In October 2005, I had the opportunity to be part of the support team for Jesper Olsen as he made his way through Ireland, enroute to becoming the first person to achieve a fully documented run around the world.
On Friday morning myself, Ambarish and Gary travelled out to the town of Portlaoise in the middle of the country to greet Jesper Olsen as he made his way in towards Dublin. I had been following the website of the World Run for a little while beforehand thanks to the marvellous list of impossibility challenging escapades taking place at the moment on the multidays.com website. The first picture I came across was of a fresh-faced, tousled-haired boy; probably one of the helpers, I reckoned. After a while I thought, hmm, this "helper" is cropping up in quite a lot of photos...
....you see, to my stereotyped eye Jesper doesnt look anything like your average ultrarunner. Im not sure I can describe what ultrarunners are supposed to look like; perhaps something like the runners I am used to seeing from the Self-Transcendence 3100 mile reports, where every mile run has been somehow imprinted into their eyes for all to see, into the way they carry themselves, right into their souls. Jesper looks like he's just heading down to the shops. I think in a way it's a wonderful advantage to have; everyone he meets, he leaves them thinking maybe a feat like Jesper's is not so impossible after all, and maybe they can do something like that someday....
I don't think Jesper does introductions; he just starts talking like he's known you for ages. The first couple of miles weren't so much ran as laughed away. Jesper posesses a humour laced with a good healthy sense of the absurd.
Running wise, it was an education on how to look after your body; Jesper hasnt been injured once during the entire trip. He stops every 5k to stretch, some Coke and chocolate (he's worried that people will try to emulate him and he'll leave a trail of obesity stretching across the world), and to check his log book. I think the following conversation rather aptly celebrates Jesper's humility:
Jesper (apologetically): you guys dont mind if I take another couple of minutes before I head off again?
Shane (breezily): Yeah, sure, Jesper, take your time.
Shane (mental note to self): er, which one of us is doing the world run?
All the photos you see here were taken by Jesper using a handheld device that was a combination of phone, cameras and GPS tracker that logged his position to within 10 meters. Within two minutes, any pictures taken were accessible from his website.
What impressed me was the fact that, without commanding or laying down the law or anything like that, he was very much in control of his schedule. Often this would simply be done by picking up the pace to make up for a delay. During the run in Ireland, he was very well supported by a Dublin ultrarunner who has the Guinness World record for 48 hours on a treadmill. This runner stayed with him for the whole week he was in Ireland and worked non-stop to make sure Jesper was looked after.
I finished the run running longer than I had ever done before (about 47k) thanks to some tactical wolfing down of McVities Hobnobs. Ambarish, Colm and Vinny ran a little with Jesper Saturday morning en route to a weekend of rambling and roving somewhere out in the West; I had to stay behind and do the smelly PhD, the hand-in deadline being only two weeks away. It occured to me when I finished that I hadn't thought once about the PhD during the run, so good a time was I having. That's not true actually, I had to explain it all to Jesper; he likes to learn something new every day.