One night, while out drinking with friends on your 30th birthday, you had a ‘midlife crisis,’ left the bar, and ran 30 miles through San Francisco. That had been the first time you ran so much in 15 years. What was going on in your life that led to the events of that fateful night?
I had a comfortable job and a bright future. But I was bored. The recipe for happiness (i.e., good degree, well-paying job, fancy things) was more like a corporate prison to me. So I ran away from it all, quite literally.
Apart from that night, is there something else that inspired you to start running?
Freedom, I think. I loved to run as a young boy and I remembered the feelings of ultimate liberty and limitless possibilities.
You’ve ran 50 marathons in 50 days. How do you prepare for it?
My body seems to recover quickly. I trained very diligently for this 50 consecutive marathon endeavour—running upward of 200-miles a week sometimes along with much cross-training and strengthening exercises—and then I just trusted my body. Thankfully I made it.
The Sahara Race is known as one of the most challenging races on earth, and the runner has to carry all his food and kit for 150 miles across the desert. The race takes six days to complete. Can you share a bit about your experience?
If preparing for this race, I spend a lot of time running in the soft sand along the beach. The sand dunes in the Sahara are notoriously difficult, and I would spend hours running in my thick North Face ski jacket carrying a backpack on the beach in the middle of summer. I got some strange looks, but it was worth it because I was able to survive in the hot desert, finishing runner up.
Was it the most difficult race you have ever run?
There have been many difficult races, including a Marathon to the South Pole in sub-zero temperatures with deep snowdrifts, but perhaps the Atacama Crossing in South America was the toughest. Atacama is the driest place on earth and some of the areas we ran though had never recorded a drop of rain, ever.
We racers had to carry all our own provisions and supplies, and the race was 250 km lasting six days. I ended up winning the race, but I don’t say that. What I say is that I “survived the fastest,” because it was just as much about survival as it was about long distance racing.
You’ve ran 350 miles (560 km) in 80 hours and 44 minutes without sleep in 2005. How many days can you run without stopping?
It becomes a function of sleep, or lack there of. I started falling asleep while running and that was a bit scary. Sleep-running happens when the mind shuts down but the body keeps moving.
That seems to be the limiting function right now.
You run mostly for social causes. Why don’t you run professionally?
I am not fast enough to run professionally. The single marathon is not where my strengths are, and there is not much prize money in ultra-endurance running. Instead, I use my running to help support those that are less fortunate and in need of aid. To me, that is a higher calling and something that brings me greater fulfilment.
Ever thought of taking part in the Olympics?
I was once invited to carry the Olympic Torch and that was a great honour, but the sports I do are not part of the Olympics.
You’re getting ready to run a marathon in every country in the world. India, Mumbai in particular has quite a well- participated annual marathon. Would you be open to participating in its next edition in January?
The World Marathon Expedition is now scheduled to commence in 2015. India is an important country and I am looking forward to running a marathon there (and eating authentic Indian food, which I love!).
You’ve inspired many people to start running. What advice do you give to a person who’s just starting out?
Start from the ground up. Invest in a good pair of shoes and then begin running not for distance but for time. Try to run continuously for 15-minutes at first. Build up to 30-minutes, 45-minutes and then try running an entire hour without stopping. After that point you can start training for time and distance.
Do you plan on retiring? If so, when?
A: I love doing what I do. When people ask me if I’ll keep running forever, I tell them my finish line is a pine box (i.e., my grave). That said, if one day I wake up and no longer love running, I’ll do something else. But right now the fire burns brightly so I’ll keep going as long as I can.