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Taking on giants

by Editor
Wednesday 16th March 2011

May 29th 2009 a runner, mostly unknown within the world of ultramarathon running, set out to complete the longest unsupported run in UK history (and the 2nd longest run ever ran in Britain) he had two main aims: To become the first person to run between Lands End & John O’Groat’s off road, and to successfully outperform the world’s best known ultramarathon runner Dean Karnazes aka “UltraMarathon Man” who according to Men’s Fitness magazine was “The world’s fittest man”.

He’d been ‘a runner’ for less than 3 yrs (following knee surgery to repair cycling injuries in 2006) and was just 28yr’s of age, in a sport that rewards maturity and experience; the odds seemed stacked against him.

On paper it seemed near on impossible, many would say he was being naive at best – most would just say he was plain deluded. You can’t just appear out of nowhere in a sport and start setting records - pushing boundaries, expecting to match or improve upon the performances of those at the very top , can you?


Apparently you can:



After completing 50 marathons in 50 states in 50 days, Men's Fitness Magazine declared 'Ultramarathon Man' (Karnazes) The World's Fittest Man. The '50 in 50' is the most difficult run UltraMarathon man has completed.

Who is “Mountain Marathon Man”?

The above chart drawn to scale shows the enormity of the run, well over a thousand miles ran, and the total ascent climbed higher than that of Mount Everest!

Shown on the same chart is the total mileage and ascent covered by 'Mountain Marathon Man' (Carr) during his successful attempt to become the first person to run the length of both England and Scotland over trails and mountains.

Lands End & John O’Groat’s off road

The run from Lands End to John O’Groats off-road entailed running over 1,200 miles and scaling the height of Everest 4 times, Carr competed the run unsupported, carrying a heavy backpack that included camping/sleeping system, spare shoes, waterproofs, socks, first aid, GPS, Satellite Tracking device (to verify attempt), head torch + batteries for all the electronics, as well as food and water!

This type of sell-sufficient run in upland terrain is known amongst fell/mountain runners as a “Mountain Marathon” This was the longest mountain marathon run ever ran in the UK, hence: “Mountain Marathon Man”.

This was a run of two parts, not two halves – the first 1000.5 miles from Lands End to Fort William was tough going, averaging more than a marathon a day every day for 5 weeks. Carr lost one stone of bodyweight in this five week period. What followed were 234 miles of Wild Highlands and a 20 mile road run to the tip of Scotland.

The pace had to be upped through the Mountains – it was impossible to carry surplus food that the extra days would demand.

The following 8 Days were a horrendous effort; losing 14lb’s, mostly muscle, in little over a week (the same lost in 5 weeks across England!). The problem was food!

Carr explains: “I left Fort William with far too little food – but it was all that I could carry while maintaining a running pace fast enough to cover 35-40 miles a day carrying a heavy pack across mountains; it’s an effort equivalent to running 80+miles of flat running along a smooth road without the hills/mountains or backpack. I had an average of 1,200cals a day – using well over 8000+cals a day it can be done but there’s definitely a price to pay.”

It took more than 15 months to recover from the ordeal – the main problem being lack of food with any nutritional value through the 250+ miles of wild mountains across Scotland.

The last 94miles had to be run in an almost continuous effort 30hrs of running in a 34hr period: “On the second to last day my food rations were so low I knew I had to squeeze 2.5 days of effort into 1 long non-stop run, there simply wasn’t enough food to fuel another day or two.

“Mountain Marathon Man”"The straps of my backpack needed tightening everyday to match my shrinking shoulders and torso – my arms looked like they were shrinking in front of me! – I was heavily depleted and running below reserves, literally eating my own body with each mile.

"There was no way I could run without food. I Knew I wouldn’t have given up that close, I could have walked even crawled to the finish but that would’ve been a very sad way to finish the run.”

Lack of food was one problem – it was compounded by a complete lack of Electrolytes:

Carr had grabbed a handful of salt sachets from a McDonalds drive through on his way out of Fort William. They lasted only two days, the next 5 days (aprox’ 6 marathons) through the mountains were ran with no protein or electrolyte intake – a recipe for disaster.

“The last 30+hr effort pushed my electrolyte levels dangerously low, at one point my vision began flashing off, for over half an hour I had to run remembering the ground ahead of me, recalling where to place each footfall to avoid a sprain, there simply wasn’t enough salts in my system to get the vision from my eyes to my brain, my legs were consuming everything, at the same time my nose began bleeding for no apparent reason, it was the first time I really thought I might not make it to the finish, I thought there was a chance I’d dug too far, that I might be dying or might be causing brain damage? And all I could worry about was not making it!”

New challenges - The Pyrenees!

Carr is back in training and is ready for his next challenge: The Pyrenees!

“When I went for the Lands End –John O’Groats run I wanted the record of being ‘the first’ to run the UK off-road, but I also wanted to out-perform UltraMarathon Man’s (Karnazes) performance of running 50 Marathons in 50 days, at the time I believed he was the best ultra runner in the world, but I was certain I could perform a much harder run – and I did. It cost me a lot doing it without a support crew, really burnt out my whole system – it took 15months before I could run a marathon again! But I learnt how far I can go without food/protein/electrolytes or any support, with these things I know I can go much further or much faster or both: I now believe that in Europe at least Killian Jornet is the best mountain ultra runner – I think he might just be the best in the world, he is definitely a bigger talent than me, which is why I’m chasing his record for the Pyrenees”

In October 2011 ‘Mountain Marathon Man’ Carr is setting off from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean, running across the Pyrenees, his aim to beat Killian’s record of 9 days, “I think it can be done in 7days – that’s my goal” – Carr.

Find out more about 'Mountain Marathon Man' Kevin Carr here

Read more about Kilian Jornet's crossing of the Pyrenees here or follow his video series 'The Quest' here


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