Of all the great hoaxes in sporting history, few were more
devious than the one perpetrated by Donald Crowhurst, the
yachtsman who convinced the world he was circumnavigating it. In
1968 the 36-year-old electrical engineer from Great Britain set
out to win the first nonstop solo round-the-world race. Though
his radio reports to race officials suggested he was making
great progress, he had gone off course and was bobbing
listlessly in the South Atlantic, all the while faking a ship's
log designed to prove he had girdled the globe. Faced with
exposure if he returned home, he decided never to go back. In
the end he left himself two options: Stay at sea forever or kill
himself. He chose option number 2.
This is an article from the July 1, 2002 issue
Robert Garside has spent the last six years telling the world he
is jogging around it. In a bid to complete the planet's first
solo loop and claim a place in Guinness World Records, the
35-year-old Englishman maintains that he has covered more than
30,000 miles and six continents. In December 1996 he set out
from London's Piccadilly Circus, to considerable fanfare, with
only $30 in his pocket and a 17-pound pack on his back. Since
then Garside says he has traversed mountains, jungles and
deserts, been shot at by gypsies in Russia, pelted with stones
in India, jailed as a suspected spy in China and pounced on by
thieves in Panama. Scores of newspapers, magazines and TV news
shows have breathlessly reported how the astounding Garside
lives a hand-to-mouth existence, persevering through donations
and sheer pluck.
"During my travels I must have woken up 70 or 80 times
regretting I was alive," he says, "but I've never once
contemplated suicide. As hard as this odyssey has been,
apparently it's what I've opted for in life. It's my claim to
Well, not exactly. Runningman, as the former psychology student
calls himself, has been on the run from critics since late 2000,
when Canadian journalist David Blaikie accused him of making
fraudulent claims about his journey. On his Ultramarathon World
website (ultramarathonworld.com), Blaikie detailed
inconsistencies in Garside's own Internet accounts and
questioned how a man with little ultrarunning background and no
logistical support could run what amounted to nearly a marathon
a day for not just days and days but years and years.
With doubts about his mighty feats mounting, Garside admitted in
February 2001 to having skipped thousands of miles in 1997
during the Eurasian leg of his journey and having made up a
dramatic trek through Afghanistan and harrowing encounters with
Pakistani bandits in his Web diary. Both yarns, he confessed,
were cooked up in London--he had hopped on a plane in Moscow and
flown home to be with his then girlfriend. These "little white
lies" (Garside's words) have led to bigger and grayer ones (he
has been forced to retract claims for, among other things, the
British and world distance records), so that now nobody knows
what, if anything, he says is true.
No one disputes that Garside has racked up many, many miles on
his trek. The question is, how many has he missed? "Robert has
deluded himself into believing that he has not cheated," says
Tokyo-based journalist Peter Hadfield, an early ally who has
soured on him. "Every time his fabrications are exposed, he
invents a new story and convinces himself it is true. When his
cover is blown again, he invents another story and then
convinces himself of that."
Like Crowhurst, Garside is the kind of flawed self-mythologizer
you find in Joseph Conrad novels. Unlike Crowhurst, he's still
plugging along. After the scandal broke, Garside retroactively
rerouted his journey. The miles he logged from London to Moscow
would not count toward the record; instead he considered New
Delhi--where he resumed his eastward run in late '97--to be the
official starting and ending point. In Spain, as of last week,
he hopes to reach the finish line, the India Gate arch, by the
end of this year. Upon entering the sacred city, he says, he
expects to be joined by "500 Hindu runners" and be hailed as a
hero. "He will not get there," predicts British photo agent Mike
Soulsby, Garside's principal patron (to the tune of more than
$10,000) since '97. "I had thought Robert was credible but now
realize I have been totally and utterly conned. He's a miserable
little two-faced shyster."
That isn't to say Garside is without redeeming qualities. "He
could've achieved so much because his drive and determination
are incredibly strong," says Hadfield. "Instead, it's his lack
of moral character--his readiness to deceive--that's destroyed
Garside shrugs and says, "There's an expression in England: You
can't get anything in life without pissing a few people off."
On a sun-baked June afternoon Runningman is minimizing the
enormity of his deceit at a cafe on the east coast of Spain. He
has been hanging out in Valencia with his girlfriend, Endrina
Angarita Perez, and working the phones. To bankroll what he
calls his "mission," Garside badgers and wheedles everyone from
sunglasses salesmen to magazine photo editors.
The bistro is an egg toss from Parque Gulliver, a circular
playground dominated by an enormous man-mountain of slides and
chutes pinned to the ground by ropes. The Lilliputians are
children, who scamper in and out of Gulliver's hollow body and
scramble over his limbs. "At times I feel like Gulliver," says
the harried globetrotter, who believes the skeptics want to
entangle him in myriad discrepancies to keep him tied down and
off the road. "A run around the world has never been done, and
frankly, it scares people," he continues. "They can't handle the
idea. Neither can I. But I am living this nightmare until India,
and I hope that I will arrive without a psychological disorder."
Round-shouldered and thin, Garside has a white, hard face and
colorless eyes. An air of befuddled sadness clings to him. He
can be charming and chirpy until confronted with one of his
little white lies. Thrown off script, he becomes monosyllabic,
Though Garside argues that "words can't hurt," they certainly
get under his skin. Mention Blaikie, who tracks his movements as
relentlessly as Javert dogged Jean Valjean, and Garside's
nostrils twitch as if at an offensive smell. "Blaikie is my
Osama bin Laden," he says with righteous indignation. "I've been
watching this terrorist every step of the way. This faceless
coward is conducting psychological warfare, testing me. You're
not supposed to write such things based on theory. You write on
Garside says his own evidence--which he says is in storage at
his mother's home in Slovakia--proves Blaikie launched a mass
e-mail and phone campaign to discredit him and "sent out
Ultramarathon World Taliban posing as journalists" to disrupt
his press conferences. In retaliation Garside made abusive phone
calls to Blaikie's home, including 26 in a single evening in
early 2001. "I have the moral right to call up this cold,
cognitive bastard a million times and keep him up all night and
ruin his life," Garside says. "He's ruined mine."
Told that Blaikie denies dispatching any mass e-mails, Garside
sputters, "Hello! That's absurd! Why...why...it's got to be
Blaikie. Who else could it be?"
There's a flash of panic behind his eyes, but he gets a grip on
himself to say, "The truth is, my run is too much of an
outlandish, wild, wonderful thing to believe. That's why I'm
being persecuted. People have been persecuting me my whole life,
here and there in all sorts of ways."
Since leaving home at age 17 after a falling-out with his
father, Garside says he "has just been trying to survive." Alas,
his survival instincts have reduced an improbable run to a
series of impossible journeys. Asked why he pretended his run
had continued unbroken across Asia, Garside says impishly, "I
was naughty. I shot myself in the foot."
He blew off a few more toes last year when he admitted to lying
about running from Russia into Kazakhstan in 1997; in truth, he
said, he turned back at the Kazakhstan border. He now says that
the run ended several hundred miles before, in Moscow, and that
his subsequent hiatus in London lasted not seven weeks, but six
months. It was only after Garside's girlfriend dumped him and he
chose not to return to his college, Royal Holloway University,
that he flew to India to begin his quest anew. The fictional
passages in his diary at www.runningman.info were a
"psychological tactic" intended to convince potential
competitors that he was too far along to catch. "When you're
running around the world," he says, "you do anything to survive."
Anything includes duping the media in both Japan and Australia
by announcing in 1998 that he had broken the world distance
record, neglecting to mention the fact that he had started over
in India. "If you added all my distances together," says
Garside, "I would have set the record."
Anything includes asserting that in 1999 he jogged the 700 miles
from Brasilia to the Brazilian city of Maraba in two weeks,
averaging 50 miles a day with gear in tropical heat along a
clogged highway. Implausible, carp Garside's critics. "Bad p.r.
doesn't mean a damn thing," he insists and insists and insists.
Guinness, perhaps. Before he began, Garside was told that to
qualify for the record he simply had to travel 18,000 miles over
at least four continents--presumably finishing at the same
longitude at which he began. As proof of his run, Garside says,
he's gathering witness statements, log books and time-coded
videotape that he has shot roughly every hour. He plans to
submit this evidence to Guinness after he finishes.
But Andy Milroy, who has been authenticating ultramarathon
claims for Guinness for 25 years, cautions, "On tape, one bit of
jungle, one bit of shrub, one bit of road looks like any other.
You could be anywhere." Which is why it's important to have a
support team (Garside doesn't) and map out your route in advance
for the public (Garside won't). Milroy says there's another
important criterion: a runner's credibility.
So, what if Garside gets to India and Guinness rejects his
claim? Runningman puts his head in his hands and groans
alarmingly. "My God!" he says. "I fear for this world if I'm
denied the record. The Taliban will have taken over. That would
be the biggest con in history."
every step of the way. This coward is conducting psychological