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Real-life “Forrest Gump” jogs from coast to coast to raise money for charity

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Kyle Lang shares his secret about how he dealt with physical and mental exhaustion on trek from Washington to New York.

Kyle Lang and his friends looked not too different from any other 20-somethings on the beach at New York’s Coney Island last summer. It was a Saturday near noon in the middle of August, with a high of 86, so it wasn’t surprising that they would take off their shirts, kick off their shoes and jump in the water.

But Lang had come a lot farther than most of the folks who were enjoying the beach, the boardwalk, the Nathan’s hot dogs and amusement park rides that day.

He had come from Washington state—on foot. Running.

Lang, 20, who was joined on the last day of a 76-day trek by a few friends from school, had completed a 3,016-mile run. Each day, with one or two exceptions, he ran about 40 miles—in essence, a marathon and a half.

Leaving North Cove, Washington, on June 5, Lang took a northerly route that brought him from the heights of the Rockies to the plains of the Midwest, skirting Chicago, and passing through his hometown of West Salem, Wisconsin, and his adopted state of New Jersey, where he is a junior at Princeton.

He wore out nine pairs of running shoes.

In an interview, he traced the origin of the cross-country adventure back to his grandfather, who gave him Christopher McDougall’s book Born to Run. The book “inspired me to run my first marathon, when I was 16,” Lang said. After that, he decided to run the length of a local bike trail, which is 101 miles, as part of a high school exit project. “I did it in two days to raise money for a couple of organizations.” Finding himself capable of running 40-50 miles a day, he was then inspired to take on the coast-to-coast challenge.

Then he heard ultramarathoner Marshall Ulrich speak at Princeton, which only added to his desire and confidence. Ulrich wrote about his run from California to New York at age 57, averaging 60 miles a day, in Running on Empty.

Lang began lining up corporate partners and sponsors and planning a route. During spring semester last year, he began training in earnest, doing 30- or 40-mile runs on weekends and 10- to 25-mile runs during the week, “to try to make sure I was capable of sustaining high mileage.” He would do 35 miles around a track, “just to get used to the mind-numbing boringness of what the summer might be.”

“My biggest thing was just going out and tackling the miles, making sure that a single 40-mile run ended up becoming no big deal, that it ended up being just another run,” he explained. “And the other big thing for me was relying on other people—relying on their prayers, relying on their support, relying on their encouragement.”

“The week before I started the run, my parents and I had a very serious conversation about what I would push myself to do and what signs we would have to look out for that might make us decide to take a day or or cut back miles or end the run completely,” he said. “I didn’t want to do any lasting damage to my body.”

Friends helped him set up a website for the run, which he dubbed Running United 2017. The site allowed followers to see exactly where he was on a map at any given moment.

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