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Endurance runner overcomes cattle, snakes and desert in 3,100-mile US journey

Published 25/08/2015

Richard is due to finish his epic test run in New York on September 5
Richard is due to finish his epic test run in New York on September 5

An endurance runner has had near misses from hunters, an attempted hit-and-run, deadly rattlesnakes and heat exhaustion in an epic test run across America.

Richard Donovan began his pacey journey through 12 US states on San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge on May 19 and with about 500 miles to go he is due to finish in New York on September 5.

Despite running up to 47 miles a day, the trip was not designed to set a new continental record but to train the former economist for an unprecedented run across Antarctica in the coming months.

"People might think why run across the US to prepare for something in Antarctica but a lot of it is to do with the mental process you go through," he said.

"The toughness and development is applicable to any climate. It's all about toughening up and looking at distances in a different way."

Mr Donovan is in the record books since 2002 after becoming the first person to run a marathon at both the North and South poles and he followed that feat by running seven marathons on seven continents in less than six days in 2009.

The race organiser from Galway had his US route specially designed to go off the beaten track and take in epic sights as well as crippling endurance tests.

"Strangely, it was open range cattle that bothered me more than anything, which is funny," he said.

"They are quite big in the US and there was many an occasion when I had dozens of cattle running in front or behind me - not quite the same following as Forrest Gump."

Speaking from near Akron, Ohio, Mr Donovan listed a few unnerving close calls he faced in the last three months of his 3,100-mile run.

In Utah a young hunter fired two shots near him as he stood on a roadside admiring a deer, in Kansas he had to dive off the road after a reckless pick-up driver tried to run him down, while in Colorado he had to leap over a deadly diamond back rattlesnake after it shot out in front of him as he ran.

All the mileage has been recorded via GPS and the ultra-runner has had a support car near his route all the way.

Mr Donovan said his lowest ebb came in Utah when he suffered heat exhaustion as he attempted to run 20 miles across a desert which was inaccessible by road.

"I could hardly move through it," he said.

"I had to sit down for 30 minutes and then try and move a little further. You have an urge to try to sleep but there's no protection from the sun. There are no trees, it's total exhaustion.

"It takes every ounce of energy to move every 100m. I was at my lowest at that point."

Billed as the Trans North America Run, Mr Donovan's self-funded trip is also being used to help cover medical bills for a marathon runner left paralysed by a fall.

His friend Alvin Matthews from California fell off a roof while working in Lebanon and about 18,000 US dollars has so far been raised to help with his rehab, including the prospect of bionic legs.

"I acutely understand that I am lucky to be able to do what I'm doing. I have a choice and I can walk away from it at any time, but at least I can walk away, even in defeat.... although that's never going to happen," Mr Donovan said.

While final plans have not been set in stone for the 1,000 miles across Antarctica, the record-breaking runner expects to begin at the Ross Ice Shelf and move up the Leverett Glacier towards the South Pole before turning to finish at the Hercules Inlet.

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