money, it’s the awareness, especially for Peace Direct, a relatively new but hugely impressive organisation that will hopefully grow exponentially and continue to benefit those affected by conflict and war.
I believe that the WWF is the most important charitable organization on the planet due to the way it engages and approaches issues that if we don’t address, there are no other issues. I’m showcasing relevant projects to my social media audience and getting good engagement.
I’ll be stepping this up as we reach the end of the run. In terms of finances I don’t think I’ll be truly happy unless we raise seven figures, which is a huge ask, but then so was running five times across America. We may be approaching the end of that adventure, but the hard work is hopefully only just beginning. I hope that people will see that these charities were worth me devoting 18+ months of my life to and do what they can. I certainly still do.
What do you miss most about life back at home?
- My friends and family
- Sausage dinners from Liverpool chippies.
- Going to the match
- Laying in
- Playing the guitar
- Running fast
- Running for the sheer pleasure of it
- Munchies and Toffee Crisps
Rob Needs Your Support
All donations no matter how big or small will all go to making the huge difference that Rob has given up so much for. Please also follow him on his social media channels and subscribe to his YouTube channel.
All details can be found on Rob’s website Going The Distance