“I like running. I don’t love it though, or wake up and think ‘Let’s go for a run’.”
This is an innocuous phrase that might not be surprising coming from the mouths of many of us. They are not, however, words I expected to hear from David Christof. Christof is an ultra-runner and philanthropist who is gearing up to run unsupported from Prague to London this summer. He will cover the distance of at least one marathon (42.195 km or 26.2 miles) every day for thirty days.
For someone who professes to not love running, Christof certainly does a lot of it. To date, he has competed in 21 marathons, six 50 km races, five 50 mile races and two 100 mile runs. He also formed part of the twenty-strong 2007 relay team who, between them, ran non-stop around the world – covering 15,200 miles in 95 days – to raise money and awareness for the Blue Planet Network.
If I was hoping for training tips, Christof would have disappointed. When pressed on how to train for a 100 miler, he answered “just keep it simple.” He ran 4-8 miles on weekday runs and completed back-to-back long runs at the weekend, running 12-20 miles on both Saturday and Sunday. How does he keep going, I ask? What does he think about? “Just normal things. It’s just running. One foot in front of the other.” Simple indeed.
Throughout our interview, Christof strikes me as very calm. He does not have the demeanour of someone about to embark on such a feat of physical and mental endurance. He appeared unruffled, relaxed, and measured. What is his diet? Just healthy, nothing extreme. I don’t love pasta. How much training is he doing: Nothing crazy. What does he eat during an ultra marathon? Maybe some energy gels. Or soup and a sandwich. This is all bizarrely normal for someone who has run for 100 miles in less than 24 hours. Christof does not like to overcomplicate things. I know from experience that running even a half-marathon can be enough to require some serious lifestyle changes and effort and I find this strictly straightforward approach impressive and refreshing.
With around two months left to go, Christof is currently focusing more on the logistics: planning and re-planning his 1266 km route; discussing co-operation with his main sponsor, the German School in Prague; finding people ‘of goodwill’ along the route who will let him stay the night; working out how to cross the Channel from Calais when most ferries no longer allow foot passengers. There’s a lot to do, although even this he tries to keep simple. “From Prague, just go West,” he says with a smile.
Why is he doing it if he doesn’t love running? As well as his insatiable thirst for adventure (this is a man who has run across America and Asia, cycled through Europe, and is still eager to see more), Christof’s primary drive is his passion for the Blue Planet Network, for whom he is fundraising.
Founded in 2002, Blue Planet Network is a charity working to bring sustainable supplies of safe drinking water to people in rural communities around the world. They work with over 82 members (experienced water project implementers, committed local community members, expert water authorities and others), to select, fund, manage, and monitor water projects and make permanent progress in the battle for safe drinking water for all, working across 24 countries.
Blue Planet Network aims to raise money and awareness for the safe drinking water cause across the world, and it is this that drives Christof. “It is unacceptable to me that so many people do not have access to safe drinking water”. 6,000 people are estimated to die each day due to a lack of access to safe drinking water. It’s hard to comprehend clearly what that means. Each week that amounts to over 40,000 people – enough to fill a football stadium. Every year, 2.2 million people die due to a lack of safe water, a basic human requirement, and something that I know I take completely for granted.
By running from Prague to London, completely unsupported by money-sapping drivers, physios, caterers, or pacers, Christof hopes to raise enough money to provide safe drinking water for 333 people, for life (based on the estimate that $30 provides water for 1 person for life – Christof’s total fundraising target is $9990). He also aims to raise awareness of the issues. By running by himself he hopes to spread the work of Blue Planet Network’s good work. He will pass through schools linked to the German School in Prague to tell the next generation of children about people less fortunate than themselves. He will stop to walk with and talk to the members of the public that he passes, to explain why he is running and how they can help. As he talks me through his belief in the ‘goodwill’ of humankind, and his charity mission, Christof’s enthusiasm for the cause is genuine and infectious – Blue Planet Network has found an excellent ambassador in him.
Although he is clearly in good shape – super lean and pretty leggy – Christof does not come across as a typical athlete. There is no arrogance, no difficult dietary demands, and no talk of superhuman endurance. This is in spite of the fact that Christof is an ultra-runner, and many of the races he’s completed require extraordinary effort, stamina and commitment.
He is simply an ordinary man doing something extraordinary.