Last updated: 26-Nov-18
By Luke Jarmey
Rob Young and his attempt to break the US Transcon World Record (the Fastest Crossing of the USA) which stands at 46 days, 8 hours and 36 minutes have become a matter of deep controversy in the ultra running community. Rob spoke exclusively and in detail to Luke Jarmey of RunUltra about the run.
Rob Young, better known as Marathon Man UK, is an endurance runner known for his record breaking 370 marathons/ultras in 365 days. But why stop at one year? So Rob ended up running for 420 days, finishing with, you’ve guessed it, a cumulative total of 420 marathons/ultras.
Since then, he’s gained a 1st place in the Race Across the USA. But perhaps of more merit, he broke Dean Karnazes endeavor of 350 miles in one continuous run. Rob ended up with a record 373 miles and a visit from the ambulance. Symptoms similar to a mild heart attack turned out to be total exhaustion. Not surprising, considering the magnitude of the run.
Keen to have a crack at one the biggest extreme endurance challenges around. Rob set his eyes on US Transcon World Record, also known as the Fastest Crossing of America (USA) on foot. The record of 46 days, 8 hours and 36 minutes, set by Frank Giannini in 1980, has stood for 36 years, for one simple reason. Running roughly 67 miles a day for a solid month and a half, is insanely difficult.
Fast forwarding onto his own attempt, questions were raised when he started posting 70 to 80 mile days in the first week. When compounded with photos of him looking relaxed, shopping and giving a presentation at a school, opinions were further intensified. After a surveillance video surfaced of Rob’s RV truck, but no sign of the man himself people accused him of faking sections of the run, by riding in the truck. Though subsequent footage was somewhat exonerating, by showing Rob a few minutes behind the RV, there was no easing up of the outcry.
An online battle was erupting on sites such as LetsRun.com and various social media groups, with heated discussion between detractors and supporters. All throughout this, Rob and his team strenuously denied all wrongdoing. However, they did not release comprehensive GPS data at the time, which meant the controversy continued. Global sporting publications, such as Outside Magazine and Sports Illustrated fired out articles, effectively taking the discussion from the online ultra running community, to the world stage.
Rob’s daily mileage was steeply falling throughout all of this and an open invitation was extended from the team, for anyone to come and run with him. They stated there was nothing to hide. So a crew of runners, including ultra running legend Gary ‘Laz’ Cantrell, came along to observe and document. A copy of Laz’s thoughts on it all can be found on page 259 of the LetsRun thread. In brief, Laz was impressed by Rob’s grit and determination and his team’s openness and co-operation. But he didn’t observe any evidence for the earlier 70 to 80 mile days.
Rob officially pulled out of the record attempt on the 20th of June, citing medical issues with his feet. GPS data in the form of Strava data was subsequently released. However, elite level segments, such as a marathon time of 2.30hours at 8000ft were pounced upon and accusations of data doctoring were quickly leveled. An absence of any cadence data was another point of controversy.
Rob still strongly denies any wrongdoing and an official statement from his primary sponsor, SKINS was released. They have given Rob their full support, unless an independent investigation, commissioned by SKINS proves otherwise. More information on this planned investigation can be found here.
At this point there is no indisputable evidence either way. We keenly await the findings of the investigation, to shed more light on the matter. Until then, Rob was kind enough to answer some of our questions on the attempt, the controversy and his reasons for pulling out.
Q. This must have been a tough month for you Rob. How’s the recovery going? And how’s it feeling not having to run every damn day?
A. The recovery is going well. I still have a broken toe but the major issue of the Cellulitisis is getting better although still there. I’m in good spirits despite the accusations that are completely untrue and I just cannot wait to get back to running so I can train for the six day races that I will be doing.
Q. Just to rewind, can you explain what Frank Giannini’s US Transcon World Record is all about?
A. It is the Fastest Crossing of America (USA) on foot by a male; a record that has stood for nearly 36 years.
The current record for the fastest run across the USA is 46 days, 8 hours and 36 minutes. It is up to the runner to choose the shortest/most suitable route between the two cities as long as “…the route distance [is] equal to or greater than New York City to Los Angeles.” Any two coastal cities may be chosen as long as their distance apart exceeds the 2,766 miles from Los Angeles to New York.
Q. What sparked the idea to give it a punt?
A. After winning the 2015 Trans-American footrace from LA to Washington and after doing all the marathons and ultra marathons every day I thought about it, and felt good for the time in terms of getting in the distance in. I knew I would have to throw in more miles every day but I felt I had enough experience from the back to back marathons and ultra races that I had done around the UK and in America – which I am sure some of your readers may have seen me at. So, I thought I had enough about myself to handle this type of back to back running; it is my forte.
Q. Building up to the attempt, what did your training plan look like? And was it particularly different from what you did for your previous records?
A. Building up to the run I ran between 10 to 16 miles in the morning followed by a gym session midday and ended with a 10 to 16 mile evening run. During this time I also ran races such as The Red Rose Ultra, Cannonball’s Canalathon and others and also did days in the range of 60 to 80 miles to get the real feel effect. Towards the start of the run I spent a week or so resting up.
Q. How did the start of the attempt go for you?
A. Really well. I was running really well and at the time we had CCTV America with us filming. I felt very nervous to start but a lot more confident after the first day was out of the way. I settled down into a plan but realised after a day or two that it was the wrong plan for me. The plan was for me to hit mileage in the 50’s before increasing it to mileage in the 70’s. I realised that I always hit races or runs hard for the first half and then the second half would be a cool down, ready for the next day, so I thought, why would I not stick to what I am used to? I swapped the plan around and started to work hard hitting the high mileage before the millage would naturally decrease.
I got as far as I could with the ability I have and unfortunately I was not able to make New York.
Q. Talk to us about why you had to end the attempt and what your recovery is looking like.
A. The attempt was not stopped due to the broken toe because I had run with two broken toes in 2014/2015 and that does not bother me but the Cellulitis is what caused me to stop. I could barely walk on my foot at the end and the pain was really intense. I had to go one and a half sizes bigger (on my shoes) and even then they were too small with the front of the shoe cut out.
Q. Moving on to the online controversy; it must have really taken its toll on you. Did you at first try to ignore it and not let it bother you?
A. Whenever I came in for a lengthy time I would try to view stuff on the internet if signal was around, which it was not for most of the run. When I did see the first negative comment I was upset by it as I was there trying my best, doing it right (honestly) and the comment saying that I was not, was crazy. I even said come and watch as there is a live tracker for them to just turn up. I even offered to one guy that I had enough of the trash talking and I would pay for him to come and watch the run for himself but he refused. If he had, then his opinion would be different.
The controversy did affect me as I am an honest person doing or trying to do the thing for the right reason. It is a sport that I love, and I was running for three charities.
Q. At what point, if at any, did it start to affect your running?
A. About 18 days in it really affected me. I like to think that my mind is the greatest asset and it was being chipped away hence the drop in mileage I think. I was always thinking about the negatives and how to respond on my next break rather than keep pushing on and ignore.
Q. Internet controversy can be like trying to navigate a smoke saturated minefield, blindfolded. But from what we’ve personally seen, the criticism has focused on four points. If you don’t mind (and to clear up some of the confusion), we’d love to hear your thoughts on them.
Firstly, there’s the CCTV footage and eyewitness account of the RV on its own – which we know you’ve since provided a reasonable explanation for. But for readers who weren’t aware of this, would you mind briefly explaining?
A. The RV went past a garage where someone recorded just the RV and posted it online stating I was not running and that I was in the RV whilst it travelled along slowly. What the person failed to do is post the whole video which showed me passing by a few minutes later. The CCTV footage was handed over by the Mayor of the town as he owned the garage and clearly you can see me running/walking past not long after the RV.
It was also upsetting that people started to jump all over this as many people asked why does the vehicle not go ahead a few miles and wait for you? If it did, then the gap would have been even bigger on this instance plus I like the safety aspect and also the rolling aid station aspect.
Q. Secondly, why was there a delay in the release of the Strava data? Would it not have started to clear the situation up earlier, if some of it had been released when the rumour mill initially started turning?
A. We had a small crew who rotated through driving, crewing, looking after me, and recorded all data on the documentation, logs etc. that needed to be done (to satisfy the criteria for breaking the world record) along with taking thousands of photos, videos etc. GPS was plugged in as soon as we had signal and uploaded before being deleted from the watch to make room for the new data, as is the norm. The crew thought that we posted enough information/updates as we went along just as much as every other past transcontinental runner who was going for the record did, but maybe more could have been done. However, unless you have tried this type of run before then it is hard to understand why more was not done in terms of uploading more to social media. It is tough through a big run across 100s of miles often without internet etc.
Q. Prior to and since the Strava data has been released, people have queried the ‘elite’ level performances. For instance, how you’ve gone from a verified marathon PB of 3.12 to running what appears to be a 2.30 marathon time at 8000ft in the midst of the attempt?
A. The Elapsed Time is longer than the running time hence breaks during the run, something “Lazarus Lake” of the Barkley marathon saw for himself. This means my actual running (moving) time is different than my actual Elapsed Time (overall time), the link you also show is a 3000ft decent (downhill running) during that period.
Q. Finally why hasn’t any cadence data been released? As this could potentially quash the cries of data editing.
A. Declined to answer.
Q. Moving on from this, what are your plans for the near future? You said something about a six-day race?
A. Once me and my foot have recovered I will be back training for certain races. I have asked to enter the 2017 Six Day Races in New York and in Italy and might even enter the Six Day event in Hungary. I will try for the record across America at some point in the future but with a bigger crew and many other things. I have learned a little lesson from this run but will be back to show what can be done. Firstly, I need to start saving up again!
Many thanks Rob.
Editor’s Note: This subject has aroused strong feelings within the community. At RunUltra we want to bring you as much information as possible so that you feel better able to carry on the discussion. We also respect runners’ rights to a fair hearing and to decent treatment across social media. We hope this interview is interesting, we know it is fair, and we would ask that any ongoing discussion continues in that framework. Thank you, Rob, for agreeing to be interviewed.
All images Rob Young except when stated.