In our summer-long series, “Highway to MEL,” we’re exploring all the twists and turns of a perfect getaway. Stick with us as we roll through all-American tales of great escapes down endless highways, and prove once and for all that there is nothing more liberating than the open road. Read all the stories here.
“That day, for no particular reason, I decided to go for a run.”
Oh, there was certainly a reason. After initiating an angst and grief-fueled run prompted by the surreptitious departure of the abiding love of his life, Jenny Curran, Forrest Gump spontaneously modified that spur of the moment mailbox sprint into a series of cross-continental treks. The stated time of his running dalliance was three years, two months, 14 days and 16 hours, suggesting that he had a ton of grief to process while he was running his heart out. So how many times could Forrest Gump reasonably have traversed the country?
Yeah, how many times could he have criss-crossed the country?
Forrest began his jaunt by hopping off the porch of his home in Greenville, Alabama and then sprinting out to the mailbox. He continued running toward the Mississippi state line, and proceeded all the way to Santa Monica Harbor in California; then he turned around and dashed to a lighthouse at the edge of Port Clyde in Maine. Admittedly, he was seen running through a variety of different locations over the course of his many trips from sea to shining sea, and not all of them would fit tidily into the aforementioned route. Still, if we assume that this initial trip from Santa Monica to Port Clyde was representative of the normal distance traveled, that equates to approximately 3,130 miles per trip across the country.
That’s a lot of miles.
It certainly is. This is also where things get interesting, because we need to make certain presumptions about what Forrest meant when he claims to have spent all of that time running. If you convert all of the time that he said he spent jogging to and fro into days, it equates to roughly 1,172 days, which gives him credit for essentially a full day’s worth of running even on the 16-hour day when he abruptly quit in the middle of Utah’s Monument Valley.
Forrest explicitly articulated that he stopped to sleep, eat and handle other business, so we’d be right to assume that he spent at least 12 hours each day occupied with non-running activities. If he ran at a reasonable five-mile-per-hour pace, this means he could cover 60 miles each day, which would enable him to traverse the full distance from coast-to-coast in just a shade over 52 days. At this rapid pace, Forrest would have been able to make it across the U.S. 22.5 times.
Is 12 hours a day of running realistic, though?
Probably not. A far more conservative (and reasonable) approach would suggest that Forrest completed the equivalent of a single marathon each day before packing it in. Most marathons take approximately five hours for experienced, non-elite runners to complete. If Forrest opted to complete the equivalent of a single marathon each day, that would be 1,172 consecutive marathons, and necessitate 119.5 marathons to reach from one end of the country to another, enabling him to complete the journey 9.8 times during the entirety of his travels.
Furthermore, if we presume Forrest essentially ran 1,172 marathons in as many days, and we estimate that a 160-pound man of his presumed size would burn between 2,600 and 3,000 calories during such a jaunt, we can make certain presumptions about the volume of food he would have needed to consume each day to fuel his grueling efforts — roughly three boxes of chocolates just to break even on caloric expenditure.
Also, we can’t ignore the rules of thumb for marathon recovery. Many running coaches will advise that you take a full week off for recovery afterward, and that the body may take up to four weeks to fully recover. Others will say that it takes one full day of recovery for every mile raced during a marathon. We must assume that Forrest wasn’t racing if he was going to sustain his progress day in and day out. However, the effort definitely would have taken a toll on him, underscoring the need to place a reasonable limitation on the daily distance he traveled.
Honestly, even a marathon-per-day approach still sounds like it would have been miserable.
By the way, another thing Forrest’s mama told him was that you can tell a lot about a person from their shoes, including where they’ve been and where they’re going. On this count, a set of running shoes is predicted to last three to six months if a person is running 20 miles per week. At his conservative pace of one marathon per day, Forrest would have been blowing through as many as two to three pairs every month and around 72 pairs in all.
But it’s not just his shoes that would have been punished. Although the results of the studies are still being contested, a full 12 percent of marathon runners — not taking into consideration a guy who runs a marathon every day for consecutive years — supposedly develop scar tissue around their hearts and suffer from premature aging of the heart itself.
Even if the fears of cardiovascular damage are somewhat overblown, we still have no model for assessing precisely how much damage running a marathon daily for years on end would do to the human heart, let alone what it would do to their joints. Most marathon runners work their way up to 50 total miles during the week of training just prior to the actual marathon, before backing off afterwards, which results in peak running weeks of 76 miles including the marathon itself. Forrest was more than doubling that total every week for several years.
Again, I know that he was dealing with severe emotional trauma, but his ironman feat probably caused far more literal heart damage than his romantic heartbreak ever could have. Frankly, he’s lucky not to have suffered heart failure in the middle of the ordeal. Mama always said dying was a part of life, but Forrest was really going out of his way to make sure truer words were never spoken.