A while ago I spoke at an adventure event alongside Kevin Carr. I was struck by what a nice, normal, humble guy he was whilst simultaneously being freaking hard and a bit mad. It’s a combination I like a lot.
I caught up with Kevin – not literally as I could never manage that – in India, part way through his attempt to run round the planet. His tale should convince anyone that they too can take on an adventure that excites and challenges them.
Hi Kevin! What are you up to now?
I’m currently running 18,000 miles around the world, aiming to become the first runner to ever circumnavigate the world fully self supported. It’s a bit like being the first person to solo Everest, only much, much tougher!
What have been a couple of the highlights so far?
Witnessing a massive display of the Northern lights for the first time in my life, just shy of the Arctic circle in Sweden… Having run every step of the way to reach that spot made the experience all the more special.
Also the feeling, after a few thousand miles of running, of turning around to face where I’d come from, and realising that it was too far to go back now. This meant I finally realised that it felt right to say, “I am running around the world” rather than “I’m trying to run around the world.” When you’re only a few hundred miles from home it’s hard to feel that it’s really under way.
Why did you want to do it after already doing the amazing off-road run from Land’s End to John O’Groats?
This is who I am, what I do. I’ve had a succession of mainly seasonal jobs to pay my way in life and lately delivered personal training, but living in a small rural area there were never enough clients to make a full time living.
However I’ve never considered myself a ‘Barman whose hobbies include running inordinate amounts’. I’m an elite level endurance athlete, in a sport that just happens to have no money or financial rewards!
What were you doing before all this adventure stuff?
Dreaming of adventure! No, seriously, at age 19 while on a gap year I read a book named ‘Hug the Monster‘ by a ‘professional adventurer’. I had never even heard that term before! He was the first guy to swim the gap between Europe and Africa, something everyone knew was impossible!
Then I went to University, formed a mountain bike club as there wasn’t an existing one, joined the rowing team and dreamt of being a professional cyclist. It was in my mid-twenties that I realised that I’m a more gifted runner than cyclist and fully embraced pushing the limits of Ultramarathon running.
Traditionally Ultramarathon runners test their endurance by running as many miles of a fixed lap as possible on a set time. I’ve always preferred the idea of actually running from A-B or a huge loop, over real ground rather than a track.
This is where the Adventure element comes into my runs. I find inspiration in wild terrain, and without financial backing, I’ve had to perform my runs self supported. This changes a ‘huge run’ into a giant of an adventure – there’s a big difference between running 200 miles around a track and running 200 miles over the Scottish highlands with no chance of communication, carrying all YOUR food, kit and accommodation. It’s incredibly challenging and there is an element of fear to overcome. This is inherent in all adventure.
What impact has it had on your life?
It’s been tough, much tougher than you can imagine to make this type of life happen, and I still haven’t ‘made it’. I’m managing to make these record attempts happen, but I’m not earning a living from it, yet – far from it.
There’s enormous reward though in the satisfaction of the achievements. If you think every ‘sponsored athlete’ you see in a magazine is being paid a wage to wear that kit you’re mistaken, especially in the current economic climate. Finding sponsorship is gruelling and demoralising work. It’s harder than the event usually. It can be spirit crushing but it can be done.
How did you turn your dream into reality?
Persistence, being stubborn and learning to not care what people may think of you. In particular those closest to you – well meaning, caring, family members – who will be looking out for your best interests when they look you in the eye and tell you to “Get a proper job” and stop wasting your education on chasing adventures.
It takes a lot of guts to take that on the chin and keep persisting in trying to make this happen when you’re getting rejection after rejection from potential sponsors, and people ask ‘how’s it going with the latest crazy scheme?’ It’s tough to swallow their doubts and carry on. Until it is under way there’ll always be many people who believe that your aspirations are nothing more than pie in the sky rambling.
You can’t afford to listen to them, there are always naysayers. Don’t waste time arguing with them; just smile and use the anger to fuel your gruelling training sessions. It’s easy to stop believing in yourself, and then the motivation and the training drops. So you have to be thick skinned to be a full time adventurer/athlete.
What practical steps should people take to make their adventure happen?
Don’t waste time on the Internet sweating over the small stuff… What kit to use, what’s the best food to take, is a route through this area safe, practical or even possible? All this sort of stuff… You can waste hours a day on forums and easily get sidetracked.
Life is a lot easier when you talk to people instead instead of machines!
Find someone who has done something similar to you (It doesn’t even have to be the same sport just same area, i.e. I can easily garner valuable advice from cyclists on many challenges I face as a runner). Then phone/email them asking if it’s ok to ask for some advice at a time that suits them, and offer to pay them for a half hour of their time. Many won’t charge you, but even if they do it’s worth it in time/headaches saved. Seriously don’t think you have to reinvent the wheel! [A Note From Al: if you want people to help you, then make them realise that you are serious, and that you have done some of the hard work yourself. I get loads of emails saying, “I’ve just had an idea to cycle round the world / row an ocean / go to the Arctic. I know nothing. Can we meet up and you can help me with advice?”]
What do you know now that you wish you’d known before your trip?
Language barriers usually aren’t barriers at all, just an opportunity for you to swallow your pride and feel a bit silly. As long as you show willing, most people will try to understand you and help where they can.
Do you have any tips for making a budget trip happen?
Unless what you’re considering is crazy expensive, it’s probably much less hassle to work a part time second job/overtime than it is to chase sponsors. Just think of all the hours spent on emails, phone calls, cash spent travelling to meetings etc. If you worked 5 hours extra a week and saved it that’d probably be simpler. [A Note From Al: I didn’t prime Kevin to say that! But it’s pretty good confirmation of the Adventure1000 idea.]
Get fit and save cash by cycling/walking/running your commute to work. While you’re at it sell the car, or if you have a beat up old car and some patience and space sell it as parts/spares on eBay bit by bit, you’ll get much more cash overall.
If you can, then consider wild camping during your adventure which will save you a tonne of cash rather than looking for cheap hostels. Then once in a while you can stay somewhere even mid-priced and your overall budget still remains very low.
To do this though you should practice many times by going on ‘Microadventures’ beforehand so you know how to spot and set up stealth camps and see if you personally find stealth camping adds to your ideals of the spirit of adventure or if it leaves you too anxious to actually sleep/rest!
Do you have any opinions on equipment, visas or any other of the nuts-and-bolts parts of adventure?
USB cables will fall apart: they weigh nothing so take spares! Also protect your other non usb cables where they bend. At each end use a small length of wire ( a small length of coat hanger works great) attach this where they would bend, using duct tape or heat-shrink and this prevents your cables bending and hence snapping. Carry a couple of electrical cable connector blocks, this way when a cable breaks its easy to reliably repair with a Swiss Army knife instead of a non existent soldiering iron.
Decent waterproof casing for electronics is essential, but still it will break if its a multi month or multi year expedition. Consider the cost of replacements or plan redundancy.
If using equipment, learn how to fix it at home, have you ever changed a spoke before? Fixed a Puncture wearing a head torch in the driving rain before? If kayaking somewhere remote, could you fix a snapped paddle with a knife a branch and zip ties? Don’t wait to learn how when you’re at the side of a busy road hands shaking from the cold!
Have some first aid training, have a plan and basic knowledge for emergency services in your destinations, is there even an ambulance service in that country if so whats their number? (For instance in most of India, as in many developing countries there is no ambulance service, be aware of where the nearest hospitals are and consider having numbers for taxis in your area)
Carry your cash, travel cards and credit cards in separate places, use a wallet for day to day spending with less than a week’s worth of cash and all your expired credit cards in there, and lots of receipts. If you’re mugged just give them your wallet and walk away, never risk your life for cash!
Have photocopies of all your ID saved on cloud storage and as PDF on your smartphone here it will be say to print duplicates anywhere in the world even without data access.
Do you honestly know what you hope to experience or gain from your adventure?
You should be very clear on what you’re after before you start planning, is it a challenge, an adventure, an adventurous challenge, a chance to connect with nature like never before, or a time to push past all your comfort barriers and see what you’re made of? Or somewhere in-between?
Work out what you’re truly hoping to experience during your ‘Adventure’ before the planning stage even gets underway or there’s a chance you’ll be chasing the wrong goal and feel deflated when it doesn’t feel like you thought it would. And be clear this is YOUR adventure.
My new book, Grand Adventures, is out now.
It’s designed to help you dream big, plan quick, then go explore.
The book contains interviews and expertise from around 100 adventurers, plus masses of great photos to get you excited.
I would be extremely grateful if you bought a copy here today!
Thank you so much!