South Florida: Just one stop on an around-the-world run

Jesper Olsen has run through sandstorms in the Sahara Desert. He has run through perpetual sunlight above the Arctic Circle. He has run through Egypt, pitched his tent in Istanbul, had tea with peasants in Sudan, and reveled in music flowing from tiny huts in the Andes Mountains.

He has even run through Siberia, though that’s another story.

And now, all that remains between Olsen and his final steps of a 24,854-mile journey is a 3,284-mile stretch of U.S. 1 that began last week in Key West, continues this week in Miami-Dade and Broward and climaxes with the end of World Run II in Newfoundland, Canada.

Forrest Gump, of fictional fame, ran across America for three years, two months, 14 days and 16 hours.

He’s got nothing on Olsen.

Olsen, 40, plans to finish his second run around the world July 1. That would make it four years to the day since the modest but spirited strawberry-blond from Denmark embarked on World Run II.

“One lap around the world, it’s the biggest challenge you can give yourself as a long-distance runner,” said Olsen, who ran through Miami-Dade and reached downtown Fort Lauderdale on Tuesday. He will continue about 10 a.m. Wednesday, heading north from Broward Boulevard.

Escorting him through the streets of South Florida — a rare treat for Olsen after almost a year of running solo through South America — are local distance runners who are opening up their homes to Olsen at night.

“It was an amazing experience,” said Hallandale Beach attorney Andrei Nana, 35, who ran with Olsen for two days. “He’s very humble. Very modest. We runners think what he’s doing is awesome. Regular people must think, ‘Is he crazy?’ ”

Olsen began the final stage of his journey at Key West’s Southernmost Point marker on Jan. 10. By Tuesday morning, he had taken off from Collins Avenue in Bal Harbour, heading north on State Road A1A and finally onto U.S. 1 in Broward.

He averages 20 to 30 miles a day — a marathon’s distance is 26.2 miles. And except for every now and then when he alters his meticulously planned course to run through can’t-miss areas such as Tuesday’s jaunt along the ocean, the route will keep Olsen on U.S. 1.

The worldwide trek began at North Cape, Norway, and continued through the Middle East and into the Sahara Desert.

There, he endured sandstorms and 127-degree heat.

Through much of his run through Africa, Olsen had a perpetual fever and amoebic dysentery. He also had malaria, “but not too severe.”

His stomach couldn’t handle the food.

“Once you’re out of the big cities, you have to eat what the locals eat in the huts,” Olsen said. “You can choose not to get sick — if you don’t eat.”

From Africa, he took a flight to South America, starting in Chile and running north — sometimes high in the Andes, sometimes low in the jungle. From Colombia, he flew to South Florida to start the final leg of his round-the-world excursion.

World Run I, which he completed in October 2005 and included Siberia — where he had a too-close encounter with a wild bear — took only 1 year, 10 months.

“The first one,” from west to east, said Olsen, traversed “across Europe, Asia, Australia and North America, and was as easy a route as possible.”

During most of World Run II, Olsen is accompanied by a driver who stays a few miles ahead with water, energy drinks and basic food, clothing and equipment. In the jungle, or when it was impossible to have a driver, Olsen pushed a baby jogger with the equipment. He is sponsored by several companies, but his main supporter is Ecco, a Danish shoe manufacturer, which has given him about $120,000 to support him through the run.

Olsen blogs about the run for his website (, enters his thoughts on a laptop (when he has Internet access) and wears a GPS through the entire trip. He said he runs for the sheer challenge and experience, and to prove that people are generally kind, no matter where they live.

“It’s amazing how friendly people are no matter what culture, what religion, what background. My friends told me, ‘You’ll be robbed. You’ll be attacked. They’ll steal your money.’ They said, ‘You’ll get kidnapped in Colombia the moment you run across the border.’

“They were wrong.”

The Dane earned a master’s degree in international politics from Copenhagen University, and spends his non-running time getting paid for delivering inspirational talks to groups and businesses.

For now, he is inspiring South Floridians.

“The guy is just a wonderful human being, and he’s doing something that’s incredible,” said Israel Sosa, 53, assistant principal at Miami-Dade’s Westview Middle School and ultra-runner who regularly competes in 50-mile, even 100-mile races.

“I don’t think I could sustain his under-10-minute [per mile] pace and discipline to do this every day under really tough conditions,” Sosa said. “His stride seems effortless. It doesn’t seem like he’s struggling at all. And we never stopped talking.”

On Monday, Sosa brought along a friend from Cuba who ran a few miles. Olsen, 5-foot-10 and 154 pounds, got his first taste of Cuban sandwiches. He eats mostly chocolate during the day, but he’ll try anything.

“The guy from Cuba had been in a kayak and sailed all the way from Cuba to Florida!” Olsen said. “Now that takes guts. I’d rather stay on the ground.”

The only thing Olsen hasn’t had time to do is find a soul mate. It’s tough when you’re always on the road.

“If you tell a Scandinavian woman you’re going running for a few years,” he said, “you are going to find the door very solidly locked when you come home.”


Source:  Miami Herald