Check out the PART ONE video of Perry’s Run Across America! This part covers day one thru day 13, from New York City to Indiana.
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Runnin’ down a dream
By Zaryd Wilson
Perry Newburn ran from New York to Los Angeles in world record time. He tells Zaryd Wilson how he did it.
Watching the rain pour outside his Feilding home, Perry Newburn is glad he can say he’s not going for a run today.
Every morning for almost two years it’s been a must.
Last month the endurance runner finished his dream run across the United States. In completing the nearly 5000km journey from New York to Los Angeles he claimed the world masters record for the coast-to-coast run, covering the distance in 51 days, 16 hours and 40 minutes.
Newburn took up running just over a decade ago with the goal of running a marathon before he turned 50. He celebrated his 60th in September while on the run.
Born in Christchurch, Newburn came to Wanganui in the early 1990s after he met his wife, Kath. He stayed in Wanganui for 20 years where they raised their son Shaun before moving to Feilding.
Newburn has an impressive running CV, which includes an Auckland to Christchurch run, a circumnavigation of New Zealand and a 72-hour run without sleep where he ran a New Zealand record 487km in that time.
But the trans-American run always sat in the back of his mind.
A few years ago Newburn joined the online American running community Moon Joggers. It was started by two Utah sisters who decided to try to clock enough miles to run to the moon. It grew into a community of runners around the world who were logging their training miles online. New Zealand’s Newburn soon led the pack.
About that time he started talking to the group’s founder, Angie Webb. He mentioned his idea and the pair slowly stitched together a plan.
“One of the hardest things these days is trying to raise that necessary money, it’s not easy,” Newburn says.
He’d proven himself in New Zealand with multi-day runs and slowly the funds started to come in.
Big Barrell and Cross Country Rentals and other businesses and friends helped with donations, plus a fundraising effort from Moon Joggers.
“It was pretty humbling to be quite honest.”
The training was the easy bit. At his peak he was clocking over 200km a week and has run more than 20,000km in two years. On the other side of the world Webb was dealing with the logistics. She would be with Newburn the whole journey, following him in a van.
“She’s a brilliant person, brilliant family. She was the unsung hero in the background organising it all. I needed that back up, I needed someone based over there,” Newburn said.
At the end of August, Newburn jetted off to New York and on September 1 took his first stride west from the steps of the New York City Hall.
Over the next seven weeks he would pass through 13 states, running 90km a day, up to 15 hours a day. It takes the body a while to adjust to what it’s being put through, Newburn says.
“It’s a body-mind thing, I think, because your mind’s saying you ran 55 miles or whatever, you don’t need to do that today. In the first four or five days the body was screaming at me.”
He settled after about five days but immediately faced another battle in the 30C- plus temperatures. Coming from the New Zealand winter didn’t help.
“I was starting to drag a bit, I’d get out of the car and the heat from the ground was just bouncing up at me.”
The undulating terrain of Pennsylvania was next. He was not even a third of the way into the run and his body was telling him it needed time to recover.
“Probably by the second or third week, my quads were trashed.” So badly he was unable to stretch his leg back.
The days were relentless and there was not time for recovery. Newburn finished each day about 7pm. There was time for a shower and a meal but little else. Four to five hours’ sleep a night was the norm.
“I was probably so geared to it, it was so in my mind that ‘this is the routine’.”
And while that was tough, it has also been difficult getting out of that routine since he’s been back.
“My life for that period of time was just totally built around running. Now I find myself sitting around, twiddling my thumbs thinking ‘what do I do?’ It’s not easy. I think I’ve gone through a slight flat period.”
Each of the 52 days on the road was hard.
“There were times where I didn’t want to get out of the van.”
Experience has taught him to get on top of those thoughts before it festers. “You kick yourself out of the door quick. You know the longer you sit there and think, the harder it is to get out.”
Sending Webb ahead in the van a few miles was a technique which offered him no choice but to run ahead.
Rattlesnakes, tarantulas and dogs all presented a danger that needed to be looked out for. “There were a couple of times we almost stepped on rattlers on the road. I didn’t like them at all. People had a laugh because I talked about my fear of snakes.”
As the California sun set on October 22, Newburn weaved his way through Los Angeles’ inner city with a convoy of supporters in tow.
“You try to think what it’s going to be like running and finishing. The last 200m I sent the group ahead so I could get my mind geared towards finishing.”
The training, the pain and the memories of people he’d met and the support and thoughts of the family in New Zealand overwhelmed. “I knew I was going to break two or three times that day and I did. It was just a feeling of completion. It’s hard to explain.”
His story spread as the run progressed and his Facebook page gained 28,000 followers. People wanted a slice of the action. Newburn can recount many stories of people who travelled hours to run a few miles with him.
“One women was only going to do three quarters of a mile but I said ‘hey, let’s go to that point at the top there’. She made it a mile and a quarter and she ran that extra bit with me and ever since then she’s been running every day.” Newburn feeds off that.
“I’ve always said most people have the capability to do what I do. It’s about wanting to do it, being able to train to do it, and balance your life around it.”
Newburn now sits up with the best to have attempted the feat. As far as anyone knows his time is in the top five for the US coast-to-coast run. He beat Marshall Ulrich’s previous masters record by a day. The overall world record is 46 days eight hours and 36 minutes, set in 1980.
“Just to be put in the same sentence as the Marshall Ulriches of the world is an achievement in itself. I mean, he’s one of the greats. He’s pretty much done everything.”
Sheer bloody mindedness is what Newburn says he has.
“It’s that whole point of being able to concentrate on one thing and make it happen as best you can. I’m not quite sure how you get that. I don’t know whether it’s learned or whether it’s an ingrained thing or what. It’s just impossible to tell.”
But Newburn has experience with a far greater battle. He beat a 16-year heroin and alcohol addiction. The skills learned from that were put into his work as a drug and alcohol counsellor. Now he applies them to his own running.
“I think getting back into life from something like that can almost be the same skills. You’ve got to battle. Running was part of that getting back into life. It was getting back into sport.”
Newburn is a man who knows the limits of his body and mind inside out.
“One foot in front of the other” is a phrase he repeated over and over again throughout the run. At times he would stare at a piece of bitumen a foot in front of him and tell himself to just get to that point. “I think that’s the only way. You can take that philosophy across into life. Keep it simple. How many times do people, me included, try and find the hard answer to something when it’s probably staring you straight in the face.”
Newburn isn’t yet finished with running but says the next few months is a time for recovery, family and reflection on a dream achieved.
“You gain in experience, you gain in confidence, you gain in every area possible. I think it makes you a better person. You see the goodness in people. It’s really nice to see that good side and I think that’s one of the main things I’ll take from it.
“There is one helluva lot of good in the world.”
– Wanganui Chronicle
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