Running heroes come in a couple of different styles. For some people it’s all about speed, and Mo Farah is the nation’s darling at the moment when it comes to going fast. For others heroism lies in going further than most and Chrissie Wellington or Mimi Anderson are perfect exponents of this. (indeed when we met Mimi at the Write This Run event earlier in the year it spawned the hashtag #WhatWouldMimiDo, a new running mantra for many).
Me? I find heroism in the ridiculous, adventurous, insane and brilliant. Anyone can cross a start line and run where they are told, aiming for a finish line knowing there is water and food along the way and a cheering team of supporters at the end to welcome you in hours later. But to set off from the very Eastern edge of Canada with a plan no more complete than “run West” aiming to cover 5000 miles before the expiration of a visa with no support crew, that kind of absurdity I find heroic.
So let me introduce Jamie McDonald.
I first encountered Jamie last year when he took on the world static cycling record on an exercise bike. Prior to that he had ridden from Bangkok back to his home town of Gloucester for charity which I guess was good preparation because he pedalled for 265 hours, that’s over 11 days and more than 40 hours longer than the previous record. I followed Jamie’s progress on Twitter, there was much fanfare when he was done, and then all went quiet…
Until March, when a tweet hit my timeline with a link to a video. He was at it again. This time running 5000 miles across Canada, unsupported, racing against his visa expiry date.
I’ve been following Jamie ever since through his fabulous video blogs and Facebook updates, and recently I was lucky enough to be able to ask him some questions about his adventures. The most obvious place to start…why?!
“To raise money for charity, that’s why I do all my challenges”. Jamie is fundraising for G.O.S.H, Pied Piper Appeal and a Canadian charity, Sick Kids. “When I was younger I spent my first 9 years in and out of hospital with a spinal condition, syringomyelia, and was immobile for a long time. I know what it’s like to be a child in a hospital bed and I want to help as many children in that position as I can. When I was nine years old I forced myself to start moving, and slowly my symptoms started to clear up. I asked myself “Why didn’t you start moving your body earlier, you idiot!” I didn’t stop moving then and ended up working as a tennis instructor but now I’ve tasted adventure and fundraising I can’t imagine doing anything else”
An adventure it certainly is. Jamie has steadily increased his mileage and is now running more than a marathon a day, and will need to keep this pace up if he’s going to make his goal. With no plans for his route or accommodation he has been sleeping in a tent on the side of the highway for the majority of his trip. “I really miss pillows, that smell and material that sends you off to sleep. A rolled up pair of trousers or a smelly t-shirt just isn’t the same!” Dinner is often a tin of fish and some butter, light in weight, heavy in calories and protein which Jamie needs to fuel his superhuman daily activity. “Tinned fish is cold and most nights I crave something warm, but I just don’t have time to cook. I can’t wait to have a roast dinner when I’m home!”
But Jamie hasn’t gone completely without creature comforts during his trip. Not afraid to knock on a door and ask to sleep on front lawns he has been welcomed in to homes throughout Canada. Indeed now that word has spread through the internet and the interest of Canadian media, people are actively seeking Jamie to offer him support. From dropping off a food parcel to offering a bed in the next town people are inspired to be involved, and not forgetting those all important charity donations to. He’s been joined on the road by schoolchildren, bereaved parents, families and even some of the patients from the SickKids children’s ward in Toronto that he is raising funds for.
Jamie’s video diaries are full of tales of generosity from the people of Canada, and it’s this as much as Jamie’s incredible achievements that makes this a story worth following. It’s unsurprising that Jamie creates such a desire in people to help, his enthusiasm is infectious (as is his laugh at the start of his videos!) and his gratitude so genuine. I get the impression he is honestly surprised every time someone does something nice for him.
These rests from roadside living can sometimes be days apart though, and I asked what kept Jamie going. “Terry Fox. His story inspires me to keep going. He lost his leg to cancer but still wanted to run across Canada to raise awareness and money to fight the disease”. Fox unfortunately succumbed to his cancer in June 1981, after completing 3,339 miles of his trans-Canada trek before his illness stopped his attempt. “If I need motivation, he’s it”. (you can learn more about Terry Fox in the very first of McDonald’s video blogs here)
Jamie is now around the halfway point in his journey, it’s hard to tell when he has no set route. “It may sound a bit ridiculous, but I really do like the Forrest Gump theory of just waking up and running in the direction that I need to be running in” but there is no doubt that he still has a lot of road to cover and many adventures left to have along the way.
You can follow Jamie on Twitter and Facebook as well as through his videos which never fail to inspire. (His maniacal laughter in the first few seconds of his videos will make you smile every time you hear it!) You can also donate, which is the reason he’s out there eating tinned fish on the roadside after all! Every little helps and as you follow Jamie’s story you’ll see just what a difference your generosity makes to him and the children he is supporting.
Finally I asked Jamie what advice he’d give a wannabe adventurer? “Stop thinking, have faith in the world and don’t plan anything, that’s adventure”.
Great advice Jamie, but how about we plan that roast dinner for when you’re back?!