April 30, 2009

An Interview with The Man Who Ran Around the World

I conducted the following interview with Serge Roetheli over the phone on April 22, 2009.

Will: Today I’m talking with Serge Roetheli, a man who together with his wife, Nicole, who served as his crew and support, set off from their home in Switzerland in Feb. 2000 and over the next five years proceeded to log more than 25,000 miles, through 37 countries and across six continents. In other words, Serge ran around the world. This is an incredible story about a man and his wife who together overcame challenges that most people would never experience. Serge and his wife sold all their possessions to accomplish this journey.

What was your inspiration to run around the world?

Serge: We left our home in Switzerland to run around the world for three reasons. The first was to be free, the second was to have a fantastic adventure with my wife, and third, was to help some kids. Our goal was to bring awareness of suffering children around the world.

Will: Do you feel you have accomplished those things?

Serge: I do, of course! We said we wanted to do it and we did. We were very confident that we would succeed, and we did! It was the best life to live, not the easiest. But it was the price we paid to live our dream. In the end we raised more than $300,000 for different children’s charities. Our main charity was International Vision Quest.

Will: How did you prepare for this endeavor physically? Did you do any special training?

Serge: There isn’t any special training to prepare you to run around the world. All my life I was preparing for this world run. When I was 16 years old, I started to be a boxer. I was a six-time Swiss Champion, and did the Olympics in MontrĂ©al in 1976.

For 12 months out of the year I’m a mountain guide. That means skiing during the winter, and guiding expeditions and rock climbing during the summer. That helped me stay fit and healthy.

I did many runs before the World Run such as Death Valley, which was 100 miles. I ran Europe in the winter from Gibraltar to Norway, which was 4,375 miles; I ran from the southern tip of Argentina to Fairbanks, Ala. in what became known as the America’s Challenge, which was 15,000 miles; and I ran Italy to Milan, which was 1,100 miles.

Doing those activities my whole life helped me prepare for the world run.

Will: What was the longest you ran in a single day?

Serge: I ran 50 miles in one day, that’s a pretty long distance. I had to stop and think- if I have to keep running for five years and not just a week, it’s really stupid of me to try to do the maximum mileage I can do every day. Even if my body can keeping going, I quickly realized that I had to stop after a certain point each day, because I have to let my body recover for the next day, the next week, and the next year!

Will: Did you get injured at all along the way?

Serge: Of course. I say all the time that nothing is impossible if you accept to pay the price for your dream. And we paid a lot of price.

I had severe tendinitis. While we were in South Africa, I had to spend 28 days in bed to recover from it. I also had trouble with my sciatic nerve, and while running through India, a car hit me and I broke a bone in my right elbow. Nicole and I caught Malaria. It was bad for Nicole because she fell into a coma after she got a very bad fever. She had contracted one of the worst kinds of the disease. When I came down with it as well, I went to the doctor in Africa and he told Nicole that if they don’t give me a shot, I will die.

We encountered many situations along the world tour. In Africa, when we arrived to New Guinea that was exactly the night that 508 people were killed because of the civil war in that country. Women were raped and children were crying in the streets. We were lucky to be able to stay in the French and Swiss Embassy. Also, we traveled through the Middle East, four days after Sept 11. It turned out that our visas would not be accepted there because of the increasing tension in that area, so we were forced to change our course. Originally we planned to run through Egypt, Lebanon, Iraq and Kuwait. Instead we went through Egypt (Sinai Desert), Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria where we caught a plane and flew over Iraq and Iran and continued our run in Bangladesh.

Will: Was there ever a time you doubted yourself?

Serge: No, definitely not. I never think in my mind that we would give up- it wasn’t an option to think like that. I don’t want to be too proud, but I knew just one thing for sure- we took the risk to loose everything before we knew we would be successful with the first step. For us it was clear from the very beginning- we die or we succeed and we succeed!

Will: How did you manage your nutrition along the way? Did you have a special diet?

Serge: During the world tour, I didn’t have a special diet. For me this wasn’t a race. I didn’t have to beat some speed time. I was eating everything, everywhere, all the time. We also ate a lot of spaghetti and tuna. The hard part was eating good enough, because when you run 20-30 miles a day, you aren’t hungry. I never had a special diet. I think that is part of what I was trying to prove as well- that you can have a great, challenging, physical experience and use only what the world has to sell you. But, we paid the price for this because we had to visit several dentists all around the world.

Will: What is it about running that attracted you to want to use this as a medium to express your goal?

Serge: I didn’t choose to run around the world because I love to run so much. I do love to run, but I wanted to do something special and unique during my life. We live only one time.

We decided to run, because it would be such an incredible experience and maybe it’s a little bit crazy. Traveling the world by running is so strange and we knew we would encounter strange situations, but that’s what we wanted. We had so many amazing experiences because we ran. It wouldn’t have been the same if we would have traveled the world by car, boat or bike. When you run, nobody believes you, nobody trusts you, they look at you like you are E.T. But, I say, I would rather be a crazy, happy man than a boring man.

Will: How long have you been a runner?

Serge: I started to run when I began boxing at age 16. Like any good boxer, you run to keep in shape. I was running just five, six miles in the morning. After I stopped boxing and was a mountain guide, I was still running, but in a different way. I was running on an alpine trail and challenging myself for how fast I could reach the mountain cabins along the way. This trail connects six mountain cabins. A few years ago, I ran that trail in less than 18 hours, 44 miles with 20,000 feet of slope. It made me feel free. I used to do it with just a small backpack on and be gone for a week sometimes. After that I began running long distances more and more. Now I run just to keep in shape- four or five miles in the evening when I can.

Will: Did you ever run competitively in any marathons?

Serge: I did several races and marathons in Europe. My best time was 2 hours 31 minutes.

Will: You talked a little bit about raising money for children. Can you elaborate?

Serge: Yes, that is true. We raised money for International Vision Quest. If people want to donate they can go to www.internationalvisionquest.com

Will: What do you have in store next?

Serge: I have a big dream on my mind; I want to run on the moon!

Will: What does your wife think?

Serge: I haven’t asked her yet!

Will: She will have to have a different kind of motorcycle to support you up there?

Serge: Yes , maybe we reverse the role- I ride and she runs.

Will: I appreciate your time today, and I want to congratulate you for your accomplishment. It’s a tremendous feat what you have done. Thank you and I hope to meet you one day.

Serge: Thank you and I wish you all the best and enjoy your life!

April 27, 2009

Just Tell Me This Matters

Sunday 5 a.m. -- wake up (at home), grab coffee, oatmeal. 5:45 a.m.-- throw shorts, shoes, shirt on, out the door at 6 a.m. Jog up to local soccer fields for 10 x 3/400meter pickups. LAX to Boston flight out at 10:30 a.m. Glancing at watch more than usual. I make it through workout with time to spare. No time to waste. Jog home to shower, see my wife, kids for a few minutes. Out the door for airport. 10:40 a.m. flight departs. 7 p.m. (east coast time) flight lands in Boston. 8 p.m. -- arrive at hotel near airport, eat dinner, 9 p.m. in bed, asleep. Monday 5 a.m. (yes, 2 a.m. pacific time) wake up, grab coffee, oatmeal. 5:45 – throw shorts, shoes, shirt on, out the door at 6 a.m. (3 a.m. pacific time). Jog through old town of Revere to the Massachusetts shore for 8.4 mile out and back run. 7:01 a.m. -- stop to crouch down for photo of large shell illuminated by the rising sun. Glance at watch. Time is tight, but I won’t let it control my mood. Seagulls screech over my head and on the sand around me. They’re emboldened by the ebbing tide. They embolden me. 7:10 a.m. I find my stride. Wow, my training is really working. 8:30 a.m. (5:30 a.m. pacific time) I’m off to my meeting. 4:30 p.m. flight home lifts off. 6:11 p.m. -- I write this blog, sitting on the plane, listening to Linkin Park’s “Numb”. It helps my mood. I think of tomorrow morning. It's 5 a.m. pacific time, I wake up, grab coffee, oatmeal. I crouch down at 6 a.m. to lace up my shoes, I pause.

My mind flashes forward. I can hear my foot steps, and a voice. I don’t know who’s voice it is. But it’s familiar. Its reassuring, and tells me something I’m beginning to understand, but haven’t fully grasped. It just tells me this matters.

April 19, 2009

2009 Leona Divide 50 Mile Run

If you're looking for heat, hills, single track trail, a little sadistic punishment, a down-home race atmosphere, you needn't look beyond the Leona Divide 50 Mile run. This year's 18th annual didn't disappoint.

Jay Grobeson, Scott Sullivan, and Bill Ramsey (each with ten Angeles Crest Finishes) after the Race

Bill Ramsey and I drove to the start around 5 a.m. under a dark, star filled sky. Another reminder of the blistering sun we were about to face in the hours to come. Leona starts at 6 a.m. sharp. To the dismay of runners like me with a GI tract that doesn't wake up until 7 am, this can wreak some serious potty havoc on race day strategy. Unlike last year's debacle, I succeeded in jump starting my system before the start with two cups of coffee made from fresh ground beans Bill and I purchased from Palmdale's own Albertsons the night before. A major coup-de-latrine in my book.

Scott Mills chats with Krissy Moehl (1st female, 3rd overall)

The start of Leona Divide is deceptively steep. It climbs 800 feet in just over 2.5 miles along winding dirt roads. Within the first few minutes my heart rate was pushing 165 bpm, not a good sign with 49 miles left to run. With an eye toward finishing, I pulled the pace back a couple of notches and got into a rhythm. Robert Blair, a fellow Sycamore Canyon 50k finisher, scampered along with me as we rounded through the meandering trail (thanks for reading the blog Robert!). The sun soon emerged and we found no solace from the disappearing shade.

This year's coarse was altered from the standard LD 50 course, with the addition of several miles of dirt road in lieu of single track trail. Not a preferred exchange, but a necessary one due to issues with the many power lines in the area. I will say that this year's course, in my humble opinion, seemed more difficult, mainly due to the long hill added with the out and back. We didn't hit single track trail until mile 25, and when we did it was a welcome site. By this time I had already succumbed to the relentless Tracy Moore, who ran by, then ahead of me so methodically that I was rendered a mere spectator until he simply dropped me on one forgetful trail.

Tracy Moore (4th overall) talking with Michelle Barton (2nd female, 9th overall)

As I was making the long four mile descent down the Pacific Crest Trail after mile 25, I came upon Michelle Barton. We ran along together until we hit the 1,500' climb out of aid station 5, when I watched Michelle pull away from me as she floated up the hill. Knowing that this would be the longest of the climbs on the course, that the sun was beaming in full force, and we had yet another four mile climb to come at mile 42, I hunkered down. I kept moving forward under the sweltering sun as one must do along these long, relentless hauls. Images of Tracy and Michelle still appeared, then disappeared, through the trees before me.

Bill (12 time Leona finisher) and Jay Finishing Strong

Aid station number 7 is a turnaround at mile 35.5 in the race. By this time, if you still care, you can assess where your fellow runners are along the course. Many words of encouragement and high fives can be offered up along this section of the course. Most importantly, after the turn, it's all downhill until mile 42. Scott Mills was on my heels as I pulled out of the aid station, and not far behind him was Greg Hardesty.

After a Great Run, Greg Hardesty Lifts His Hand for a High Five

As I came to the end of the long descent, I caught Michelle again, only to see her dance away from me once again on the last climb. Finally, after a long, brutal, hot, and thrilling run, I rounded the final turn. Before me was a finish line, a clock, many cheering spectators, and a moment to take a long, deep breath of relief. All in all, a very good day - race time 8:15, 10th place overall, 2nd age group (40-49). Average heart rate 153.

April 11, 2009

Lost with M&Ms On the Pacific Crest Trail

What I like about running on the Pacific Crest Trail is that I rarely see anyone (mountain bikes prohibited), the trail is usually in good condition and, as of today, I can get lost to keep things interesting!

Today I ran the PCT from Hwy 18 (Big Bear) from the Cushenbury Grade Summit, elevation 6,892’ to Onyx Summit, elevation 8,500’. This was a good training run that provided a little taste of elevation, single track trail, climbs, and descents. I tested myself by eating only solid foods with no gels. I opted for the more nutritious choice and grabbed a bag of peanut M&Ms and a couple of pop tarts. Oh, yea, I threw in a Mountain Dew for good measure. From the beginning to end I will say things settled well, No bloating, no indigestion, no stomach cramps. Just energy.

After making the turn around Onyx Summit, I realized I’d been climbing for quite a while. Turns out, after passing through Balky Horse Canyon and across Arrastre Creek I climbed for a solid 5 miles. I’m not sure exactly the elevation gain of this segment, I guess around 1,600’, but I am sure that as I approached 8’500 section of the trail I was sucking some good, thin air. When I turned around I felt my legs turn over nicely and I let them go a little down this 5 mile descent.

Then came delirium. The PCT passes near Baldwin Lake, an area known for horse ranches and properties and where one can find a plethora of horse trails. Problem is these horse trials masquerade as the PCT. Its simply not enough to scream obscenities when I realize I’m off my trail. I have to actually ask a mounted horseman to know that I’m lost. After asking a few equestrians where the PCT was, I put my head down and continued on, right for Victorville! I finally stepped out of the maze and on to the trail after a mile of going nowhere.

All is well that ends well, however. This 28 mile run had some great scenery, good and varied terrain and even a little intrigue. A good day on the PCT.