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Interview with an Even Crazier Runner

Following my interview with Eileen M. Fannon in November, meet Andy Kinney, who Eileen introduced me to at the Solar Eclipse Marathon in Port Douglas, Australia - where Andy and I both finished our seven continents quest.

If you thought Eileen was crazy, just wait til you hear from Andy! Check out his reflections on the questions I asked him. (I've included a few of my own comments in italics.) Fasten your seat belts, and off we go!

Photo: Andy and me at the finish line of our 7th continent. The remaining photos in this post give you a fun peek into Andy's personality. :)

Q: How can we NOT start with Marathon des Sables?! What motivated you to choose this race?

Andy: Strangely enough a UK TV vet by the name of Ben Fogle first introduced me to the event when he completed the Marathon des Sables for a BBC documentary way back in 2004.

Like many pipe dreams this lay dormant and forgotten for several years until 2009 when for some reason, which I can no longer recall, an existential need overcame my good sense to register for the 2012 edition.

The challenge of MdS started even before I entered because registration, that sells out in minutes, opened whilst I was half way up Kilimanjaro. Just a taste of the preparation needed to even consider doing such a race.

However, that doesn't answer the question.

I was motivated to choose this race because I found it interesting. I don't know why. I admit that it doesn't make an awful lot of sense to want to run around a desert while carrying a 20 odd pound pack but I guess the way I am wired meant that spending days clambering over dunes under an unrelenting Sun was going to be fun.

Actually, it makes a lot of sense (to me, anyway ;). Sometimes it's the really wild things that just call out to be experienced!!

Q: What was the hardest part about your training for MdS?

Andy: It would be fair to say that at the start I didn't have a clue how hard MdS was going to be. However, I found that once my entry was confirmed I had all the motivation I needed to train.

It almost goes without saying that I spent hours, days even, on my feet getting used to running with a backpack weighing around 10 kilos (20 pounds), but, deciding what should be in the backpack was a whole other logistical conundrum that absorbed a surprising amount of time.

So, I didn't find the training hard, beyond what anyone would expect when exercising. However, and forgive me answering a slightly different question, there is a whole other aspect of 'preparing' for MdS which caught me off guard.

The spreadsheet.

I don't believe I'm alone amongst those who have done similar races in becoming obsessed with weight when the event requires participants to carry everything they need for the week except for water and tent. I do not think it had ever crossed my mind prior to MdS to calculate grammes per calorie, or how much a toothbrush weighed.

Many hours and days were spent poring over product specifications researching what would make it into the kit list, hence, the spreadsheet, which became infamous amongst the others I knew doing the race with me.

A related question would be; did I enjoy the training? For the most part the answer is yes. The only exception was my attempt at Bikram Yoga that I tried as a means to adapt to high (40C/104F) temperature activity. The heat and particularly the humidity was tough but in the end I just didn't enjoy Bikram Yoga.

Wow, the spreadsheet is a fascinating aspect indeed, and one I wouldn't have considered either. Physical and mental training are a given, but pack logistics sound just as important here!

Awww, too bad about Bikram! ;) We've had that conversation before, I'm a huge fan! But to each their own, you are plenty hard core. :)

Q: What was the hardest part of MdS? Did you ever doubt that you would finish?

Andy: The answers to both questions occurred on the first day.

The first day started off reasonably well with what I considered to be a sensible slow pace. However, with several miles until the end of the stage I was panting for breath as if recovering from a sprint yet I was barely walking.

The negative thoughts caused my brain to spin in search of an explanation for this drastic turn in fortunes. Why after several years of training to become the fittest I had ever been was I struggling to maintain a stroll.

Basically, and fundamentally, I got my nutrition wrong. I had failed the most basic of rules; eat and drink, little and often.

If there was one thing I would change about my training it would be to practice the discipline of taking on a little sustenance at regular intervals. That is not to say that I didn't take on sustenance during training events but in a race where I had to break the ice seal to open a toilet door there just wasn't the same desire, or need, to take on water every few minutes.

So, the answer to the first question, would be the discipline required to adhere to the routine of having a morsel to eat, and a mouthful or two of fluid, every 15 to 30 minutes.

The measure of my failure was the realisation that on the first day, there was about 7 hours between toilet visits. Once I came to this most obvious of common sense discoveries I concentrated on being better on the subsequent days. The outcome being that on each of the following days I became faster and generally just felt better.

Way to diagnose the problem and change your tactics. In my book, there's no such thing as "failure" - only learning! Pretty cool to get consistently faster during a race like this.

Q: What surprised you the most about MdS?

Andy: Meeting kids in literally the middle of nowhere.

The route includes many occasions where you can see featureless landscape for miles in all directions, yet, in the most out of the way place imaginable there will be a bunch of kids in sandals cheering on the runners.

That's awesome!!

Q: What did you learn about yourself during MdS?

Andy: Nothing.

I don't mean my answer to come across as flippant for a question that did get me thinking surprisingly long and hard on a subject that I had previously not considered.

Certainly a cliche but "fail to prepare; prepare to fail" was something that I considered carefully when I was training for MdS. Although I consider myself lucky to not suffer major issues during the event, I should also acknowledge I did prepare over the span of 3 years.

I confess that your answer made me laugh. :) I love your honesty! Glad the question prompted some thought. Your preparation over years sounds like it really paid off, and your learning from the first day was quick and effective. Woohoo!

Q: Ok, we can zoom out now. How many marathons, half marathons, and 10ks have you run?

Andy: Over 100 of each; specifically 106 marathons, 138 half marathons, 106 10ks and over 250 5ks.

Have I used the word "crazy" lately?!

Q: How many countries have you raced in, and what's been your favorite?

Andy: The first part is a surprisingly tricky question to answer. Some clubs that record such things have hotly debated discussions on what constitutes a country. The obvious yardstick would be a country recognised by the UN but that would exclude places like Antarctica from my list. I know someone who records a country if it is a member of FIFA whereas others use the country code list of the easily remembered international standard (tongue firmly in cheek) ISO-3166.

The answer is then somewhere between 65 and 75 depending on the qualifying criteria that is flavour of the month.

My favourite is just as hard to pin down given that there are some destination races that are simply spectacular, such as, The Great Wall of China, or Patagonia, or Kilimanjaro, or Solar Eclipse which I'm sure you remember with fondness as you sauntered merrily up the infamous Bump Track. However, the country, and race, that comes immediately to mind when asked the question is Iceland.

I imagine the follow-up question is why is Iceland my favourite? The country is filled with wonders; outdoor hot springs, The Geysir, geothermal power plant which might be just for the nerds like myself, plus many more, including the fact the race is organised to coincide with a culture weekend.

If I'm allowed a second choice that isn't technically a country; Antarctica. That was simply an amazing trip to a place filled with postcard after postcard worthy scenery.

Who knew there were so many ways of defining a "country"! Iceland sounds AMAZING, full of wonders indeed!

Ah, the Bump Track. Fond memories. :) And yes to Antarctica, simply stunning.

Q: What's the weirdest running experience you've ever had?

Andy: A few spring to mind, such as meeting kids in the middle of a desert that I mentioned above; the hail storm in the same event, I mean who expects a hail storm in the Sahara; Little Rock Marathon which started in almost tropical conditions but finished in an ice storm that grounded flights in a large swathe of the country.

However, the weirdest has to be coming across a naked runner.

I had been warned that Bay to Breakers has some unusual traditions, such as, the Salmon which is a train of runners that start at the finish line and then run in the opposite direction of the race flow. Pretty cool tradition, and I did see them fighting their way upstream against the river of participants. However, my first inkling of the truly weird was glimpses of flesh amongst the crowd of runners ahead. It didn't register at first until the crowd opened up to provide an unimpeded view of a birthday suited runner. It was the first, but not the last I saw during the event.

I hear ya! I've experienced the salmon and naked runners myself in Bay to Breakers! It always seemed ironic to me, as a barefoot running enthusiast, that the naked runners still wore shoes...

Q: Which race are you proudest of and why?

Andy: I remember many races with fondness and particularly those in which I make new friends, or run with family, or have a story to share, but pride isn't something that immediately springs to mind.

Love that, Andy!

Q: What's the number one piece of advice you'd give to beginning runners?

Andy: Find something that you enjoy; something that brings a smile; something that motivates you to head out into weather that encourages the opposite.


Q: Why do you run?

Andy: There are the obvious mental, and physical, health benefits, but for me those are bonus side effects. There is a commercial on at the moment which resonates strongly with me. Specifically, it is unlikely we'll look back and regret not buying stuff like the latest sports watch that measures biorhythms plotted against the movements of stellar bodies in the cosmos. The commercial is for a travel company with the conclusion that we'll regret the places we didn't go.

I'll take a little liberty to extend that sentiment; I run as a motivator to not only visit new places but to also create new experiences.

What a great commercial! So true about new places and new experiences. Thank you for your perspective!

Q: What keeps you motivated during a grueling race (or a race that's 26+ laps around a 1-mile loop)?

Andy: I'll just add I have run around an athletics track over 105 times to complete a marathon; not once, but twice!

Motivation for me during a race is a desire to complete what I started.

105 laps... that's dedication indeed!!

Q: What gets you out the door for a training run when you'd rather stay home?

Andy: Habit.

In my experience, if I can establish a habit of running then it is easy to go for a run.

Brilliantly simple. (And elusive for many of us... way to inspire!)

Q: What's your primary running goal going forward?

Andy: Establishing the running habit again after motivation evaporated during the pandemic.

After that, well, I would like to complete a run in 100 countries.

A good point here. Being in the habit at certain points in our lives doesn't mean we'll always be in that habit... sometimes it's even harder to reestablish a habit because it comes along with negative self talk about how "good" we "used" to be and what's wrong with us that we can't do it like we used to... (Not saying you're there, just a little side rant of mine from my own experience... this is where I love to bring in giving ourselves grace. :)

100 countries, here you come!!

Q: What have I not asked you that you wish I had? (and then please answer :)

Andy: What destinations are on my bucket list?

I have a number of destinations in mind; Cape Town so that I can tour the Cape of Good Hope as well as complete the parkrun alphabet challenge; New Zealand so I can visit Lord of the Rings country; Zimbabwe to see Victoria Falls in person; Bhutan for the scenery; and so many more.

Apart from covering the various corners of the planet I also want to enjoy more events with friends and family, because those events are the ones I look back on most fondly.

Love your bucket list! The parkrun alphabet challenge sounds like a fun one, and it's hard to beat Lord of the Rings scenery!! Wishing you many beautiful, connected, and quirky runs ahead.

Andy: A bonus question and answer; would I do MdS again?

No. I enjoyed MdS and would happily recommend the event to all those seeking, what I consider to be, a tough but doable race. I have a few reasons for not repeating; it is expensive; there are plenty of other exciting experiences; and I just don't want to taint the great memories I have of my first.

Brilliant! How many times do we yearn to repeat an experience because it was so awesome, and yet end up disappointed if we do and it's not as great as we remember... When we truly savor the experience the first time, we don't need to repeat it. Live every moment as if it will never come again... because it won't! But new magical moments will...

Andy, thank you for sharing your stories and reflections with us - it's been a treat! You have MANY exciting experiences ahead, and I have no doubt that they will be uniquely YOU.

Keep shining your light, my friend!!

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