Imagine waking up and realizing that you had to run 50 miles today. Then, picture awaking to this thought each day, every day for about a year. If you’re 49-year-old Australian athlete Pat Farmer – who’s traveling by foot from the North Pole to the South Pole, a 13,000-mile journey that involves snowshoeing, running, jungle trekking, and some hands-on-knees crawling – then this is your reality.
I speak with Pat via telephone on an early July evening. He’s in Georgia, recovering from having run 51.5 miles on roads through the south’s infamous summer heat and humidity. When I ask him how he’s feeling, his response is a nonchalant, “It was in the low 100’s Fahrenheit today, which isn’t so bad, except for the humidity. I feel quite good, actually.” This is when I know that I’m speaking with a man on a mission.
On April 8th, Pat and a crew of three men were dropped at the North Pole by a Russian contract helicopter. “Imagine a junkyard with truck bodies strewn in every direction,” says Pat, describing what he saw that day. “Everything is made of ice, though. That’s the North Pole.” The team traveled south until they reached Canadian terra firma. The 39 days they spent on ice, Pat says, “were harder than everything else I’ve ever done.”
This is no off-the-cuff, big-fish claim, as Pat’s got some serious experience on his side. He began his endurance career in 1993 when he entered and placed second at the Trans America Road Race, a coast-to-coast running race in the United States. Since then, he’s completed dozens of many-day runs around the world. I understand, thus, that crossing an ice cap must be very, very hard.
Each team member hauled a 250-pound sled, a modified kayak designed to stay afloat in the watery breaks between the ice, containing the gear, food, and clothing they needed for complete self-sufficiency. Pat calls his Arctic ice crossing “frightening, terribly frightening.” When I further inquire, he explains, “The cold, the jumbles of ice we had to get our sleds over, the pitch-black water between the ice. Oh, and polar bears. We never saw them, but we did see tracks bigger than the outline of my snowshoes.”
Once reaching dry land in May, Pat removed his winter snowsuit, donned running shoes, and started running in the company of two vehicles and a support team. He hasn’t had a day’s rest since then, ticking off an average of 53 miles per day. He’s already run down the eastern seaboard, and now he’s hooking west through the southern United States. He’ll eventually turn southward again to travel through Mexico, Central America, and South America. If all goes well, he’ll reach South America’s Tierra del Fuego by Dec. 1. There, he’ll exchange running shoes for snowshoes again, fly to Antarctica, and begin the last, icy leg of the journey.
As Pat explains these details, I find myself struggling to tangibly comprehend his trip. The distance he’s traveling on foot is so far; the Pole-To-Pole Run’s logistics must be impossibly complex; and, I can’t fathom the motivation required to run for 10 or more hours every day with no rest days. I jokingly ask him if he’s a superhero in hiding, and his response indicates that he’s been asked this before, “I’m just a normal guy. This hurts. I have aches, pains, nerve twinges, bruises, and blisters. But this is my job, and I take it seriously.”
The job to which Pat’s referring is his goal of raising money for the International Committee of the Red Cross.
He says, “In an emergency, the Red Cross will serve any town, any country, every kind of people. I’m traveling through places that have experienced one tragedy or another, and that have received aid from the Red Cross. It’s so motivating.” His fundraising goal is tremendous: $100 million dollars by journey’s end.
During our conversation, Pat, a single father who lost his wife to illness over a decade ago, passes the phone to his daughter, Brooke. She and her little brother, Dillon, are on break from school in Australia and are traveling in their dad’s entourage. At 16, Brooke’s articulate and seems mature. We chat about her family’s July 4 adventures in Atlanta – she saw fireworks for the first time – and I’m suddenly certain that, when not running from one end of the globe to the other, Pat’s the regular, fatherly guy he says he is.
I ask Pat about what he eats and drinks to keep his body fueled each day. “I have a car that gives me food and liquid every five kilometers,” explains Pat, “During the run, I eat bananas and other fruit and drink Gatorade and other isotonic drinks.”
With a laugh, he adds, “After each day’s run, I eat anything and everything in sight.” Since he’s been traveling through the United States, I ask him about local food and if he’s enjoyed any of it. I can barely get the question out before he’s answering, “Barbeque. I love it. Also mangoes, my favorite fruit. It’s easy to get them here, so I’m eating them every day.”
On this July day, Pat has come a long way in the Pole-To-Pole Run. “Going on 4,000 miles,” he says. But he hasn’t yet reached the halfway point. I wonder about the challenges ahead, if he has trepidation about them. “I fear the South Pole. Traveling across the ice at the North Pole was so challenging that it’s hard to imagine doing it again.” He pauses long and what seems like thoughtfully before continuing, “The job won’t be done until I take that last step, though.”
Pat has a lot to look forward to in his mission, “I travel at a pace that allows me to experience the towns through which I run. I get to see, feel, smell, and be a part of everyday life.” He’s also looking forward to that which extends beyond his personal experience. “I want to inspire. I want others to do big things because they see me doing something I’ve dreamt about. Most importantly, though, this is more than an athletic feat. I want people to support the Red Cross and its worldwide efforts. That’s what this is really about.”
To follow along with Pat Farmer’s Pole-To-Pole Run or to support the International Committee of the Red Cross, visit www.poletopolerun.com.
Photo 1- Forty-nine-year-old Pat Farmer, of Australia, is taking on the 13,000-mile Pole-To-Pole Run to raise money for the International Committee of the Red Cross (photo courtesy of Pat Farmer/www.poletopolerun.com).
Photo 2- Pat Farmer poses with a tangle of ice in the Arctic during his journey from the North Pole to mainland Canada (photo courtesy of Pat Farmer/www.poletopolerun.com).
Photo 3- Pat Farmer pulls his sled, a modified kayak, out of a lead, or a break of water between the ice (photo courtesy of Pat Farmer/www.poletopolerun.com).
Photo 4- Pat Farmer runs through Washington, D.C. as part of the Pole-To-Pole Run (photo courtesy of Pat Farmer/www.poletopolerun.com).