For no particular reason, Forrest Gump decides to go on a run. He steps off his farm porch and runs to the end of the road, to the end of town, across Greenbow County and over the great state of Alabama. Pitter-pattering his way from one side of America to the other in a pair of classic white Nike trainers and matching red cap, he stops only to sleep. When his feet meet the ocean he turns back, and all because he just felt like running.
Three years, two months, 14 days and 16 hours pass as Tom Hanks’ character develops a scraggy beard and shaggy mop of hair. But in a movie where Gump also teaches Elvis how to dance, invests in Apple computers and receives the Medal of Honor, his 30,000 kilometre jog isn’t that unrealistic. Just ask Pat Farmer - he’s our living proof.
The legendary ultra-marathon specialist and ambassador for this month’s City2Surf fun run in Sydney has dedicated over 20 years of his life to taking on unimaginable distances and raising money for charity. The last time MH caught up with the 54-year-old was five years ago after he ran from the North to South Pole.
Covering 21,000 km in little under a year, Farmer completed the equivalent of two marathons every day. He raised $100 million for the International Red Cross, battled against volatile snow conditions and even managed to remain expertly clean-shaven - it was enough to leave Gump red-faced.
Since then, the former MP has continued to give his pedometer hell by running the length of Vietnam, scooting from Lebanon to Jordan and making his way through India. He’s proved that, with the right motivation, a man can push himself beyond predisposed limits.
“Running gives you a sense of freedom and empowerment that you truly understand when you’re alone with your thoughts” Farmer.
A 1500km Middle East Peace Run from Lebanon to Jordan in 2014 was forged with the ambition of fostering peace in a divided region. The concept was a huge success and although ending war was never a realistic aim – there were small victories. Ensuring a Jordanian bloke named Joseph received a new wheelchair with the help of doctors in neighboring Israel was a lasting memory for Farmer, who experienced poverty on a whole new scale.
But if the mental burden of saving the world wasn’t enough, the physical demands of a torturous sun weighted the burden. Scorching heat and grueling storms whipped sand into Farmer’s face like a tornado.
“A dry heat is a little easier to run through than a humid one because you feel like you’re sucking in more oxygen, but then you have to deal with things like sunburn,” says Farmer.
Jousting with the sun when you’re running into the wind for more than eight hours isn’t the same as a power hour of sunbathing at Byron Bay. Beyond lashes of 50+ sunscreen, Farmer wrapped a scarf from head to neck (pink on this occasion). When the wind picked up he would leave nothing but a small gap to see through and a breathing hole, although this was more often filled with dust than air. Fortunately if there is anything Forrest Gump taught us, it’s that miracles happen everyday.
“There was one stage where I was hoping and praying for rain because the heat was so strong,” says Farmer.
“There wasn’t a cloud in the sky but from nowhere we had a sudden downpour and it flooded the area. Because everything was made on sand the roads were literally washed away and it was an amazing sight.
“All the locals couldn’t believe anyone would run in the rain but it’s a pretty normal for us Australians.”
The heavens opened and answered Farmer’s calls with the gift of water. But perhaps if he'd prayed a little harder it would have rained something a little sweeter.
“When I’m faced with those type of conditions all I crave is some coconut,” says Farmer.
Why? Keeping mentally and physically focused helps strengthen Farmer’s endurance over a long run and coconut water, he says, provides a wealth of vitamins and micronutrients that are far more natural than the ones found in a luminous blue bottle of Gatorade.
“It’s a great natural electrolyte and provides you with calcium, magnesium, sodium and potassium, all in it’s natural form.”
In over two decades of competitive running Farmer has faced everything in terms of the elements and terrain that Mother Nature can throw at him. However in India, the greatest challenge came from something unexpected. Throughout the hustle and bustle of teeming cities, swarms of people flocked to the running man from Australia. Farmer was engulfed by great hordes of the country's 1.2 billion people, which saw him lose momentum as overcrowding stopped him in his tracks.
.“There were 1000’s of people running with me at different points and I was inundated by people, traffic and crowds.” says Farmer.
“So, I got company. And after that I got more company. And then, even more people joined in. Somebody later told me it gave people hope” Forrest Gump
Maintaining a constant pace is a key tip from the double world record holder, who encourages anyone taking on the City2Surf to apply tunnel vision in pursuit of times and targets. You’re unlikely to be surrounded by groups of Indians looking for inspiration and guidance in life, but ignoring distractions from fellow competitors and your mum’s homemade ‘You Can Do It’ sign will aid a successful run.
“Be consistent rather than sporadic with running and training,” says Farmer.
“It’s very easy to get carried away and to run faster than you're comfortable with. Focus on your time and target and stick to it, it’s as simple as that.”
Over 80,000 participants will line up on the start grid at Hyde Park on Sunday August 14. To ensure your place in the world’s largest fun run register at city2surf.com.au.
Can't make it to Sydney this year? Sign up to a fun run in your local city:
Melbourne: Sunday Age City2Sea on Sunday November 20, 2016
Canberra: The Canberra Times Fun Run on Sunday September 4, 2016