In April 2015, British ultra runner Kevin Carr became the fastest person to run a solo loop of the world. His epic 621-day adventure saw him run 16,300 miles through 26 countries… all in inov-8 running shoes. Remaining entirely self-sufficient throughout, Kevin navigated his way across four continents in the style of challenge known by runners in the UK as a mountain marathon. During his round-the-world record run Kevin faced temperature extremes of -31C to 55C, was twice hit by cars, stalked by bears and fought off wild dogs.
And it is this encounter with wild dogs in Romania that ultra runner Kevin writes about in this exclusive excerpt from his new book MOUNTAIN MARATHON MAN, details of which are included below.
Mad Dogs And The English Runner. Winter 2013, Romania
He’s paused but not backed down – a stalemate. It’s a good start, but this guarantees neither my passage nor my life. I need to force him to retreat. There are fifteen of them altogether, but everything comes down to what I can make this alpha male believe – the others are probably subservient and they won’t act unless the alpha is sure of the outcome. I need to transmit an aura of absolute commitment to his demise – convince him there’s a lust for his flesh stirring in my veins.
I’m trying to process two pictures at once: there’s the scene in front of me – the dogs. They surround me, snarling, but come no closer, held in this impasse by an invisible fence. This scene however is becoming less and less important – it’s fading around the edges, the colour draining from it, because the second image is one I’m creating in my mind: I visualise it again and again, increasing the intensity of the colours, sounds and smells each time.
To be believable, I need to fool not the dog, but myself. He can smell what I believe to be true. I need to truly believe that if he takes a single step closer, or if I pursue him, that I will tear him to pieces.
Over and over I play this movie in my head: first his jaws clamp down hard on my clenched fist, his eighty or ninety pound frame far lighter than mine, but once moving at thirty miles per hour, his momentum would lift my feet from the ground as if tackling a rag doll. So, I don’t resist this, but jump with him, landing on top of him as we hit the floor. I envisage myself pushing my fist further into his jaws, reckoning that one bite on bone is far better than many on flesh. I then lunge at him and bite through his windpipe, and the bravado of his pack drains as swiftly as his blood.
All I can see of the ‘real world’ is contained within a narrow tunnel: there’s nothing but his eyes, now showing in black and white. Surrounding this tunnel are my hyper-vivid images of scarlet-stained snow, and I can almost feel the texture of fur and blood on my tongue, hairs sticking to the roof of my mouth. There’s a blood-buzz igniting in my mind, and my heart beats faster still – but the nervous energy in my legs no longer feels like fear, it’s transmuting into a heady excitement.
I can feel the ‘kill’ flooding through my veins as if some long-forgotten part of our ancestral wiring has stirred. The greater part of me is relishing the thought of separating his spirit from his flesh, anticipating the warm taste of his blood. Instinctively I know that drinking it will leave me feeling instantly stronger.
It’s a struggle to keep myself from charging him in this frenzied state. I wrestle with my energy, managing to direct all of it into a throat-searing scream, as I feel my words pierce his resolve.
“Back down or I’ll f****** kill you where you stand!”
I’ve never heard any man or creature emit a cry so loud.
The next few hours running are dramatically uneventful, but odd nonetheless. Alone with my thoughts, I’m well aware I’ve long since cut ties with ‘normal.’ I exist outside of society, always an outsider just passing through. At night I sleep rough, hiding in my tent, trespassing on scrubland between settlements. When I reach towns – pushing all my belongings in my cart – most people simply avoid eye contact. Convinced I’m a tramp, they fear I’ll ask them for money; others simply look down at me like something stuck to the bottom of their shoe.
I’ve learnt to convince myself not to mind being seen as ‘different’ – odd even. It necessitates developing very thick skin, but noticing that the eyes of stranger after stranger are filled with a mix of contempt and fear, is a bitter pill to swallow. Still it’s a price I’ve come to realise I’ll have to pay if I’m to successfully become the first athlete to ever run a solo circumnavigation of the world. There’s simply no possible way to appear ‘normal’.
Who I’d become earlier, when faced with the feral dogs – that hadn’t frightened any strangers, because nobody saw it happen – but it had frightened me. It feels as if it awoke the caveman in me, and now we’re trotting along side-by-side, ignoring one another, bound by ropes of silence, so awkward they’re almost tangible.
The gap between us is of my making, a direct result of my ‘holier than thou’ reaction to what or who I had just witnessed. Did I think I was better than that? Who am I to judge that part of me? However violent, he has just saved my life after all. Again.