Kevin Carr is the fastest person to have run around the world. In April, he completed a 621-day unsupported circumnavigation of the globe, knocking 24 hours off the previous record. Kevin ran 16,300 miles through 26 countries in an epic adventure that hit the international headlines and changed his life. Here are Kevin’s top-10 tips for running around the world and all self-sufficient stage running. Some may also prove helpful for those tackling supported runs and ultra marathons in general.
1. Know how to take the piss out of yourself (literally take it with you in a bottle)
Soaking yourself in urine isn’t my idea of fun but when running solo across a desert I used this water-recycling method every day to great effect. Over the course of three-and-a-half weeks I cut my water usage by 50kg – 50 litres. I’ve read of many survival strategies to recycle urine -all take a lot of time and energy to produce clean drinking water. The thing is, for a fluid to cool you down it only has to be on your skin. I cut out the purifying stage by cutting out the drinking stage.
Using a spray bottle, I covered my torso and legs with 2 litres of urine throughout each day. This reduced my water needs from 10 litres a day to just 8 litres. This simple urine recycling technique could be used to great effect in most stage runs/races, especially desert ones. Reducing your pack weight by 2-3kg everyday would be a serious advantage if you’re looking to compete, not just complete, a desert stage run. It won’t win you any friends though!
2. Learn how to make yourself a body bag
To make sure you don’t end up being placed in a body bag you need to know how vapour barriers work and how to make one quickly. Most of the time they would be dead weight in your pack/cart so you won’t want to carry one ‘just in case’ but when you need one, you really need one. Down sleeping bags are essential when trying to go light but to when extreme winter camping (for example throughout Minnesota I was camping in temperatures -22C, with wind chill this dropped to -31C) insensible sweat leaves your body and condenses into liquid before it has even left your sleeping bag. As soon as down insulation becomes damp it becomes next to useless, rapidly losing its thermal properties.
If you camp without a vapour barrier in these temperatures over successive nights, it’ll only take 2-3 days before your winter sleeping bag is less effective than a summer bag. You could then quite realistically freeze to death in your sleep. You can easily modify a tarp, poncho, plastic based shower curtain/tablecloth or heavy-duty rubbish bags to create a fully waterproof sleeping bag liner, using little more than duct tape and a few minutes of effort. Sleeping inside a vapour barrier is not pleasant – you will be damp and soaked in your own sweat -but you will be warm and able to sleep safely. Any clothes or food you don’t want to get wet or frozen solid in the morning can be left in-between the vapour barrier and your sleeping bag.
3. Absolute Transparency – let people ‘catch you out’
For peace of mind, use live tracking. You don’t want to go to all this effort and then have people hanging question marks on your expedition’s validity. My position throughout the run around the world was logged live every 10-20 minutes whilst moving. My exact position, bearing and speed were logged by an independent third party via a satellite-tracking device. I never had access to the data, but it was shared live on my website. There was at most, a half-hour lag on my whereabouts throughout the whole 621-day run.
Live tracking means people can turn up unannounced and ‘catch you out’ -and in my case many people did just that! They came out on the road and found me running, not walking, not on a cycle or a donkey or any other feasible way of cheating!
4. Develop your poker face
As a runner you will be attacked by packs of dogs. Fact. The quickest way out of the situation is your ‘poker face’ – look the alpha dog square in the eyes, then scream with such ferocity that anyone within a half-mile radius would feel intimidated. While you’re doing this visualize gouging out his eyes or biting through his windpipe – it’s not pleasant, that’s the point. If you’re imagining or visualizing yourself being maimed or killed they will smell your fear – literally the hormones your body releases in a terror response will be highly visible to any canine predator. Look at the odds, you simply don’t have ‘the hand’ to win – this is bluffing at its best, a serious poker face, both on the outside and inside. Through weeks of being attacked multiple times a day, this method never failed me.
To be clear, I’m a dog lover; dogs make the best training partners and I’ve literally logged thousands of training miles with well-trained dogs. Not all dogs are well trained though. Running around the world you will run through regions that have entirely different attitudes towards dogs. In some countries you’ll encounter packs (groups of 6-25, the average being around 8 -12) of non-domesticated semi-wild dogs on the outskirts of nearly every village and town. The dogs have to live through harsh winters feeding themselves by scavenging through bins. They’ll have to fight other packs of dogs away from their territory (food source) – only the strongest survive on the streets.
To really test your ‘poker face’ try the same thing on a 600 lb black bear standing just yards away from your tent! It took me approximately 15 minutes of screaming at a bear -while I stood there naked, can of pepper spray in one hand -trying to convince him that I was the ‘dominant male’ in the situation. It was something I had a very difficult time convincing myself of!
5. Build ‘unstoppable’ endurance -run less!
Prior to running around the world I spent more than twice as much time in the gym strength training then I did running. The results speak for themselves – I didn’t develop a single ‘overuse’ injury while running 50km plus most days for over 20 months straight! As Ultra marathon runners we don’t slow down or stop because of a lack of oxygenated blood reaching the muscles (i.e not enough cardiovascular fitness)… we slow because the muscles are fatigued and cannot cope with the workload. If you can already ‘run’ (7.5 miles per hour plus) for 20 miles then you can ‘jog’ (5-7.5mph) almost any distance – the limiting factors being fuelling, hydration and the biggest of all -raw strength.
The best training plan for a stage runner is a standard marathon training plan combined with a goal of at least doubling, if not tripling, your natural strength. For example, the first time you go to the gym you may be able to deadlift ⅔ of bodyweight. If you then regularly strength train for 6-9 months you should reach the stage where you can lift twice bodyweight. You’re now approximately three times stronger than your ‘natural’ or non-strength-trained self. This will reward you with the fitness and speed of a marathon runner, but your muscles are three times stronger! Going at a modest pace (your ultra-marathon pace) your muscle endurance will go through the roof and you will be able to continue for much longer.
6. A map in the hand is worth more than three on the internet!
It would be impractical and almost impossible to carry paper maps for an expedition of this scale. The simplest way is to use a smartphone for mapping. However many apps require a data connection to work and thus this could become incredibly expensive to use. It’s also impractical in much of the world where signal outside of towns is non-existent.
You can use a stand-alone handheld GPS device and try to purchase maps for all areas; though again this will be very expensive and not all regions are mapped. I used Nokia Maps, now known as Here Maps, which is available on all Nokia-Windows phones. For every country (except Belarus) I ran across, I always had maps of the whole country in my pocket -regardless of phone network/data availability.
You might be able to save ‘sections/tiles’ of maps for offline use if you’re using apps but you’re scuppered as soon as you hit a blocked road or missing bridge and need to plan your detour without any data connection!
7. Carry powdered milk
Powdered milk is a nutritious staple and is stable across all temperatures. It won’t freeze in the winter or go rancid in the heat. Milk powder provides electrolytes, easily absorbed calories and much needed protein at a very low weight penalty. In hot climates, I made cold coffee using milk powder, instant coffee powder and water purified from streams/rivers. When winter camping, I drank litres of hot chocolate each evening -prepared with hot water, cocoa and milk powder.
8. Practice ‘Kevin Carr style’ stealth camping
Stealth camping #1: The act of sleeping somewhere without anyone knowing you’re there (this includes leaving no trace). This is a great way to save tens of thousands of £/$ that you’d otherwise waste on hotels. If self-supported, you’ll simply end up having to camp at the side of the road -even with the deepest pockets in the world, hotels simply aren’t conveniently spaced out at 45km-60km intervals! Trust me though, it takes a lot of nights spent under canvas to become relaxed enough camping to actually get some sleep.
Stealth camping #2: Where you’re hiding and can’t give away your whereabouts (because most countries have made it illegal for a pedestrian to rest) makes it all together much less likely that you’ll sleep! The only way to get used to this is to practice at home before you leave.
9. Give a stranger £5
You’re going to need to develop a thick skin to complete a world run -and I’m not referring to the soles of your feet. Think how would you react to seeing a foreigner running down the high street of your town, pushing his belongings in bags inside a trolley/cart obviously unkempt/sleeping rough with a ‘thousand mile stare’ in his eyes. Would you honestly think ‘hey that guy has/is probably running thousands of miles hence the crazy-somewhere-else-stare?’ Or, much more likely, would you think it was a drug addict living homeless on the streets? From experience I can tell you that in most ‘advanced countries’ the type where city people are ‘fashion conscience’ will think the latter! The quickest way to inoculate yourself against this fear ‘rejection’ is exposure therapy.
Intentionally do something in front of a crowd that’ll get you rejected. Now -and this is important -do not run away. Instead, stay there until you realize that the ground has not swallowed you up and you aren’t dead! It might sound overly dramatic, but the fear of rejection is highly entwined with the fear of death -hence why most people dread public speaking.
Simply put in caveman times -if you were rejected by a group that would be your tribe disapproving of you. If they disapproved strongly enough you’d find yourself rejected/kicked out of the tribe, and on your own you simply wouldn’t survive. So when strangers look at you in a disparaging way and you feel dreadful, that’s because your brain associates this rejection with imminent death.
A great option is to walk up to people and instead of asking for money, try to give them £5. Just say ‘excuse me and the words… five pounds’. You will find that 99% of people will think you’re begging and won’t stop; they will simply look at you in disgust. Keep going until you find someone kind enough to stop; when they do, thank them and hand them the £5 and say “it’s for them to give to any charity they choose.” Then smile and walk off. By doing this you’ll have gained more confidence with that £5 than thousands of pounds of any therapy would buy.
10. Always preface the word ‘can’ with ‘how’
You’re going to come up against numerous unexpected difficulties that will stop you in your tracks. Some obstacles (physical, bureaucratic/red tape, financial, language etc.) seem insurmountable at first. In times like these simply asking yourself ‘How can I’ rather than ‘Can I’ will make a world of difference (pun intended!)
- Follow Kevin on Twitter
- Kevin is currently penning a book which will be titled: Mountain Marathon Man -(The Fastest Man Around The World). Release date likely to be later spring, 2016. No need to wait -click here to find out how you will be able to download the first chapter months before release.
- Kevin wore 16 pairs of inov-8 shoes during his record-breaking world run, including ROCLITE, RACE ULTRA and F-LITE.