Words and photos by Kate Meier, Red Cross staffer and avid runner
“When I was running up at the North Pole,” Pat Farmer began, “there was a moment when I thought I wouldn’t be able to do it.”
Pat’s sinewy brown legs climbed up the hills on Charlotte’s Highway 49 South like they were merely speed bumps. Those legs had carried Pat the thousands of miles from the frigid North Pole, through Canada, down the East Coast and into our backyard.
And he isn’t even halfway done.
“I had gotten back to my tent for the night,” he continued his story, “and I texted both my kids. I said, ‘I don’t think I can make it. It’s 35 below zero, the wind is at 100 knots and my hands are frozen solid.'”
What a change he was encountering now, running with a group of us at 2 in the afternoon and 95-degree, humid Charlotte.
“My daughter texted back and said, ‘Dad, all my friends are your friends on Facebook. I love you – you’re my hero.’ My son texted back, ‘It’s the North Pole – what did you expect?'”
So which is it – is he a hero, or is he crazy?
As a marathoner, you’re told all the time that what you do is crazy/silly/bad for your health.
But what Pat was doing – well, that’s historic.
Pat decided a few years ago that he was going to run from the North Pole to the South Pole. He would log two marathons a day – that’s more than 50 miles a day – and he wouldn’t take a day off. He would burn 8,000 calories every day. He would encounter every type of topography, every climate.
That’s not all. He decided he’d raise money for the Red Cross doing it.
“Is it crazy to run in these conditions? Maybe,” he said. “But the people I’m raising money for are in far worse conditions than I am.”
The former Australian Parliament member has always blended running with philanthropy. He ran from the northernmost point in Australia to the southernmost to raise money for diabetes research. He ran around the island country – literally, around it – to help people who needed it.
“When I’m out here doing this, I feel like I have found my niche,” he told several of us on our steamy afternoon run. We found his positive attitude amazing – he had been woken up at 2 a.m. that morning because the Pole-to-Pole crew were running behind schedule. Pat had to run 50 miles before he even made it to our Red Cross chapter – and then he’d have to run another 10-15 in the blistering afternoon heat.
And that’s what he considered his niche.
Pat was welcomed in Charlotte by a crowd of about 20 people that included local Red Cross CEO Angela Broome and Girls on the Run founder Molly Barker. Our group planned on having lunch with the crew and then join Pat for a few miles of the next leg of his trek.
Local camera crews swarmed Pat upon his arrival at the chapter. When we insisted he eat before doing interviews, he said, “I can’t – I have a job to do.”
“Your job is to take care of your body,” one staff member said.
“No – my job is to raise awareness for the Red Cross,” he said.
The stars of our group were three young girls from Girls on the Run.
“So girls, you must have some questions for me,” Pat said as he ate bean salad and a chicken wrap. The three smiled and shied away, until finally one mustered the courage to ask about Pat’s eating. Pat launched into a conversation about how he burned 8,000 calories a day from logging so many miles. At one point, one of his crew members told us that while he was running on the ice up north, he was only consuming 6,000 calories a day, and he was rapidly losing weight.
“We were coming up with anything to get him calories – feeding him butter, having him drink olive oil,” the crew member said.
The Charlotte Red Cross staff ensured the crew stopped at a local barbecue restaurant. “You can’t come to North Carolina without trying the barbecue,” one staff member said.
Pat travels with 10 people, incuding a nutritionist, medic, camera crew and publicist. The crew is filming a documentary on Pat’s journey, which, if he completes, will set a record for the longest run in history.
Miles away from barbecue and miles from Uptown Charlotte, Pat talks about his love affair with running. How his wife asked him to give it up to spend time with his family. How just months later, she passed away. How his daughter loves to run, and his son prefers rugby.
The heat starts to wear on me. I still have to run back to the chapter, and my water bottle is dangrously low. Pat and I get to a pause in the conversation, and I hate every word that comes out of my mouth: “Pat, I have to go back now.”
We hug, and I thank him. I thank him for everything he is doing for the Red Cross. I thank him for everything he is doing for runners. I thank him for everything he has done for me by inspiring us all to go a little further than we think we can.
“I’m no Superman,” he says to me. “I have blisters. I wake up thinking that I can’t go any further. And then I do.”
Follow Pat’s run: http://poletopolerun.com