Running around the world, literally…

Apr. 4, 2014

So, you think your latest 50km was a long run?  How about that 100K, ridiculous right?  Not even close.  XTERRA Trail Runner and Trail Mix contributor Christian Friis just caught up with one of his Danish countrymen, Jesper Kenn Olsen, the guru of going long.

“He ran around the world…twice,” explained Friis.  “The first time he went around the equator way, then he did it from North to South, and back up again.  After a few years on the road he is now back and has written a book about his experiences. I had the privilege to chat with Jesper about the experience.”

Here are pieces from the chat, translated from Danish to English…

Q: You have just written a book, what was toughest? To run around the world or write the book, tell us about the process.

A: They are both intense experiences, but of course in each their own unique way. There is no doubt, that the year it took to write the book, in one way or another also demanded some attention from me. The most difficult part was to relive the difficult parts of the run. It’s no use if you have been too far removed from the experiences when you start writing about them. Of course it was mostly positive things, mainly the year in running up through South America, and the strange, but good, weeks and months through the Middle East.

Q: How is it to come home again, after having been on the road for nearly four years?

A: That is probably one of those things that shouldn’t seem to be a problem to start out with. It’s great, after years on the road, to be able to drop down the bags, and know that tomorrow I do not have to pack or unpack them again for the millionth time. It’s also great to have habits again, to go down to the same shop and buy my favorite food. Those are some of the things that you will have to learn not to do during a run around the world journey, because every day is a new experience. The routines and the habits that make up your everyday life and make you feel safe; you won’t feel that while you are on the road.

It is also a challenge to have to be satisfied with being in the same place. You don’t have thousands of kilometers to run, and many new places and faces to meet, until, there are new plans and challenges.

Q: Tell us about your best experiences?

A: The best experiences have to do with people and the meeting of cultures and life in general in different places. All these seem strange at a first glance, but friendship and respect quickly develop under these circumstances. For example, the half year it took to run through Siberia in 2004 in the First World Run and in the small villages in the Middle East and on the outskirts of Sahara, this is where these friendships developed fast.

It’s incredible to be received as a friend with open arms, when you have perceived the living in these places to be a struggle. It didn’t matter if it was in the biting cold of Siberia or through the 53 celcius that it was in Sahara.

In one way it is logical, as in those parts of the world you rely more on friendships to be able to survive a longer journey. Without hospitality you have no places to get water, food or shelter, there are simply no hotels, at least not in a 400 mile radius. For example in Europe and North America you can take care of yourself as hotels and restaurants are readily available. In that way, the toughest areas were also some of the most positive on the way, despite the fact that my culture and background is completely different than from the local people.

And, the worst:

Of course there are bad experiences too, and when they do come they turn your experience upside down. Perhaps the toughest thing I have experienced was a month with stones being thrown at me daily through a deserted place of North Ethiopia in 2009. This was an area squeezed in between South Sudan and Somalia, and they rarely saw any outsiders, and now this “Ferengii” (white man) all of a sudden ran across the fields and through the villages. It was more often than not a loud affair. But because it is a continuous run I could not just drop out and run somewhere just because it gave me problems.

How did you get the idea for the trip?

The inspiration to the World Run came from my desire and curiosity to experience some of the more exotic parts of the world, but also to see behind the scenes of how everything works in the local societies.  One thing that it taught me when running through a country was to appreciate the nature, culture and the people.

How did you manage the loneliness of the long-distance runner?

That was one of the toughest things to handle. In the Second World Run I had my girlfriend Sarah from Australia with me on parts of it. But the months and half years when I was alone, there is no doubt it was difficult to keep the positive energy going, knowing that you had hundreds of miles ahead of you.

It’s important to focus on the positive things. In any given situation, be it a dusty road in Mozambique or in the middle of Copenhagen, there is a choice of focusing on the positive or the negative factors that you have ahead of you. In that situation it does not help that you blindly focus on the fact you are alone for the next 500 miles of running. Instead it is important to spend that time to focus and give yourself that time that you rarely have in your regular day that is full of stress. Then there is hours in the sun or under the stars where you have time to think about the big questions in life. That there is also an aspect of quality in it.

Q: What are your plans now?

A: I am about to finish up the English version of the book about the two runs. It’s been interesting and a challenge to formulate it all in English, even though the two runs “was in English,” then it is different to try to sum it all up in a different language. Other than that, then I am doing lectures, and also planning something new, but it is yet too early to talk about that.

Jesper’s World Runs:

World Run I - 22 months, 26,000 miles, London-Copenhagen-Moscow-Vladivostok-(air)-Niigata-Tokyo-(air)-Sydney-Perth-(air)-Los Angeles-Vancouver-New York-(air)-Shannon-Dublin-(air)-Liverpool-London.

World Run II -  The North-South Run: Starting in North Cape, Norway in 2008, and finishing in Cape Spear in New Foundland in 2012. The run did have a few breaks as Jesper has to recover in Denmark from dysentery and a deep infection in his right arm. The total distance was 25,000 miles.

Jesper is no slouch either, his personal best times:

10 km: 31:29

½ Marathon: 1:08:10

Marathon: 2:27:57

100 km: 6:58:31

100 mi: 15:26:09

6 days: 780 km

Longest distance: 26,232 km (2005, WR)

Longest run: 662 days (2005, WR)

Learn more at

Trail Run