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How Running like Forrest Helped me Learn to Listen to my Body, by Rob Pope

How Running like Forrest Helped me Learn to Listen to my Body, by Rob Pope

An emergency veterinarian by night and record-breaking ultra runner by day. Rob became the Australian Marathon Champion in 2015, won the Liverpool Rock 'n' Roll Marathon in 2015 and 2016.

In 2018, Rob ran over 15,700 miles in 422 days, becoming the first to bring the fictitious epic run by Forrest Gump into reality. Crossing America almost five times and earning himself the greatest distance anyone from the UK has ever run in a year.

He now holds a Guinness World Records for the fastest marathon completed while dressed as a film character and recently became host of Red Bull's How To Be Superhuman podcast.

Here he chats to us about the kindness of strangers, the benefits in accepting the natural ebb and flow of your energy and why you need to trust that you body always wants you make you better. 


If you enjoy this interview and want more tales of adventure, tips to keep your mind and body healthy, unique community offers and our latest events join our mailing list.

Where did it all start for you, what got you into running such a long way?

I guess I just sort of fell into it really. I did cross country at school and then when I went to uni, I played footy because it was more fun than anything else. It's only when I went to Australia to live for three years, and I thought I probably wouldn't be very good at Aussie rules given my build, that I joined a local athletics club and just got really into it.

Somehow I got quite good at it, because in 2015 I managed to be Aussie National Marathon Champion. I got a phone call from Athletics Australia on the same day asking me if I would consider switching nationality if their guys didn't qualify for the Olympics. I was learning the words to Waltzing Matilda very quickly! But unfortunately, well fortunately, they did qualify and I'm still proud to be a Brit.

It was just quite funny that when I was doing the Marathon Des Sables, I was listed in a lot of places as being Australian. So yeah, semi dual nationality!

It sounds like you've run in lots of different fields and times. Did I read your best marathon time is sub 2hr 30?

Yes, it's 2hr 27. So it's not quite threatening the Olympics, but was once invited because I came 10th in the Sydney marathon, which, as it's an IAAF Gold race, a top 10 finish there carries an automatic Olympic qualifier. So I'll always be able to say I qualified for the Olympics, even though I didn't quite get there. I might get the Olympic ring tattoo, but only do like three and a half circles!

What does adventure mean to you personally?

I recently learnt of a French adventurer, the late, great Stéphane Brosse, who summed it up a lot more eloquently than I ever could, he said, "to be truly free, is to choose your own path." I think maybe we can find adventure wherever we go, it doesn't have to be an expedition up Mont Blanc or crossing a vast desert. I think adventure should be and is accessible to everyone, just a lot of people don't realise that it is.

We've got some incredible places in this country, they might not be quite as grand as the Himalayas, but they're no less beautiful. If you test yourself in the Lake District for example, you find they're no less tough, just different.

During this lockdown, I know a lot of people are finding it really hard because of the dark nights and cold, people maybe aren't being as active as normal. What advice would you give to them to help them stay active and find adventure, even close to home?

It's actually quite relevant really, because with moving house I have a lot on my plate at the moment. I've really, really struggled to manage to find that time. I'm still struggling now, so I'm testing things out myself. I genuinely think what I'm going to be trying to do is just to get out early, because it's so tough.

It's lovely finishing work in July and you get home, it's 5pm and you think, "I'm a bit hungry, I'll have my dinner." But then it gets to 7.30 you think, "Oh, great. I'll get out for a run." That happens now and you're just like, "Sod that, just not going out!"

I'm a fairly fair weather runner. I was very grateful of the Lakes treating me nicely when I visited in September, but I think you've just got to get up early really, before you've got the opportunity to persuade yourself otherwise because sofas are really comfy this time of year!

From all your trips around the world, I know there must have been some really hard moments and some really tough bits of uncertainty and setbacks. Is there anything that has helped you, any kind of mindset or tips that you've picked up?

One thing I found from my days on the road was that even though I was seeing different things every day, there was a lot of monotony. This is quite good in a way, because it meant you got good at doing what you were doing. But because the only real variables were maybe chatting to a different person or a different view, you got very in tune with the way your body works and your psychology.

I found I'd go through a three or four day cycles. So on day one I’d be average, day two, I might be amazing, day three, I'd be average, but day four, there would almost always be a day where I felt completely rubbish. It didn't matter whether I was well fed and warm, or in a beautiful place, or whether it was chucking down, it was like, "Nope!" this seemed to be my little dip.

My timing may not be the same as anyone else's, but I've got a feeling that a lot of people have that and don't recognise it. You often don't have the time to self-analyse, you just go, "God, why am I sad all the time?" But you're not sad all the time, you're sad every four days.

I always found that if I had a rubbish day, I would be feeling a bit better the next day. Then the fact that I knew I was going to feel better eventually, would make that rubbish day better as well. Even if it did carry on a little bit into the next day, I knew that there would be an improvement just because of my physiology. My hormones, my dopamine or whatever would suddenly recover and peak, and then you were there.

Remembering this, I found that I began to just ignore the rubbish times. I set myself a little rule that if I had seven rubbish days in a row, I'd go home. But it never happened. Two or maybe even three days when I was injured. But things will get better and things do get better.

It's so hard to do that in your day-to-day life though. You're busy at home, your kid's sick or you're worried about money, or you're worried about work. You just can't see that. But maybe just knowing that your body wants to make you better.

Rob Pope - man with long hair and beard wearing cap and red top running towards camera like Forrest Gump along road

On your journey across America, however many times, there must have been a lot of kindness and support along the way, and lots of things that surprised you. Were there any stand out moments?

Yeah, it was off the chart really, I started to really notice it when Nadine, my girlfriend had to go home. Because we'd got a camper van and we had a lovely time where we thought we were engaging with people, but we closed the door to the RV at the end of the day and then that was it. It was only when I was out on my own, I was forced to engage with people. I did a lot of couch surfing and on days when I was on one of my lower ebbs, I'd just be like, "Oh God, I'm staying somewhere tonight, but I just can't be bothered talking to anyone. I'll just go in and be polite and go to bed.”

And then you turn up at the house they'd be like, "Hey, how's it going? Well, how's your day been?" And within two minutes I would forget about all my gripe, and everything would be great. I'd end up staying up far too late, but I'd be energised the next day. One particular one, this lady pulls up alongside me in a fairly beat up old car asking if I needed a ride. I explained I couldn’t as I was doing this run across America. Then she asked if I needed an umbrella! I was like, "no, no, no, I'm fine. I literally couldn't run with it, It just be too awkward. Thanks so much though."

So she drives off and about 10 minutes later, she comes back with the umbrella, but also her penny jar and says, "can I just give you this?" I saw what her car was like and the trailer park where she pulled out of and I just said, "Ah, listen, I've not got any room in my stroller. Thank you so much. If you've decided you can spare it on me, that means you can spare it on yourself, go and treat yourself, don't take that back to your house, go and buy something nice for you."

That is what it was like the whole way through, every time I get asked this, I tell a different story. I think that's the first time I've told that one!

What inspired you to jump from being a marathon runner to doing this adventure? Because most marathon runners wouldn't go near some thing like this, they wouldn't even really go near an ultra. What was it that created that spark?

To be honest, I did harbour ambitions, not necessarily of going to the Olympics, but I did think about when I was moving back from Australia that following winter that I would try and see what I could do if I could really trained.

I'd thought for years that I'd love to have run across America because I'd read a book by a chap called Nick Baldock, and it just seemed so great. I came back to the UK for what I thought was my dream job and it turned out to be nothing of the sort, so I thought, "I'm gonna quit" this is the opportunity. It's now or never.

I was 38 at the time. So, I may have already run my fastest marathon. I’d say don't always stick to the plan, if a plan comes and finds you, don't be afraid to take it.

How hard is it running through the desert valleys like Monument, it looks unbearably hot?

I tried to avoid the worst of the weather that a place would have. It was still pretty hot when I got to Monument, it was the end of April and about 28 degrees. I ran with a local Navajo farmer, called Jonah. He'd actually been running up and down the road all day trying to find me, I asked how many miles he’d done and he's like "40." Wow! And he still came with me for another 10!

He was acclimatised to it and you found that you did acclimatise. I acclimatised a lot better to the heat than I did the cold. My highest temperatures were up in Wisconsin and Montana around 43. And the coldest I ever got was in Alabama at -18! That’s a 60 degree swing in temperature, but as you outdoorsmen know, there's no such thing as bad weather, just bad equipment!

How many times a day were you getting people shout “Run Forrest, Run” at you during your run?

It did get more frequent at the end. I was going through LA with the Bubba Gump cap on and I was running past this school where this lad of about 12 shouted, "run, Forrest run!" I stopped and turned to start walking over towards him and he's now petrified thinking “Oh no, I shouldn’t have said that.” But I get there and point at the cap and he laughs relieved saying, "Oh my God, I knew it was you!" So, I was so like the movie!

I would say to anyone, if you’re doing a marathon, if you don't dress up like Forrest Gump, you are missing a trick. When I did London dressed up as Forrest, I'm pretty certain that I got more shouts than anyone apart from Sir Mo! 

Forrest Gump lookalike runner Rob Pope - man with cap, long hair and beard displays running certificate

Don't you have the Guinness World Record for the fastest marathon in a film costume?

Yeah, I took it off some guy dressed as Elsa in Frozen, so I don't feel too guilty with my fairly minimalist running costume because he was in lycra as well. If he'd gone as Optimus Prime and I'd stolen his record, I'd feel a bit of a fraud. I'll wait for somebody to dress up as Chariots of Fire and just take it!

When you've been on a journey like that, how do you cope when you come back? Post-expedition blues is often talked about in the outdoors world, when you've been in the hills all weekend and come back to the office and that down feeling. Did you feel that? And if so, how did you deal with that?

Well, it's a funny one really, because as a vet it's a super, super intense career and there's a lot of people who struggle in the profession. I think we've got the second highest suicide rate of any profession going. So mental health gets a lot of focus and generally I’ve been fairly comfortable in my own skin. I didn't even think about sort of post run blues to be honest.

There's a group called "USA Crosses" on Facebook, and I joined that and there were people talking about this thing and I was just like, "ah, well, I'm not going to get that." but when I got back I struggled for ages, and because I was so, "well, I'll be fine." I didn't realise it had happened.

Maybe I was a bit snappier, I certainly didn't do anywhere near as much outdoor stuff, and I was just a bit like, "eurgh!" Everything was rubbish, I forgot all my good advice about that four day cycle. When I eventually realised what was going on I just tried to get out more, remembered that things get better and just tried to be more aware of how I was treating people. But it was a long crawl out, I I think maybe just as a consequence of the long drag of the run, it was a long drag out of it as well. 

How many miles did you do in 2020?

In 2020 I think it was about 2,500, so a reasonable amount. But slightly less than I did in 2017 when I ran more miles than anybody on the planet. I need to actually do the maths on it, but it was about 12,500! 

Any advice from when you were running every day for running through aches and pains or injuries. How do you overcome that when stopping is not an option?

I ran every day when I was on the run. The only time I ever had a break was when I missed two days with a torn quad, but I was walking on day three. I then had two days with a gluteal issue, that was absolutely awful but again, walking and eventually building up to running. Also five days with food poisoning.

I didn't train for it before hand, I just figured I may as well train on the run. Eventually the body does adapt, at the end of it I was no more tired than I was after a normal day at work, whether I'd done 50 or 60 miles.

You’re bound to pick up these little niggles. I used the three out of ten rule. You'll have a pain or you might be coming back from an injury and you’re struggling to run at the moment. But always go to a physio, as the pain you feel may not be really real, it's just you're tender your body is saying, "I don't want to do this anymore." A good physio told me once that if you go to a pain that's three out of ten and it's not getting worse, that is fine to keep going on with.

Now, the tricky thing is where your three out of ten is, I found that I've got a high tolerance to pain and that's how I tore my quad. I gave myself a grade one tear in Arkansaw, carried on running through it and then I found that it was less painful if I ran quicker than slower and we all know where this story ends!

So find out where your limits are, if you know something is definitely getting worse, you just have to find something that can take the load off. Maybe you try a slightly different activity, like cycling, or even just walking.

If I'd have had my time again, I'd have had a much stronger core. I'm gradually becoming a lot more aware of the fact that the core strength and core flexibility is really, really key.

In terms of next projects, have you got anything in the pipeline at the moment? Is there then one place that you're most looking forward to, as soon as we're able to travel?

I was talking about doing a Bob Graham at some point, maybe some time this summer, but one of the other answers is just the pub!

I'm an ideas man, I've always got some things going on. Looking closer to home, I think at one point I've at least got to go from The Ben to Scarfell, because to be honest any opportunity to finish something in the Lake District is always appreciated. I'd like to do some running in Ireland. My original plan when I bought the stroller that went to the States and became Pram Solo to my Chewbacca was to run across Australia, I think that's got to be the one that I would love to do.

Also, because I'm slightly OCD and I don't want to be saying in 20 years time, in The New Union in Kendal why I only ran across America 4.7 times. I’d like to go back to that place where I finished, and also proposed to my now wife Nadine, and then run from Monument Valley to the ocean. Just so I can say, I ran across five times! 

Do you have any personal secrets to running that you could share for aspiring long distance runners?

I am a very much a lone warrior quite often when I run, most of my training is on my own. But if you want to get quick, I would get in a club that you enjoy going to and running with people who are faster than you.

Funnily enough, this does make you faster as well. Then just find what works for you. I was out today and saw some people running in shorts and t-shirts in a balmy one degrees in Liverpool. I know I don't enjoy that, so, if you're not going out running, think why? Is it because it's raining and cold? Find a solution, gyms are so cheap now or you might have the space to get a cheap treadmill. Because remember with treadmills, they don't have to be as fast as you can go, you can just use those things to keep your legs ticking over.

To follow Rob's adventures go to

You can also check out his podcast at

Hosted by Alex Staniforth, serial adventurer, mental health activist and our Co-Founder

For want more tales of adventure, tips to keep your mind and body healthy, unique community offers and our latest events join our mailing list.