After struggling with depression and anxiety in his early 20s, Kevin Carr, 34, decided “mental illness must never be confused with mental weakness.” He set out to prove this through extreme running.
He ran 50 marathons in 50 days and then tackled the mountainous route between Land’s End, England, and John O’Groats, Scotland, taking a roundabout 1,200-mile, six-week journey between the two points on opposite ends of Britain. Now, he is about halfway through an around-the-world run in which he will cover more than 18,000 miles over six continents. (Carr started running from England in July 2013 and as of Aug. 13 was in northern British Columbia; get updates at hardwayround.com)
“I’m undertaking one of the toughest feats of any athlete,” said Carr, who is raising money for the Red Cross and SANE, a nonprofit that works to improve the quality of life for the mentally ill.
Below are edited excerpts from a conversation with Carr about his current adventure.
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Q: Why run around the world?
A: I’d always wanted to be an endurance athlete, to test myself. I believe this is the ultimate test of endurance. I’m running self-supported, so there’s no room for pointing the finger or excuses. Success or failure all comes down to my ability to endure, not just the physical discomfort but the mental, the solitude, the logistics, the language barrier. That’s the true meaning of endurance sport, not VO2 levels and body fat.
Q: What are some of the travel logistics you have had to deal with?
A: Visas are not too bad, but immigration and customs are quite hard. I ran through Europe up to the Arctic Circle, then through Eastern Europe. I got to Turkey and then was going through India. I needed to change from my winter to summer kit. I had a friend send me two pairs of sneakers, my sleeping bag and a couple of other items. The parcel arrived in the country two weeks before I did, and customs wanted 40 percent of the list value. If I had flown into the country with the stuff in a suitcase it wouldn’t have mattered, but they wouldn’t budge. They’re government bandits.
Q: You don’t run with a suitcase, so how do you travel with your gear?
A: When I left I had a cart with a harness that I was pulling. With the cart, I couldn’t turn side to side or jump off the road. I had to run with the traffic to give drivers a minute or two to prepare. I realized it was just a matter of time before I got squashed or caused an accident. I got a stroller that I push so I can run toward the traffic. It lets me be more responsible with other people’s safety and my own.
Q: What’s in the stroller?
A: I have a camping kit, first aid kit, GPS tracker, iPad for doing blog posts, spare clothes and food and water.
Q: Do you have time to be a tourist?
A: If I have to stop, then I try and make the most of it, but in general, no. I’m making a big list of places to visit normally. My week through Sweden was disappointing because it was mostly highways. I want to go back and see the mountains and the fjords. In Romania I skirted around their mountain range and Dracula country. It’s quite a beautiful, wild place. Sweden, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania and Australia are places that stick out, places I want to go back and visit.
Q: What has surprised you?
A: How sort of normal it becomes. I thought the fatigue would get worse and that I’d be getting weaker, but at some stage you do become used to the running. You become very efficient.
The mental side, the solitude is harder. Sometimes, when there’s a language barrier, I feel more isolated when I’m around people than when I’m alone. When you’re exhausted you feel that more. That’s about mental strength.
But I do get to see the best in people quite a lot, especially when there’s a language barrier. They can see there’s a problem, and they try quite hard to help you.
Seattle Times staff contributed to this report.