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March 30, 2016 Comments (4) All Posts, Athlete Stories

Meet The Real Life Forrest Gump Ultrarunner

Jim Plunkett-Cole inov-8 blog (4)

So where do I start in explaining how I got here? How do I find myself in a situation whereby I’m planning to go the United States in order to try and replicate Forrest Gump’s epic fictional run as closely as possible and in its entirety?

The statistics are mind-boggling. I will need to run between 16 miles to a marathon distance every day for 3 years, 2 months, 14 days and 16 hours. That equates to a total of around 20,000 miles of zig-zagging across the US over a period of 1,172 days. Basically I’m hoping to turn the fictional film (in which Forrest is shown running for seven-and-a-half minutes) into a practical reality!

But again you ask, how the hell did I get here? To explain how ‘Jim Gump’ came about means going back to the summer of 2012 and, more specifically, the London Olympics.

I was sitting on the sofa watching the athletes on TV and feeling inspired, as many of us were. I thought, ‘What can I do?’ I came up with the idea of trying to run at least 10k a day outdoors for the whole of the following year (2013). Joined by my friend, Neil Taylor, and also my dog, Alf, we all ran at least 10k every day, finishing the year with the 46-mile Green Man Trail Ultramarathon around Bristol (England) on New Year’s Eve 2013.

It turned out to be one of the most amazing years of my life; despite it being marred somewhat by the sad loss of my mother to bone marrow cancer. I was very close to my mother, who was living with me at the time, and running certainly helped get me through this tough period.

Throughout the year, rather than getting slower, my times actually improved and I found myself running faster than I had run for many years. I also felt much better mentally. Still feeling strong at the end of 2013, I decided to continue into 2014 by still running 10k a day minimum. I also set up a Facebook challenge initiative, called ‘Kx365’ in a bid to get others active every day throughout the whole of 2014 (this entailed people doing 1k a day, be that either running, swimming or cycling, preferably outdoors). I wanted others to benefit both mentally and physically in the same ways that I had from my 2013 challenge. Participants engaged with one-another through the Facebook group page, with 30 of the 100 starters completing the challenge. I myself was a 2014 Kx365 participant, running at least 10k every day for the second successive year and again finishing with the Green Man Trail Ultramarathon.

The real challenge: Finding a swimming pool open on Christmas Day!

During the autumn of 2014, I began to think about a challenge for 2015. It was then that I first thought about Forrest Gump’s run. I started thinking, ‘How many days did Forrest run for in the film?’ and, ‘Could I run 10k a day for the same amount of days as Forrest?’ I searched the internet and discovered that Forrest’s fictional run was 1,172 days in length. I calculated that my 1172nd consecutive day of running would, potentially, be March 17th 2016.

Obviously at that time I still had a long way to go to reach 1,172 days but I knew it was the type of challenge that would motivate me throughout 2015. To add an extra dimension, I came up with the idea of not only running a minimum of 10k but also swimming 750m and cycling 20k every day. And so 2015’s challenge was born – a triathlon a day, every day for 2015. 365 swims, 365 cycles and 365 runs!

Many people were surprised that I decided to do more activity every day, rather than less. However, the triathlon challenge helped freshen things up mentally for me and gave me renewed focus. By the end of 2015 I had done it, completing a ‘broken’ triathlon every day (broken in the sense that I did the three at different times of the day, so as to accommodate my work). It calculated to at least 2 hours and 15 minutes of being active every day for a year (not including preparation time).

I overcame bike falls and punctures, some truly awful cycling conditions and then the real challenge… finding a swimming pool that was open on Christmas Day! I finished my triathlon year with a 20k cycle at midnight on New Year’s Eve followed by the Green Man Ultra at 6am in the morning, interspersed with a 750m swim in the pool at Keynsham Leisure Centre, which is handily positioned close to the ultra route.

Jim Plunkett-Cole real-life Forrest Gump inov-8 blog

A triathlon a day for 365 consecutive days during 2015.

On New Year’s Day, 2016, I reverted back to ‘at least 10k of running a day.’ The Forrest Gump target of 1,172 days was now firmly in my sights; just a few more months of running and I would achieve it. And so it happened, on Thursday March 17th I reached the milestone. So have I now stopped? No chance… the challenge is only really getting started!

Want to run for 1,172 consecutive days like Forrest Gump?

I’m now into my fourth year of running at least 10k every day and this year I’ve been joined by around 600 participants on the Kx365 challenge. I wish them all the very best of luck! People often ask me how I ‘keep it interesting?’ Here’s my top tips:

* Enjoy ‘creative space’ – use the time on the run to solve work or personal problems, think about life in general and come up with new challenges for yourself. I’ve found running an incredibly creative place. Many of my Facebook posts, as well as everything within this blog, are ‘written’ whilst I’m out running.

* Do as many different routes as possible, across all terrain. Different weather conditions also make it interesting… but these tend to be provided for you!

* Go off-road as much as you can – it’s far more interesting than road (and it’s much kinder to the body).

Run with a dog.

* Get out at night with a headtorch.

* Run with as many other people as you can, as often as you can. Races are good for this (but don’t race too often as it puts immense pressure on the body and makes the next day so much harder).

* Do quirky runs – amongst other things, I ran around the Glastonbury music festival site when The Rolling Stones were playing there in 2013.

* Don’t try and do a triathlon every day if you work! It’s really tough to fit it all in.

Jim Plunkett-Cole real-life Forrest Gump inov-8 blog (2)

‘I want to see if I can do Forrest’s run; experience the things he would of experienced and see the sights he would have seen had he done it for real.’

Anyway, I digress, back to Jim Gump! During the autumn of 2015 I started to think about what I would do once I had achieved the 1,172 consecutive days of running. By that time I’d been ‘on challenge’ for almost three years and if it was one thing I’d learnt, it was to always have something planned.

When researching the number of days Forrest Gump had run for, I came across an excellent article by Lauren Hansen in The Week. Lauren asked if Forrest’s fictional run was actually possible to survive, looking at as much evidence as possible in order to reconstruct the run and answer this fundamental question. It’s a great article and made me think about it would be an interesting challenge for someone like myself to take on. I wanted to see if I could do Forrest’s run; experience the things he would of experienced and see the sights he would have seen had he done it for real.

When I tell people about my plans for this new Forrest challenge, the first thing they often say is, ‘Hasn’t someone done it before?’ I’ve searched the internet and while it came up with many stories of ‘Real Life Forrest Gump’ runners undertaking extraordinary feats, I couldn’t find any evidence of anyone actually trying to replicate Forrest’s run for real and in its entirety.

Seven-and-a-half minutes of film and blurred map…

Considering it seems such an obvious thing to do, it begs the question, ‘Why hasn’t someone done it before?’ I guess it comes down to two things: The physical strain of running such a distance and the ridiculous time commitment required to complete it. However, there may also be an important third reason… Forrest’s run is a work of fiction and that the actual film is quite vague as to the specific details. Furthermore, the book upon which the film is based (Forrest Gump is a 1986 novel by Winston Groom) doesn’t actually feature the run. The run sequence was a new creation by the film company (Paramount Pictures). All we have to go off is the seven-and-a-half minutes in the film, which includes how long he ran for and a blurred map that features behind a TV newsreader. And that only covers his first two years… after that it gets even more vague!

Perhaps the first thing to explain (and this is likely to be one of the main barriers for most people in undertaking such a challenge) is that I have very few commitments that prevent me from going to the US for more than three years. Aside from the physical and mental challenge, the first obstacle that anyone faces is personal commitments. I have no partner. My only commitments are a dog, two cats, a mortgage and my self-employed business. So those won’t stop me taking to the Forrest Gump start line!

Jim Plunkett-Cole real-life Forrest Gump inov-8 blog (5)

The drying room! Kit: Race Ultra 270, Terraclaw 220.

The next barrier is the physical one – 1,172 days of continuous running at a minimum of 16 miles a day. It’s a big ask. There are plenty of runners who have done a marathon-a-day for a year, and Ben Smith has added 36 more daily marathons on to his current marathon-a-day challenge to make it 401 marathons, but few seem to have gone beyond that number of days when combined with a reasonably long distance daily mileage. Certainly not for more than 3 years anyway! I guess that the main reason for this is that, whilst a year is a reasonably comprehensible time to get one’s head around, more than trebling that physical daily commitment is slightly harder to comprehend.

My challenge is not to complete the distance in as shorter timeframe as possible… my challenge is to repeat the Forrest Gump run distance AND timeframe for that distance, and thus bring this epic fictional run to life. However, the challenge does give me the flexibility to undertake challenges within the overall challenge, and if it went really well then I may try and do the marathon a day distance for as long as I can.

Inspiring children into healthy lifestyles

As well as the running each day, my plan is to also do as many ‘Talk & Run’ sessions at elementary schools along the way as possible. ‘What’s a Talk & Run session?’ I hear you ask. Well, through my involvement in the Kx365 I saw the different benefits people gained and their motivations for being active every day. One of the most important of these for people was to assist in weight loss. Although not a benefit/motivation for me personally, I found the weight loss angle an interesting one to research further. What I discovered were many alarming statistics.

* The average American man is now 30 pounds heavier, on average, than in the 1960s, and the average 11 year old boy is 19 pounds heavier.

* 69% of American adults are now either overweight or obese (34% are overweight and 35% are obese).

* In the early 1970s, just 15% of American adults were obese.

* Obesity rates amongst adults have more than doubled since the 1970s.

* 32% of American children are now either overweight or obese (15% are overweight and 17% are obese).

* In the early 1970s, just 5% of American children were obese.

* Obesity rates amongst children have more than trebled since the 1970s.

* Overall weight/obesity rates amongst children have doubled since the 1970s.

At the same time, the statistics on physical (in) activity are equally glum:

* More than 80% of adults do not meet the guidelines for both aerobic and muscle-strengthening activities, and more than 80% of adolescents do not do enough aerobic physical activity to meet the guidelines for youth.

* Children now spend more than seven and a half hours a day in front of a screen (e.g. TV, videogames, computer).

Jim Plunkett-Cole real-life Forrest Gump inov-8 blog (3)

‘I hope to hold hundreds of ‘Talk & Run’ visits to schools along the way, inspiring tens if not hundreds of thousands of children into healthy lifestyles.’

The Kx365 initiative took on a new role to help tackle these statistics, and while primarily aimed at adults, some of the participants were also involving their children in their daily active exploits. Then in November 2015, a friend whom I often share a glass of wine with, a teacher at a local primary school, invited me into the school to talk to the children about my challenges and to do a short run around the playground with them. The children were amazing and seemed wholly inspired, as was I! What’s followed has been lots of visits to various schools.

And so the upcoming Jim Gump has become a 20,000-mile educational run-challenge adventure across America to tackle sedentary lifestyles and the global obesity epidemic in children and adults. I hope to hold hundreds of ‘Talk & Run’ visits to schools along the way, inspiring tens if not hundreds of thousands of children into healthy lifestyles.

I don’t fear the run itself. I fear people.

So, what are my biggest fears about the Jim Gump challenge? This may come as a small surprise, but it isn’t actually the run itself. I don’t fear the run for the simple reason that I really don’t think it’s possible for me to do it! Every day achieved will be a bonus. I already know what it’s like to run an at least 10k a day for 1,172 days so I know how hard it is to run every day, albeit for a much lesser distance (an average of 7.4 miles per day). There are obviously many things that could go wrong, be that a fall, an injury, illness or food poisoning, but what I’ve learnt from these past few years is that you can’t afford to worry. I know I have to take each day as it comes, start with low expectations and be grateful for all I achieve.

So what do I fear? I fear ‘people.’ I have Asperger Syndrome. This means I have an inherent fear of strangers (amongst a few other quirks of the disorder). It’s obviously highly likely that the Jim Gump project will involve meeting with many strangers… So this will certainly be a challenge.

I aim to start from Mobile, Alabama, on October 1st this year and finish on December 17th, 2019, at Monument Valley, Utah. There is much to plan between now and October 1st so I have my work cut out but these are also exciting times. And why, if you’re wondering, am I starting on October 1st in Alabama? Easy. Because that’s what Forrest Gump did.

Related links: Top-10 Tips On Running Around The World

4 Responses to Meet The Real Life Forrest Gump Ultrarunner

  1.' VIcky Young says:

    Awesome – go Jim Gump! 🙂

  2.' Nick Ford says:

    One of my favourite films. Best of luck in your endeavour. I’ll come and run the last marathon in Monument Valley with you.

  3.' Lisa Martin says:

    What an amazing endeavour! My husband and I were out in Monument Valley in February and there’s a handy signpost on the roadside telling you where to stop! 🙂 Best of luck Jim. The real question is though, are you going to grow the beard?!

  4.' Beverley Smith says:

    The 401 Challenge send their best wishes to you.

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