Sometimes in life we are blessed to witness greatness. I remember 10 years ago this month I had the privilege
of being part of a feat that few have accomplished.
Have you ever met someone who ran a marathon a day for 2 months straight?
Well I did.
They all ask, “Why would someone in their right mind do that?”
Well I shall tell you about the great Neil Garrod.
First, a short history lesson.
In 1451, King James II of Scotland persuaded Pope Nicholas V to grant a bull authorizing Bishop Turnbull of Glasgow to start a university. That act initiated what became Glasgow University. Flash forward 550 years to 2001. It was a goal of mine to graduate early from college so I could live and work abroad. Scotland was a love of mine since visiting a few years earlier and I began preparing for what I could do there. The possibilities were endless. I secured a 6 month work visa, packed my bags and moved to Scotland on New Years Day. I found a job doing finance research for Professor Neil Garrod who was dean of Glasgow’s faculty of law and financial studies. Soon after working for him he made me an offer I couldn’t refuse.
The conversation went something like this:
Dave: “You want me to do what with you?”
Neil: “Right, drive a camper van with me through Europe for a few months. I’m going to run from Rome to Glasgow.”
Dave: “What? Wait…Why?!?”
Neil: “Because this is life. Let’s go.”
Dave: “Okay, why not?”
Neil was a serious marathon runner and wanted to find a unique way to celebrate the 550th Anniversary of the university. He would run the possible path of where the bull would travel from Rome to Glasgow.
It sounded exciting to me so I embarked on this journey with the British version of Forrest Gump. I was in charge of driving the camper van so I flew to Belgium to pick it up. It would take three days to drive down to Rome where the race began at St. Peter’s Square. I drove through Belgium and made a quick stop to visit Bastogne. Next, I drove to Dijon, France and then another leg across the Alps passing Mont Blanc and to Genoa, Italy, which rests on the Mediterranean Sea. It got interesting when the camper van was broken into while I was away eating dinner. My passport and a credit card were stolen but thank God they didn’t take my Credence tapes (Big Lebowski fans out there?). I had to quickly repair the driver’s side window with plexiglass and limped my way down to Sienna where I would meet up with Neil Garrod and his family. I was exhausted from that experience so it felt like the ultimate retreat in Sienna. There we would eat amazing Italian food, drink the best wine and enjoy conversation with people from all around the world. I think Neil thought I handled the whole robbery situation with calm but the truth is I was freaking out in my head the entire drive from Genoa to Sienna.
On the day the run began in Rome I was able to receive a new passport from the American Embassy and was on my way. The first few days were spent trying to escape the population centers and get to open road. The most memorable days were running through Florence/Firenze and then through wine country (Chianti) when Neil ran about 50 km (over 30 miles) in one day. We went through amazing towns like Sienna, Castellina in Chianti, Donato, Bologna, Firenze, and Aosta. Somewhere along these roads I cracked the van’s rear bumper and broke yet another window running into the side of an extended gas station roof. It’s amazing I still am given insurance to this day.
The daily routine would be to wake up at 6am, eat a big breakfast and Neil would run 5-7 miles. We would stop, eat, and I would ice Neil’s knees. Following that, Neil would do a couple of afternoon runs. Every night we would finish it off with a bottle of wine and eat some of the most tasty pasta one would ever dream of. The routine was difficult but incredibly rewarding. Observing Neil and his discipline for running only motivated me to run with him. So I joined him most days and built up stamina to go 5-6 miles. When we reached Aosta near the French border, I left the team and went back to America for my friend Heath’s wedding. I handed off the baton to another young student who helped Neil finish the race to Glasgow. It was sad to leave but Neil always made me feel part of the team. I heard later that the day after Neil finished the 1500 mile run, he flew down to South Africa and ran a 100 mile, 2 days race. To this day I’m convinced that he is not human.
I could write for days about the experience. Neil kept an extensive diary during this trip and you can read it all here.
During the Mega-run I grew up a bit. I made the effort to embrace adventure, took some risks, and understood how to lean on God when I was lost. What changed me most of all was learning to embrace “spontaneous experiences” that God puts in front of me. I had the choice to stay in Scotland but the Mega-run was definitely one of those experiences to seize. Before moving to Scotland I wrote my bucket list and running a marathon was a priority item to attain.
The year after the run, thanks to the inspiration of Neil Garrod, I finished my first marathon in Chicago.
Be spontaneous my friends. Chose your own adventure. Ultimately it is God’s adventure in you.