WELLINGTON, New Zealand – Powered by hash browns and chocolate milkshakes, a New Zealander has run the length of his country in a record time of 18 days and eight hours.
A former drug addict, 64-year-old Perry Newburn is not your typical endurance athlete.
His nutrition plan included plenty of stops at McDonald’s restaurants. He kept his pace in his head rather than using a fancy GPS watch. And his support crew for half the distance consisted of his mate Graeme driving ahead in Perry’s Toyota Corolla wagon.
But Newburn ran and ran and ran, averaging close to three full marathons each day along the 1,300 mile journey, which he finished Wednesday. About 50 people ran alongside him at various points, and he raised several thousand dollars for an autism charity.
“To be able to achieve those kinds of things, you have to be an unusual character,” said Bette Flagler, who supported Newburn along part of the route on the North Island.
Flagler said Newburn had energy to burn in pleasant weather as they posted humorous videos of him skipping and crawling along the highway. But things got more intense toward the end of his journey, as Newburn faced unseasonal snowstorms and hail.
Newburn said he needed to hold his emotions in check until he got to the finish.
“I almost collapsed in a blubbering mess,” he said. “I was just so elated. And happy I didn’t have to get up the next morning at silly o’clock.”
Newburn was often on the road at 4 a.m. and ran through each day and into the night. He said he discovered running after he gave up heroin in the early 1990s, following a 16-year battle with the drug.
“Running was a good way of clearing my head,” he said. “It was part of the process of getting everything back into the right space again. Rebuilding myself, I suppose.”
Distance runner Lisa Townsend joined Newburn one day for about 46 miles before finishing with sore feet while he continued. She said that because they were running along the side of a small highway with many trucks driving past, they needed to keep their wits about them. They passed the time by chatting and counting power poles.
The run wasn’t even Newburn’s longest – he has completed a continental crossing of the U.S. In September, he got in some practice by finishing a six-day endurance run in Adelaide, Australia, clocking up 356 miles to take fourth place.
Friend Kashif Shuja said Newburn relied on a crumpled 20-year-old paper map to plot his route. Worried that a few weeks out Newburn didn’t have so much as a spreadsheet to plan each day, Shuja stepped in to help arrange accommodation, meetings with other runners and social media.
“My job was for him not to die, and bring him back safely,” Shuja joked. “What he’s done is inspired thousands of people into doing more than they think they can.”
Newburn said that aside from all the blisters and some aches and pains, his body held up well. The best part, he said, was meeting people along the way who ran with him or offered him a bed for the night.
“You see so much negativity in the world these days, but two or three days on the road and you experience the awesomeness, the positiveness, the generosity of people,” he said. “I get blown away every time.”
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