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Photo credit: Kevin Carr

Kevin Carr, running solo around the world

15-Jul-15

Last updated: 06-Nov-18

By Luke Jarmey

We think that running an ultra is a big deal, but running round the world is something else entirely. Kevin Carr made world records, met bears, was catapulted over his cart and heard the dingoes singing in the desert. He took time out to talk to us.

To start things off we’d like to say congratulations to you for your incredible record. Running solo around the Globe - quite an achievement!  

A. Thank you. The ‘title’ is great - for sure. In the big scheme of things however - it’s akin to a post-it note, with ‘job well done’ stuck on a school project. Now, what the note has been stuck on - that’s where the real reward lies.  

It’s stuck on the best part of a decade of my life. Thousands upon thousands of hours of training and reading about training methods. The reward wasn’t in the result or even in the praise of the result, not even in the massive sense of satisfaction for a job well done.  

The reward was in the mental transformation I had to go through in order to attempt and ultimately complete the expedition. Through my late teens and most of my twenties I suffered heavily with depression and subsequently anxiety.

I went from constantly suicidal - to ‘literally taking on the world’ a phenomenal turnaround. I’m not claiming to be an egoless zen monk - of course I’m proud of the two world records. But I can honestly say I’m prouder still that I managed to give an undeniable demonstration that:

An ill mind is in no way a weak mind

I think I have helped show that mental illness, past or present isn’t a sign of weakness, something to be ashamed of, or hidden away. It’s an illness, and it can be handled. People might call me a crazy man for running around the world, I think you’d struggle to find someone call me a weak man. 

I knew if I was successful in breaking the records, then international media would cover the expedition, and they did! I managed to get the message in front of hundreds of millions of people. That’s when I succeeded.  

About yourself

Q. Who is Kevin Carr?

A. Growing up in Devon (UK) I had access to coastal paths, internationally renowned beaches, sand dunes and two national parks on my doorstep. It’s hard not to be inspired: to develop a love for the great outdoors and with it a natural urge to explore. This desire to be immersed in the outdoors turned me into a lifelong athlete. I’m currently writing the book about the world run, in between delivering inspirational talks and developing online coaching for runners wanting to go further. I’m now 34.

Running

Q. When did you first start running and what initially inspired you to run?

A. As a kid, I’d spend my summer holidays running up and down the two mile length of Woolacombe beach. I did it most days, sometimes twice a day, always barefoot, on sand. I used to compete in life saving competitions, but swimming always came harder to me than running so I pushed my running, still it was only a few weeks out of the year.  

Age 19, I trained for a few months in hope of a place in the London Marathon. I didn’t win a place in the ballot and stopped running immediately. At that time my main passion was cycling.  

It wasn’t until my mid twenties that I realised I had a far greater talent for running than cycling. The catalyst for this was a trip to New Zealand where I cycled the south island in a week. Travelling Devon - Queenstown had taken 49 hours door to door, after a brief sleep I was desperate to move my legs. Spring time in Southern NZ is wet. There was heavy rain, but I had to move those legs. The bike would take hours to assemble, so I went for a ‘short run’. A  couple hours later I was, for the first time in my life, standing on top of a mountain. Ben Lomond stands 200m taller than any UK mountain. Running to the top entailed a vertical mile of ascent, high enough that the heavy rain had become blowing snow. After the descent, my quads were trashed. I had to walk backwards down steps for the next few days. But that was it, I was in love with running in wild places.

Q. What was your first race?

A. 2007 Coastal Trail Series - Exmoor Marathon. It was two weeks before I set off to become the first person to ever run Lands End - John O’Groats (the two points furthest apart on the UK mainland) off-road. I took 50 minutes of the course record but only placed 3rd. I was happy with that, considering the event wasn’t a goal in and of itself but just a training run.

Q. Did racing play an integral part in your running before the challenge?

A. No - the above Marathon and one 8km trail run on Dartmoor are the only races I’ve ever entered! This is something I plan on changing in 2016 once I’m fully fit again.

Photo credit: Kevin Carr.

‘Hard Way Round’ – Global Run Record

Q. To put it mildly, this is a true feat of human accomplishment. What inspired you to undertake this challenge?

A. I could, and I am, currently writing a book that answers that question. It’s not a short answer but in very simple terms, it’s the ultimate test of endurance, and an expedition of unimaginable scale. I’ve always loved the outdoors and as an ultramarathon runner I’ve always wondered what the limits are, if there are any. I thought it was possible, so I wanted to try.

Q. Tell us about the challenge - countries, continents, time and distance?

A. 26 countries. 5 continents. 621 days. 26,232.48km (Equivalent - 622 marathons).

Q. Who decides on the official around the world route, and why that route?

A. The WRA (World Runners Association) decide. There is no set ‘route’ but the route you run must fit inside set criteria: Minimum of 4 Continents run coast to coast. Start and finish in the same place/close a loop. Minimum 26,000km.

Q. You pushed all your supplies in a buggy – what were your daily supplies?

A. Without a support vehicle there is very little control over anything but your running. You can only buy food from outlets you pass en route. Shops in smaller towns/villages may only be open a few hours a day. You don’t want to take even short detours to find food shops/restaurants. A simple half mile detour across town to a food shop and back to the highway seems no big deal but on a 600+day run that would add an extra 600 miles!

You eat whatever is locally available, if you’re lucky enough to run past a store when it is open.

Dry goods. I carried lots of milk powder. I’d rehydrate it with cold water and instant coffee powder as my main source of protein and electrolytes.

Q. We heard you were attacked by bears and chased by wolves. Please elaborate.

A. I met with 26 bears in a five week period in Canada. There were 3 encounters where I genuinely feared for my life. Out of these, the worst incident involved an injured bear. Injured bears are desperate and act out of character. A passing trucker had spotted the bear hanging around the same spot for four days. He guessed it was injured and radioed through (no phone signal there) to enterprise roadhouse, they contacted the local police who came and warned me I would be passing the bear in approx 5km.

Just like they said, the bear was sat right next to the road. After yelling and screaming to warn of my approach, it ran off to the trees. Luckily I spotted that it wasn’t going further into the trees but merely to the treeline to try and stay out of sight in an attempt to flank me.  

It’s very rare for bears to attempt to stalk humans. I’m guessing the bears have no clue as to how slow we are in comparison to say a moose or deer, their main protein source.  

The bear was hunting me in the same way it would a much faster creature - attempting to hide in the treeline until it reached the shortest distance between the trees and it’s prey - me. By doing this it only had a short distance to ‘sprint’ off-course. If he had a clue how slow humans are, he could have made a beeline for me at a leisurely jog of 25mph and caught me in a few moments!

By trying to sneak along the treeline, he bought me enough time to use my Bear-Banger. This is an explosive flare-like device which generates a huge noise overhead vs a bright light. The banger misfired three times, finally firing on the fourth attempt. The noise sent the bear scarpering into the woods and I sprinted down the road.

Q. What other mishaps occurred?

A. My first day running in Australia, a car accelerating out of a junction drove straight into the side of my cart. I was running uphill at the time and as the 80kg cart was sent sailing over my head, I fell backwards but with the slope I just rolled head over heels a couple of times and came to a gradual stop, rather than stopping dead which would have caused significant injuries. The front wheel was folded, and one of the carbon fibre arms was cracked but luckily I was unscathed.  

The cart was repaired and I was running again two days later. Two weeks later, I started to develop pain all through my left leg, specifically the calf. The only way I could control the spasms was to use acupuncture needles on the trigger points. They would subside overnight but always return within the day. I feared my run was about to come to an end, and this was one of the lowest points of the whole expedition.

Later, I discovered the cart was pulling to one side. The wheel had been replaced but the whole cart was slightly out of true. For every ten steps it rolled forward, it was moving one step to the left. I had been running diagonally for 1000 miles. To put it simply, both legs had run 1000 miles east across Australia, but my left leg had also run 100 miles south - hence the problem. Once I finished running across the Nullarbor desert, I was able to swap my purpose built cart for a jogging stroller and the calf problem dissipated immediately.  

Q. What were your favourite and least favourite legs of the route?

A. Favourite parts of the run were: the Northern Lights in Sweden; espresso strength tea in shot glasses given to me in almost every mountain village I ran through in Turkey; camping under starlight on the night of a lunar eclipse in the Nullarbor desert, at the point where the desert meets the ocean. That night I listened to dingoes singing over the sound of the crashing waves below; meeting family in NZ and running through the mountains along the Kaikoura valley; the true wilderness of Northern Canada and the Canadians who went out of their way to check on my safety and offer shelter; running the Great River Road along the banks of a frozen Mississippi, and the amazing hospitality I received there. The numerous volunteer police and firehouses through the mid-west that gave me places to camp inside from the cold; scaling the 12,000ft climb over the Andes; the people who helped me in Argentina; and finally the run across Ireland and the UK -- to home!

Lowpoints: bad driving was a consistent problem in nearly every country. There seems to be a rapid increase in the number of people on their phones. They are not talking but emailing/texting or on facebook as they drive, in short looking anywhere but on the road.

People looking at me like they were disgusted by my existence. Across Europe, I had only small signs on my cart, people didn’t notice these they just saw a ‘bag man’ a homeless guy coming down the street pushing all his life in a cart. They avoided eye contact, and ignored me when I asked for directions, assuming I was going to ask for money.

Q. What were the more hostile environments and how did you cope with them?

A. I didn’t encounter any particularly hostile environments. I did however look like a homeless guy rather than a rich tourist, so I didn’t look like a mark.

Q. So you broke the previous record (set by Tom Denniss) by one day – over 621 days, that’s a small margin. Were you consistently just ahead of him most of the journey, or were you yo-yoing?

A. I was behind Tom from the get go, I left 42 lbs overweight. I had very heavily bulked up on both muscle and fat, as I knew that without a support team, I would have very little chance of maintaining weight throughout the event. Those extra pounds cost me dearly in the first six months. It was very hard going at that weight.

Q. How did you cope with the mental aspect of the run?

A. Constant vigilance on my thoughts. It’s easy to get trapped in loops of negative feelings and self doubt if you don’t control your thoughts. There is no inherent meaning in any given event. Heavy rainfall for example has NO meaning. I might attach one meaning to it such as possible blisters, cold, annoying etc. A farmer might attach a very different meaning. He may just as well be watching cash falling from the sky, whereas I see potential pain and discomfort falling from the sky. Neither pain or cash is falling. Only rain. The ‘truth of the matter’ in any given situation depends on the meaning you give it. All subsequent feelings are a result of these meanings you attach to an event, not the event itself. Once you are aware of this, you can destroy most negative feelings in a few minutes of structured questioning. Practice this often enough and it happens almost on autopilot.

Q. Were you mainly running on road or trail?

A. Mainly on roads. I had to practice road running before I set off. I’ve always run on the moors or coastal paths and rough ground. Seven months before the run, I began conditioning myself to road running.

Q. What have you been up to since finishing? Still running every day?

A. I’m a qualified personal trainer and, following this expedition, one of the most experienced stage runners of all time. I’ve been developing my coaching skills and will soon be taking on-line coaching clients. I’ve also begun writing the book and have had speaking engagements. Aside from this, I’ve been catching up with loved ones, something I really missed during the run. My own running is still on hold - I hike and occasionally run but very short distances. It took ten weeks to rebuild the lost muscle. I think it will be several more months until my body has recovered on the hormonal level.

Photo credit: Kevin Carr.

Training, Gear and Nutrition

Q. When did you start training for the challenge?

I spent approx 18 months training with the world run in-mind.

Q. What kind of daily mileage were you doing as preparation?

A. I didn’t run most days, only 3-4 days a week or 14 times a month. I spent much more time strength training than running. The strength training has two benefits. The first is unlimited endurance. Most ultra runners won’t stop running through lack of cardiovascular output but because of localised muscular fatigue then failure. This can be all but eradicated with very intense strength training concurrent to intense endurance training.

The second is injury prevention. You can’t double or triple your muscular strength without stimulating the same strength adaptations in the soft tissues around joints. Tendons and ligaments that are double their natural strength can take a real pounding. Due to this I had zero overuse problems during the run.

Most strength training was asymmetrically loaded to address muscle imbalances. These are very common among runners.

Q. What type of trainers were you using for the challenge?

A. Very minimal shoes - Inov8 F-Lite 195’s. The 195 is the weight of the shoe in grams. I only used 16 pairs of shoes in over 16000 miles, replacing them when there were holes worn in the soles.

Q. Any special tricks or bits of gear to keep your overall equipment load light enough?

A. Through the Nullarbor desert, to reduce the weight of fluids I had to carry, (200km gaps between gas stations - the only source of water) I recycled urine, saving approx 2 litres a day. This could easily be used in the MDS or any desert stage race to save 2kg’s per day.

Q. Give us an insight into your daily nutrition plan during the run?

A. There was no control over diet. Through Europe into India, I tried to boost my immune system by taking colostrum daily. Running coast to coast across India I didn’t get traveller's diarrhoea once. Across India, and for a month afterwards, I had to take antibiotics every day as an antimalarial drug. This ruined my gut health. To counteract this, I took large amounts of probiotics and kefir (fermented milk) whenever I could.

The Future

Q. What on earth is next for you, Kevin? Just relaxing for the foreseeable future, or do you have any ideas brewing?

A. I won’t be running on the road again. My main love is the wilderness and I’ve faced enough trafficked highways to last several lifetimes!

There are several runs I plan on completing in the British and European Mountains. All much shorter and far more intense than the world run.

Thanks Kevin!

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