In October 2010, Dubliner Tony Mangan departed his native city on a run which would take him around the world. Four years and 50,000km later, he would cross the finish line in Merrion Square, Dublin.
Tony is the current world 48-hour indoor track record holder, totalling a distance of 426.178 km within the two-day period. He is also the world 48-hour treadmill record holder with a distance of 405.22 km.
Now, Tony has teamed up with PledgeSports to raise money and publish two books which will detail the wealth of stories and experiences he has gathered from all over the planet.
PledgeSports Founder & CEO, Richard Pearson, caught up with Tony Mangan to talk about his run, the incredible challenges he faced, the people he met and his plans for the future. (Q’s in BOLD)
What makes a person want to run 50,000km around the world?
When I was younger I read a book about an Irish woman called Dervla Murphy who cycled to India on a bicycle. It was in the 1960’s when travel was not as easy as it is today. So, I decided to do the same, except I would take the long way home, I cycled around the world.As I always loved travel and adventure I put them all together and decided that the best way to see the world was on foot. I also need a challenge. That way I would see a country, a continent or indeed the whole world slowly develop – like an onion shelling its rings. If you can dream it, you can do it. I can see the day when journey runners and walkers will have their own self-driving support vehicles! As they said in Monty Python, “Luxury… In my day it was…
Now that you have finished running around the world you are walking around the world for cancer awareness. Why?
On my world run my mother was diagnosed with cancer. She lived a healthy and active life, didn’t smoke cigarettes or drink alcohol. So naturally it was a shock to our family. We felt that had she had a cancer check earlier that she could have been alive today. So my message is that life is precious and early cancer screening saves lives.I have found that fundraising can turn people off. I believe that an awareness message is more important. I save a Google Translate message on my phone and show it to the poor as well as the well-healed. Obviously, I need to fundraise to keep my cancer awareness walk on the road.
How did you conquer the feeling of wanting to give up on your world run?
I am acutely aware that there are many uppers and downers. If I am on a downward curve I use a lot of positive imagery and chant my mantras to fight off the doubting demons that want to change my focus and challenging my reason d’être.
What do you think about when you’re running on your own?
On the highway I am always focused on staying safe. I curse the dangerous drivers and think a lot about the people I have just met. There is so much kindness and goodness in the world that it makes running a joy. Running is the best medication, some people would do better throwing out their pills and hit the road!
You’ve been through a lot. What’s one piece of advice you’d offer to other Ultra Endurance Athletes?
Firstly, make it the most important thing in your life. If you are married with kids, you may have to get a divorce or perhaps it’s better to stay single like me!
Once you decide on your challenge break it up in your head into smaller manageable pieces. For example, when I ran 48 hour races it was 96 times only half an hour.
Strangest thought you’ve ever had while running?
There were times when I was running well that I was so mentally charged I got mad ideas. I even wondered if it would be possible to arrange and run a 24-hour race in Dublin on the weekend, the day before I finished my world run. Can you believe that? The next day I was doubting my sanity!
Strangest thing you’ve ever seen or done while running?
Unfortunately, many people have mental health issues which are not being treated in India and Indonesia. It was not unusual to see totally naked men walking down the road as though they were out for a morning stroll. People reacted as though it was normal and I usually got the honks to get off the road!
You turn 60 in April. Is your body starting to hold you back at all?
Obviously I have slowed down. Now I can’t even run one hour at the average pace that I set the world 48-hour record in, and that was less than ten years ago! I don’t care about pace, I achieved the ultimate endurance challenge and have nothing to prove to anyone. I stop for breaks often, and there is no stopwatch. My left leg has a lot of muscle wastage. I am dragging it a bit, but I will be alright. As long as I can draw a breath I will be moving forward.
We have covered ‘hitting the wall’ a bit recently, did this affect you much or are you way past that?! Can you describe ‘Concrete legs’ and how to recover?
When I was in Ecuador and only 14,000 kilometres into my world run I had an energy crisis. I effectively hit the preverbal wall. My feet were like two blocks of concrete, I could barely lift them due to excessive fatigue. This can be dangerous as tripping on concrete blemishes, cats eye reflectors or embedded stones in a gravel hard shoulder are constant hazards.
On that occasion I just took a couple of rest days. For me, at least that works best. I used the opportunity to look around the town I was in and of course do my office work, for true rest days are rare! I also believe that it’s a sin to be a slave to a stopwatch! I sometimes smile when I hear people who say the further they run, on say a run across America, that their body becomes more accustomed to the challenge. I say they haven’t run far enough. However, I am also great believer in drinking milk as often as possible as it has all of the necessary ingredients to aid recovery, it’s probably the world’s best electrolyte.
Can you describe some of the logistic challenges?
It was incredibly tough on many fronts. I also suffered badly for not being able to be able to source anyone to give me the backup help I needed. I was spending too much time on logistics. For example, I managed to find a contact in Bali, Indonesia to send my next pair of running shoes to. I found him by asking a previous host, an American Pastors who lives in Panama. Setting that up involved about 40 emails between us all.
Then the Asian visa nightmare. It took up a lot of my energy and many sleepless nights trying to find a route that didn’t have borders which were open to locals. Would I get a visa and if so how many days? Was the next country at war?
Can you describe the mental challenges?
You can get so tired that you have to keep inventing mind games just to keep moving. With something like this it’s the mind always has to be in control. The body is essentially lazy. It’s amazing what we are capable of once we focus. In competition and on my world run I have gone from being almost out on my back to running five minute kilometres. If you got a strong mind the body has a way of righting itself – just like a plastic duck in a bathtub flipping itself back up.
How did people react to you?
Sometimes it was funny. When I was in Latin America I often stopped in corner stores for a snack. I pretended I didn’t understand Spanish and just listened to them wondering how I arrived in their small village. They always looked outside and checked to see if I had a bicycle.
When I was ready to go I just put my backpack on and told them in Spanish that I had to run. I began running inside the store and ran out the door. It was always funny looking back at their baffled expressions. For most people life is a struggle just to survive without the extra handicap of running!
In India I was pestered from border to border where far too many people just don’t respect privacy. Many times I just collapsed onto a seat in a tea shop. I pleaded in vain to be left alone for I had been running over three years at that stage. I was ready to collapse. There were times when I sat in a corner with my head in my hands only to be tapped on the back by someone that told me he was different to everyone else. So many didn’t care about my wellbeing. There were times that with so many people crowding around that the darkened the room and lights had to be turned on. I always feel guilty talking like this as I feel I am betraying those that were kind to me.
In other countries I saw people looking into my tired, glazed eyes as though they thought I was a junkie. Sometimes people avoided my eyes or ignored me when I asked for directions. On the highway I looked like I was up to something but once in a town many people assumed I was a tramp!
Spending so much time on logistics meant I didn’t get enough recovery time; a vicious circle as I was so tired on the road.
Can you give the low point?
I was almost two years into my world run. On the day the London Olympics started I ran across the border from Bolivia to Argentina. I was on a terrific big high. I had enjoyed Paul McCartney’s performance at the opening ceremony on television while eating a huge steak.
Then I got a call from Ann my sister saying that my mam had been diagnosed with bowel cancer. Her prognosis was about two years to live, I had a little more than two years still left to run. She urged me to continue. Would she live until my finish? I ran on trance-like for a few days. One night I stopped to sleep in the grounds of a church. But instead I cried all night. What to do? I flew back to Dublin for mam’s first chemotherapy. Mam was always there for me, now I felt I needed to be there for her. She wanted me to finish saying she would be heartbroken if I didn’t. I thought about cutting a year off the run by not running New Zealand, Australia and south-east Asia. I had even picked up a 90 day Chinese visa while in Dublin. In the end I went back to my original plan.
So I flew back to Argentina and continued from where I left off. Mam had been too sick to see me off to the airport.
When I was leaving for the airport I will never forget the sad look on her face as she lay in her bed. I had to run around the world the way it was meant to be run, or mam would not rest in peace.
And the high point?
That was without doubt when I crossed the finish line with my mother. She outlived her prognosis. She lived for another five months and we had a lot of catching up to do. Many people said we kept each other going. I am sure it was as there were many days when I dug out a decent distance. There was one day in Germany near the finish of the run. I was so tired that I just pulled off the road and collapsed on the grass behind a hedge. I lay there under the stars for half an hour. It took a lot of will power to keep going. Those days I was also feeding off coping strategies I had mastered during my competitive career. Confidence, patience, perseverance, self-belief and even a good dose of arrogance are all important ingredients for any ultra-runner!
Can you describe a moment in which you were at one with yourself or that encompassed the meaning of the run?
The American poet, Walt Whitman in his poem, “A Song of the Open Road”, wrote these words: “I am in step with my vision. As I tramp my perpetual journey”
I was running through the Australian outback. I was running late in the evening and listening to Handel’s “Messiah” on my iPod. I had just run 70 kilometres that day and was full of energy. It was though I had gotten a solar recharge. Despite my lingering fatigue that moment I was at one with myself.
As you can tell, Tony Mangan has some very amazing and unique stories to share in his new book. If you would like to support Tony and see his book on the shelves in the near future then follow this link to his fundraising page.