London Alumnus does a Gump

Rob Pope, a graduate of the Royal Veterinary College, has set himself quite a challenge- to recreate Forrest Gump’s trans-American voyage of running and discovery. Along the way he’s boiled in the sub, frozen in the snow and raised a lot of money for Peace Direct and the World Wildlife Fund. LUCA News caught up with him online to ask him a few questions about his adventure.

So I think the first question must be one you get quite a lot; Why?

I’ve always had running as a big part of my life, all the way through school in Liverpool, to now. When I was at the RVC, I mostly played football, though I did captain the Cross-Country team to Division 2 success when the captain of the football team played in my position! I also ran a few marathons and it was at London one year, that I ran into one of my former ULU teammates, Mike Boucher, who tipped me off about a book called Advanced Marathoning that took 17 minutes off my PB and following a move to Australia, I became Australian National Marathon Champion in 2015, sandwiched in between two Liverpool marathon wins. I’ve had the idea for about 10 years that I’d like to run across the States, I love the culture, the music, the people. I figured that if I was going to do it, it should be for charity and that I’d like to raise a shedload for them.

How to do that? Capture people’s imagination and it struck me a few years ago that it would be amazing to try and replicate Forrest Gump’s run, as while people have run across the USA before, no-one has tried to do this in its entirety. People love the film and identify with Forrest, he’s inclusive, judges no-one and as I like to think I can get along with pretty much anyone, I figured I’d like to try and repeat his achievement. It is a true story, right? My circumstances were right, I’d saved to get me across at least once and I figured, it’s now or never. It just happens that, at 38, I’m the same age that Tom Hanks was, when he filmed it…

Lots of people get bad blisters after one marathon, what are your feet like after 100?

My feet weren’t happy to start with and despite rotating my shoes and trying to take care of my feet, I developed huge blisters on the inside of both arches, with the left one bleeding a bit into the cavity. I just ran on them till they popped and that was that. I think my skin has realised what it’s supposed to do in that area. A lot of people ask about losing toenails, but apart from when I reached the last 200 miles and my four pairs of shoes had pretty much conked out, mine were fine. Even after this, I just got a small amount of bleeding under both big toe nails. They’ve been fine this leg…so far.

Scott Jurek (record winning ultra runner) took to drinking olive oil to get the calories in when he was racing the Appalachian Trail (2160 miles along the spine of America), how do you keep yourself fueled?

There’s an ongoing debate in the ultra-running community about high carb v low carb strategies, but I think the only given is that you have to be adapted to whatever you choose to go for and that you may be more suited to one or the other. I’m a carb monster, always have been, so I just tried to increase portion sizes at full meal breaks, with supplementing in between. I like and use Nakd and Trek bars as they’re tasty, got a good amount of calories and protein in them and they’re also not full of junk – pretty much all fruit and nuts. Importantly they don’t disagree with me. They’ve got a good bit of protein in, but I’ve mostly supplemented this with Science in Sport REGO, which is a special carb replenisher post exercise, with a good wallop of usable protein to help with repair. This sounds terrible, but I’ve drunk a load of fizzy drinks, with a weakness for Dr Pepper. These act like a pick-me-up when I’m low (I know nutritional experts will say that it will lead to glucose peaks and troughs, but I ain’t changing something that got me this far!). In terms of the more wacky strategies, such as drinking olive oil, I’d wait until there was some actual data that showed it worked, rather than just relying on the good performances of one incredible athlete, before I’d do something that grim!

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, what are your breakfasts like?

Breakfast is typically a two stage affair. First breakfast, before the first run is a couple of Nakd/Trek bars with an SiS REGO shake made with milk. I drink a lot of milk. Second breakfast is a huge bowl of porridge with about 50ml golden syrup and jam in. Lovely. I’ll usually have a squash or an electrolyte drink at this point too.

This all sounds like a lot of eating, what do you do when you need to, you know, ‘go’?

All this food and drink going in has to be dealt with, of course, and it’s fortunate that I almost always need to go for a number 2 before I leave the relative sanctuary of the RV. There have been a couple of near disasters, rescued by gas stations, restaurants and on one occasion an Andy Gump (How’s about that?) portaloo. Outdoor excursions have been minimised for this sense, though I find that I’ve developed a very sensitive bladder and just tend to go for a wee wherever I see a bush. In the middle of nowhere, I just…you know…go wherever!

Running though America dressed a Tom Hanks must be an odd sight, have you ever attracted unwanted attention?

I haven’t gotten myself into any actual trouble, but on the very first run I got hopelessly lost in Mobile and when I told locals in the bar I went to for a celebratory pint where I’d been, their jaws hit the floor. This was not an area that it’s advised to go after dark, especially not as a tourist, dressed up as Forrest Gump. I also had an encounter with a poor guy who was pretty drug-wracked in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, whom if I’d have walked past, I think he would have tried something. Instead he lurched a bit like a zombie in my direction, but I was already 10m down the road before we both realised what was going on.

Many students, myself included, find it hard to plan our weekend efficiently. How much did you plan before you started?

As I’d had this in my head for years, I’d idly daydreamed my way through routes, ideas and logistics, but it was only in the last 6 months or so, after I’d told far too many people that I was going to try and do it, that we got down to business. A lot of it, such as arranging the RV, day-to-day route planning and trying to get sponsorship have been done on route. This is difficult as I don’t have much time after the runs to myself and I wish I had more of a support network, doing these things for me, alongside my girlfriend Nadine, who has been a star. Any offers of help/sponsorship/contacts gratefully received!

For more information on Rob’s journey, and to inspire your own voyage, check out his website: where you can also donate. His Instagram feed also provides a snapshot into his life on the road:

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About Seth Kennard 8 Articles
Runner, cyclist, climber, vet student and winner of second best pizza in year 8 cookery competition. I run any distance from 1500m (not very well) to 160km (with only slightly more success). Only truly happy in the mountains, and only then if I'm at the very top.