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Ultramarathon man: Conquering Europe

Kevin Carr

A lot has happened since my last post and there have been a lot of ups and downs in my race against the clock to complete the European leg of my world run.

I’m now 4000 miles into my 18,000+ mile journey and since my last blog I’ve travelled south east through Lithuania, Belarus, Ukraine, Romania, Bulgaria, and finally to Turkey. From Istanbul I fly to India.

In Lithuania, I learned the age old lesson that camping and semi-automatic rifles don’t mix well! It turns out that singing Guns N’ Roses to myself brought the actual guns out since I had mistakenly set up camp in the middle of a hunting ground! That night, I was treated to a firework display of semi-automatic rifle fire lighting up my camp. Needless to say, it didn’t make for the best night’s sleep!

Even that experience didn’t prepare me for the stress of running through Belarus though. I’d read a lot about the checkpoints at the Belarusian border being incredibly strict. How were they going to react to the arrival of a man and a buggy attempting to cross the border on foot? Nonetheless, after a huge amount of paperwork, I was eventually let into the country. With the checkpoint behind me, I just had the tiny issue of navigating the entire country without any concept of the language. I don’t speak Russian, and I definitely don’t speak Belarusian, so I had quite a challenge ahead of me.

The road signs were cryptic and since almost all businesses are state-owned, the need to differentiate between shops, restaurants and anything seems to be virtually non-existent. Shop interiors were hidden away behind net curtains so there was no way for me to distinguish between a DIY store and a café! Nonetheless, the landscape was incredibly beautiful in parts, with several areas reminding me of my home playground of Exmoor. Belarus was like a different world to the one I’m used to. The disparity between rich and poor was extreme and I saw horse drawn carts being overtaken by Mercedes and BMW cars.

I suffered my first bout of food poisoning in Belarus, so had no choice but to take a few days off to recover. Since I was on a very strict eight day visa, I had to cover almost four marathons in less than two days, or risk paying a hefty fine, or even imprisonment! Of course, I’ve covered 50 mile runs many times before but not pushing a buggy, on tired legs, pre-fatigued with over 3000 miles of running. It was the first time I’ve ever faced an ultra-endurance run with a well-founded niggling doubt in my head, and it was unnerving. But I had to do it.

The weather was rapidly deteriorating, with the winds growing in strength, in inverse proportion to that of my legs. They were heavy, slow and unresponsive. I had shin splints and I was running through a blizzard, against a tight deadline. The weight of my buggy, which was usually a curse, was here a blessing as it kept me weighted down. When I finally arrived at the border to the Ukraine I had just 90 minutes to spare!

The Ukraine easily had the worst roads in Europe – asphalt on top of mud, with no foundations and littered with potholes. Cars and trucks had to swerve to avoid losing their wheels and I had to keep my eyes and ears focussed on the traffic at all times to avoid being accidentally hit!

Just as I was getting used to the terrain, another bump in the road emerged. Christmas was just around the corner and I’d stopped in the town of Manevichy at a local pizzeria. After setting off again I realised with horror that my bank card had been swallowed by the cash machine! After a long and broken conversation with the bank, I returned to the pizzeria as I had a six hour wait to get my card back. The waitress who had served me earlier, Natalia, was joined by some friends and they all made me feel like a long lost companion.

It’s so heart-warming when strangers bend over backwards to go out of their way to help you. One of the guys, Vlad, even offered me a place to stay. I was fed, able to wash and had a warm bed for the night. I left Manevichy a day late and several new friends later.

Christmas passed and I spent the final days of 2013 running through Romania. The Romanians were the most interested people so far. It was the first time of the run that I was welcomed by a whole village. I felt like I was back on Dartmoor; it was a real farmers’ welcome!

In Bulgaria, I started the New Year on a high, hitting 230 miles in one week, running across the stunning foothills of the Carpathian Mountains. The conditions were perfect – cool crisp air and blue skies. I even managed to get sunburnt – you try buying sun cream in Bulgaria in January! Thirty-four miles of mountains was a tough but beautiful farewell from Bulgaria as I crossed the border into Turkey. My strategy for this final leg of Europe was to slow the pace and camp along the way to Istanbul.

And as for my New Year’s resolution; well, I only have plans to run four continents this year.

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