Running, running, still running...
By: Alpana Lath Sawai
April 13, 2003
How do you get to India Gate, New Delhi? You can travel a quick straight route from wherever you are. But Robert Garside, a 36-year-old Brit, chased a long-winded itinerary around the world instead.
And he got here not by catching a flight from the airport nearest to him — he relied on his feet. In fact if you asked him his second-most favourite mode of travel, he’d look nonplussed. He hasn’t quite figured that one out, but thinks he may try swimming across Antarctica or some such spine-chilling activity.
It is not logic that has guided Garside’s zigzags around the world these past eight years. It is the need to establish a record, to be the first man to run around the Earth. And when he reaches India Gate in May this year, he will likely have completed a loop around the world, becoming eligible for a Guinness Book of World record.
Along the way, he has been besieged not just with civil unrest in various nations but also controversy over some of his claims. There has been doubt in the sporting world over some of his achievements. He certainly doesn’t look any worse for it. He has managed without corporate sponsorship too. Says Garside, “I didn’t want to carry too many liabilities because then the freedom goes.”
He has relied a lot on locals across nations. This has served him well. Like when he started off from India in 1997, it was the cops in north India who gave him a place to sleep at night at police stations. “They even gave me food to eat,” says Garside, “People gave me whatever they could.”
All he carries though is a backpack with all his worldly possessions: a number of electronic items, which make his trip bearable. He has a mobile phone, video camera and a palmtop, which he uses to upload information on to his website. Some of these form part of the cash items he carries, which he sells when he’s run out of money.
Says Garside, “My phone, watch, walkman are the cash items. If it gets really desperate, I sell my T-shirts.”
Souvenirs are tempting to collect especially if you have travelled so much, but Garside realised early on that there was no way he could collect any. It was the odd carved giraffe here and a prayer stone there. The giraffe sculpture, which he saw in Africa he was able to resist, but the prayer stone he fell prey to.
Says Garside, “When I was in Tibet, I saw a stone with some prayer inscribed on it that must have weighed a kilogram or so. I liked it, so I put it in my backpack and carried it with me for about a month. Finally I decided to give it up. A Spanish friend who was running with me at the time was quite happy to have it.”
The other difficult thing about being a man on the run, found out Garside, was that although he made many acquaintances, he was never in any one place long enough to make friends or even girl friends for that matter, he jokes. Is it a girl in every port then, one wonders.
“No, only in every continent,” he laughs, admitting to have met at least some girls on his way. “I don’t intend to go and seek a woman, not for a one-night stand or for a relationship,” he says, somewhat seriously, “because then it’s difficult when I’ve got to go.”
The toughest battle has been running alone. Over extended periods sometimes. This is why even though it is difficult to run with other people, he welcomes it as a break. “But they never run all the way,” he says. The extremes of weather have not helped matters.
Take the freezing cold in Tibet for example. There were nights he had to sleep in the open. This may have prompted his decision to carry his own house, a man-sized capsule, for his next project across Antarctica.
When it wasn’t freezing cold, it was the hot glare of the sun causing grief and many bad jokes about mad dogs and Englishmen. Once he even passed out in Australia because of a heat stroke.
Some cops picked him up and dunked him in a bath tub with lukewarm water to cool him down. Another time his feet were bleeding from being soaked in constant rain in Brazil. But he kept running. What would possess a man to punish himself in this way?
“Endurance is my number one sport,” he says, “banging my head against the wall, I’m good at that. I’m not especially fast. I don’t know if I would run in marathons.
But I am good at running across continents, putting up with all the bullshit. I can run when my feet are bleeding, and my shoes falling to pieces, when I haven’t slept for two days or eaten for three, then I am in my element. It’s the self-punishment.”
No games, just sport. This slogan, borrowed from the Nike campaign in What Women Want, illustrates the other reason Garside’s Adidas-clad feet are swallowing up miles along the highways of the world. To be out there, just doing it.
A complete reversal from what he was doing before he became the running man: a psychology student. “I took that up out of interest, but in the end I didn’t believe in it. I was just gaining meaningless knowledge for vanity’s sake,” he says.
Food to eat
Garside says he followed rules set by ants, also creatures of the earth. “They always follow their nose to sugar. It gives so much energy. It makes you stronger and your immune system too,” he says.
The only time he feeds himself well though is when he reaches a town or city. On the road, it’s just lots and lots of water, and sugar as and when he can, to replenish himself. And since we’re meeting at Café Basilico, he indulges in a blueberry cheesecake.
Rules to follow
Around the world means 18,000 miles according to the Guinness record authorities. But if you went up and down your yard clocking 18,000 miles, that would not work.
You have to end at the place you started, with 18,000 miles and the world in between. In addition, you have to show records that have been verified by multiple sources that say you actually went to, say Acapulco.
However, you are allowed to take an airplane when crossing over oceans and across continents. Like, Garside was in Africa before India. There was no direct way for him to reach Kanyakumari from there. So he was allowed to take a flight to Mumbai via Dubai and a train down to Kanyakumari, from where he would actually start his run.
Garside has clocked almost twice the required miles. His numbers look something like this: 35,000 miles through 35 countries across six continents in 50 pairs of shoes.
He is in India right now, in Kanyakumari in fact. And tomorrow, April 14, he will flag off from there. He will run on route 47 up until Cochin where he will get off on to route 17 which will bring him to Mumbai. He will be in Mumbai in about two weeks.
Then, he will run along route 8 up to Udaipur. From there he will make a few small detours towards Hisar, 168 km from New Delhi. This last lap he wishes to finish along with a few hundred runners from India.
It was from New Delhi that he began his journey almost six years ago, in 1997. At that time, Tony Blair had just been elected the prime minister of United Kingdom. “I looked at his photo and I thought he looked alright,” says Garside.
Blair’s photos in newspapers during Garside’s visit to Mumbai enroute to Kanyakumari last week elicit expletives instead. “It’s a shame,” he says, furious about the US-UK’s war on Iraq, “Blair is doing it for money.
America doesn’t have culture, and that’s why it doesn’t understand culture. You have the oldest country in the world being violated by the newest, it’s not fair. It’s like killing your grandparents.”
Running Man in Colaba
The man who has been around the world manages to get lost. In Colaba. Because he’s forgotten the name of his hotel. After a bit of wandering around, he identifies Delhi Darbar where he has dined the night before.
Once there, he knows the direction he should be heading towards to get to his resting rooms for the day, and it’s back up Colaba Causeway. As he walks off, his inquiry at the beginning of our meeting comes to mind.
Anticipating the visual treats that await him from Kanyakumari and along coastal India up on to the north, he asks, “Will I see any tigers? I would love to see one. Or any elephants on the way?”
The route Robert Garside took
Robert Garside, who started running from New Delhi, India (1) in 1997 will complete his run around the world when he reaches New Delhi by the end of May 2003. He ran right through Tibet up to Shanghai, China (2) and Cape Norshap, Japan (3) before heading down to Perth, Australia (4) along with Sydney (5) and New Zealand (6).
Then he entered South America at Punta Arenas, Chile (7) from where he steadily worked his way up to Rio de Janeiro in Brazil (8). He spent a lot of time in Brazil — Santarem (9) and Manaus (10).
Garside liked it so much that he decided he might want to settle there in the future. At some point in Brazil, he met Ronnie Biggs, UK’s great train robber on a run even bigger than Garside’s, from the British Government.
From here it was a jog up to Caracas, Venezuela (11) and then Panama City, Panama (12). He crossed over to North America and landed up at Acapulco, Mexico (13). It’s a halt at another Mexican destination, La Paz (14) before he made a beeline for the heart of America’s silicon empire, San Francisco (15). Here, goes one story, he met Dave Kunst, the first man to walk around the world in 1974.
It was a run right across the breadth of America to New York (16) after this. Then it was down to Cape Town, South Africa (17), where began a gruelling year spent in trying to get across Africa in one piece. Up to Zobue in Mozambique (18) after this, and then right from the east of the African continent to the west: Rabat in exotic Morocco (19). A run past the Mediterranean countries took him in to Rome, Italy (20).
Ankara, Turkey (21) was next on his route and before he ran down into El Minya, Egypt (22) where he claimed to have been followed by the police everywhere he went because of a general suspicion of foreigners, and the Suez (23). Between here and Masawa, Eritrea (24), he tried very hard to enter Saudi Arabia but was denied permission. Somewhere along the way, he had to forgo plans of entering India via Afghanistan because of the war in that country.
Alternative plans meant going back down into Beira in Mozambique (25). The only way to get to South India (26) from there, short of rowing across in a boat, was to take another long detour to Dubai and then fly down to Mumbai and then Kanyakumari (26) on his last lap.
On his birthday, the last 6 years
January 6, 1998 Nepal
January 6, 1999 Australia
January 6, 2000 Brazil
January 6, 2001 Colorado, US
January 6, 2002 Mozambique
January 6, 2003 Turkey