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Not All Ultra Running Races Go The Distance

Jasmin Paris 2016 Paddy Buckley. Photo by Sarah Ridgeway

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September 30, 2016 Comments (0) All Posts, Athlete Stories

Runner To Attempt 20,000-Mile Challenge Of A Lifetime

jim plunkett-cole

Jim Plunkett-Cole is preparing for a 20,000-mile challenge that is being dubbed ‘the longest run attempted in human history.’ On October 1, 2016, the 47-year-old Briton will set out to turn a fictional film into reality when by replicating the run of Forrest Gump. To do so he will need to zig-zag his way across the USA, running between 16 miles and marathon distance every day for more than three years. He will do so in inov-8 running shoes. Along the way he aims to help fight childhood obesity by encouraging more kids to get active. We caught up with Jim prior to the start of his epic challenge and asked him a few questions.

1 It’s nearly time for the big off. How are you feeling?

I can’t wait to start. I’ve had a few niggles in the build-up (lower back / glute area) and these really prey on your mind. ‘JimGump‘ is such a huge challenge, with months and hours of planning, and much expense, so any niggles (which may develop into something serious) are a concern. But I’ve developed some strategies to take the pressure of me mentally and now I just want to get started. The first day is a big one – 30 miles from the USS Alabama Battleship in Mobile, Alabama (now a museum) to Bayou La Batre (the fishing village where the character Bubba is from). It will be run in the heat and humidity of Alabama, so I am a little nervous.

2 Given that you have run at least 10km every day since January 2013, we’re guessing you didn’t taper in the build-up?

I’ve run a minimum 10km every day in the build-up and recently broke through the 10,000-mile point. Another reason for not tapering was that I was worried that if I stopped I might have got injured. I’ve seen a number of people get injured when they finish running streaks and obviously, for me, injuries need to be avoided at all costs. So whilst I’ll be tired even when I start the challenge, I would rather be tired than injured.

Jim Plunkett-Cole inov-8 blog (4)

Jim in training before he started his epic USA adventure

3 To complete your challenge you will need to run between 16 miles and marathon distance every day for over 3 years. Do such numbers and the scale of what you are undertaking scare you?

The daily numbers don’t scare me actually. I’ve run an average of over 7 miles a day for well over 1,300 days now – while working full-time. I figure that if I’m not working then I can (slowly) cover some pretty serious distance. The secret is to go slowly. There will be no racing like I have over the last few years (I managed a sub-3 hour marathon at London this year despite no tapering). Another reason for not being scared is that I’m intrigued. My running over the last years has often been over similar daily routes. There’s been little new territory and trails. In the States every single step will be new ground. This will give me an incredibly huge psychological boost which I hope will take my mind away from the toil.

4 What are you going to miss most about being away from home for so long?

My dog and my cats. My daughter. I have a few good friends, but they are providing me with support remotely and looking after my UK interests (my house and business etc), so I’ll not miss them. I don’t really ‘do’ people anyway (Asperger Syndrome means I struggle socially) so missing them is unlikely (apart from my daughter maybe… but she’ll come out to see me if all goes well). Three years of daily running is such a ridiculously long time anyway that, in my mind, I can’t really look beyond the first few weeks.

If it does transpire that I am running  for the full duration, well I will certainly miss my home. My home is a little railway cottage in the beautiful Somerset countryside. It’s really quiet and I don’t have to engage with people too much. I’m in my ‘comfort zone’ here, working at home, putting the woodburners on in winter (I don’t have central heating) and enjoying my own company. In the States, all of this is going to change. I will be a long way from my comfort zone both mentally and geographically. It’s likely that I’ll have to engage with many people, many strangers, and deal with it with my limited people skills. This will be as big a test as the run itself, I feel.

jim plunkett-cole to attempt 20,000 mile run challenge

New wheels: Picking up the support vehicle!


5 Your route – do you have every day planned out for a whole three years or will you devise it as you go along?

The route in the film is very vague. They plot his first two years on a map for the TV coverage after he’s run for two years. But how would they have known? I guess they could of asked him, but in the film he doesn’t even stop to talk anyone (he keeps running) so I can’t imagine they would of known the route. We just know some of the places that he certainly visited along the way. So I’m going to take poetic licence with the route and visit cool places and cities, sights and events along the way.

As I’m also doing school visits to encourage more kids to be active, I’ll be running to schools in different places that may be off the beaten track. The first few months have been planned very roughly. Mobile to New Orleans, then through Louisiana, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California to Santa Monica.

6 What will you do if you get sick and feel unable to run on one of the days?

I’m giving myself multiple chances of stopping and continuing in the event of an injury early on in the challenge (the first 4 months or so). I would then allow myself to make up the difference by doing extra when I’m able to continue. I’m also allowing myself days where I will walk and run/walk, particularly if I’m faced by an injury which I can walk through (but not run through). I’ve managed to avoid injury and illness for 1,350 days now (apart from a bout of norovirus last year which I managed to get through somehow). Running each day seems to afford quite good immunity and I’ve not had anything like the bugs I used to get before 2013.

7 Have you sought ultra running advice ahead of your trip and what are your 3 favourite tips that you will use?

None at all I’m afraid. I don’t really regard myself as an ultra runner. I don’t really like long runs. They hurt. I did La Plagne ultra not long ago and it nearly killed me. It was really hard. No rest in the build up and then suddenly a 41-mile mountain run. I really suffered. I’m not very good with people. I’m certainly not very good at asking people for things and that includes advice and help. So, no, I haven’t sought any advice. I am open to advice though, I just can’t ask for it. So if there are any experienced ultra runners out there who want to give me some advice, well I’ll take it! My 3 personal tips for running long distances, based on my own limited experience of long runs (I’ve done about six ultras only), are:

i. Run slowly
ii. Eat every couple of miles
iii. Make sure you’ve got the right kit for the conditions and terrain
Please note that each of these tips is based on mistakes I’ve made in the past!

8 Nutrition – how many calories do you expect you’ll need to be putting back in and what will you eat to do so?

I’m banking on about 3,000 to 3,500 calories per day. I have quite a small engine compared to many (I weigh 10 stone), and tend to burn less than most as far as I can tell. So about 3,000 calories per day. Once I start I hope my nutrition settles into a pattern. I’ll be monitoring my weight and listening to my body. If I need to take on more then I will.

jim plunkett-cole to attempt 20,000 mile run challenge

Jim’s weapons of choice: The Roadclaw 275 (left) and the TrailTalon 275 (right)


9 What shoes will you be running in and why?

Well inov-8 have kindly let me try a range of their shoes for varying terrains over the last six months or so. I’m expecting a lot of hot road running to contend with and so I’ll be wearing the Roadclaw 275, which has lots of cushioning to protect my knees from the 40,000 or so steps every day. I also like the TrailTalon 275. They are light and comfortable for daily activity and give good protection and cushioning. They run well on the trail and the road.

10 And finally, will you aim to grow an ultra running beard, Forrest Gump style?

Ummmm….No! This run isn’t about Forrest Gump. It’s about using his fictional run to inspire children to be active every day as is their design (through Talk & Run visits to elementary schools along the way). Encouraging them to be active each day as is your (hunter-gatherer) design and my (hunter-gatherer) design. I don’t actually want to be Forrest Gump.

I just want to use the run to engage and inspire our young people. Saying that, however, the running itself, the actual process of the running itself each day, I am doing that for me and my curiousity. I’ll be doing that in my own way as much as I possibly can. I’ll be having some fun with the film for sure. I’d be silly not too, but its not my intention to become Forrest Gump.

* Jim is relying on crowd fund donations to keep his running dream alive. Visit PledgeSports to donate. Follow Jim’s progress throughout via his Facebook page. Also check out this article own The Washington Post.

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