What does it mean to run around the world? It’s unimaginable. The task shares little with ultra marathoning. The term ‘journey run’ is a start. And how do you define ‘around the world’? Do you need to cross each continent? Is there a minimum mileage? Garside’s conditions, supplied by Guinness, stipulated a total distance exceeding the length of the Tropic of Capricorn (almost 23,000 miles), at least one equator crossing, and starting and finishing at the same place. They also set, in advance, the standards of evidence: logbooks, witness statements, photographs and videos.
The structural challenges involved in completing – and proving – the journey were what attracted Garside’s primary nemesis, Canadian distance-running enthusiast David Blaikie. At the time, Blaikie wielded huge influence via his now-defunct website, Ultramarathonworld.com. And Blaikie believed Garside was a fraud. He became a primary source for journalists writing about Garside, his reporting obsessive and meticulous: page after page dissected Garside’s route, his qualifications, his physical and emotional state, and even his social life.
Ultramarathonworld.com’s coverage often resembled a prosecution, and the Nullarbor was a key exhibit. Garside arrived in Perth on August 13, 1998, having travelled from India to Japan via China over the previous eight months. He set out from the Nullarbor’s westernmost roadhouse, at Balladonia, on September Less than four weeks later, Garside claimed, he arrived at Ceduna. Blaikie didn’t buy it, implying that nobody could accomplish a foot-crossing solo: ‘Where did he get the 12 litres of water a day he says he required in hot conditions? Roadhouses along the Nullarbor are up to 190K apart, and there are no rivers, lakes or streams.’
It’s a good question – if you haven’t crossed the Nullarbor and you’re forming a thesis based on maps. From an armchair, it is impossible to run the Nullarbor. Once you’re out there, however, there is a way. Robert Garside discovered it. So would I.
Garside didn’t detail his ‘method’ for running the Nullarbor. His online diaries were filled with anecdotes and snapshots; he was having fun: ‘I like to be out in the wilderness – that’s more in keeping with who I am.’ But there were also social interactions. ‘I like the world, the people,’ he says. He had found a girlfriend in Australia – Lucy McKinnon, a medical student – and was preparing for what he believed was the journey’s most important leg: the Americas. Garside’s plan was to fly from Sydney to Chile, and run north to the US. From there he planned to hug the Pacific through San Francisco, then turn east to New York, but he had a key stop to make: Hollywood. There, Garside thought, fame and riches awaited.
It wasn’t going to happen. In early 2000, in Venezuela, he fell in love with another woman, Endrina Perez, who then accompanied him for much of the rest of his run (and he later married). But by May, the simmering conflict with Blaikie escalated. Garside responded angrily to Blaikie’s increasingly strident aspersions, calling him a ‘mummy’s boy’. Blaikie pronounced Garside a fraud: ‘I can’t accept his claims. There is too much to swallow at face value. And a thorough review of the diaries only drives the point home.’ He began posting letters from his readers challenging The Runningman. One offered to pay Garside to compete in the Ultracentric 48-Hour Track Run, scheduled for November in Dallas, Texas: ‘Should be a piece of cake considering your accomplishments. I’ll have to warn you, though, no ‘mummy’s boys’. Garside ignored the solicitation.
On September 1, 2000, Garside crossed from Mexico into southern California. Wearing a sombrero, he talked excitedly to TV crews about his plans – not knowing that everything was about to come apart.