Mark Llewhellin, a 26-year-old native of Wales, U.K., who has survived seven days in the Sahara Desert and seven years in the 29 Commando Regt RA, is in the midst of yet another challenge.
Llewhellin had set a goal of running 2,000 miles from Denver to San Francisco in a little over two months in order to raise money for the Caldwell Trust, a U.K.-based charity that works with terminally ill children.
His journey began on Sept. 6 and his last day of his official run is Nov. 5. We caught up with him as he headed through San Diego en route to his trip up the coast to his final destination San Francisco.
The idea for this run fund-raiser came to Llewhellin two years ago.
I was reading a book by David McNally, called Even Eagles Need a Push. There was a story about Terry Fox, the Canadian marathon runner, who had cancer and ran across the length of Canada to raise money and awareness. It was so inspirational, said Llewhellin. I thought maybe I could do something like that.
I knew that I would have to get in real serious shape, said Llewhellin. To try to do something like that I had to set some big goals.
One of those goals was running in the Marathon Des Sables, which is described as one of the most grueling foot races on earth. It takes place in the (Moroccan) Sahara Desert lasting a total of seven days running a total of 141 miles.
The MDS is run over different types of terrain consisting of mainly stony ground with around 30-40 percent sand dunes. Runners face temperatures of 100-120 degrees Fahrenheit. All the while carrying a pack weighing 21 pounds with all your food, sleeping bed, medical kit and water.
It was difficult, but it was nothing compared to running out here in the Rocky Mountains, said Llewhellin. I come from sea level. And the altitude there in Colorado really smacked me. Worse than the Sahara.
Llewhellin, who lives in the seaside Wales capital city of Cardiff, got sick with the flu early on in his run and had to cut back his schedule.
My initial plan was to run 33 miles a day, but getting sick put me back, said Llewhellin. If all goes well I will have run around 1,400 miles when I get to San Francisco. And when I return to Wales, I will run another 600 miles around the country to finish off the 2,000. That was after all my ultimate goal to run 2,000 miles in the year 2000.
Llewhellins desire to start his run in the Rockies had as much to do with a Jim Carrey movie than anything else.
I really fell in love with that part of the country after watching Dumb and Dumber, said Llewhellin. The movie was a little wacky, but the natural beauty and scenery were spectacular. It was always a dream of mine to come to the United States and see some of the spectacular sights like Monument Valley and the Grand Canyon.
Llewhellin has also been inspired by the distinctly American school of self-help and positive thinking of Anthony Robbins, Brian Tracy and Zig Ziglar.
I love America. The reason Im here is because of the Americans, said Llewhellin, who first came to the states two years ago to support a man who ran 200 miles across Death Valley. It if wasnt for the Americans _ the positive attitude, the self-help stuff _I wouldnt have gotten my thinking to a level that I could do this.
Llewhellin is also very grateful to the American people who have come to his support during his run.
Some of the sponsorship for this run fell through, said Llewhellin, but I wasnt going to let that stop me from doing it. I came here with $150 and Ive hardly had to put my hand in my pocket. Wherever I go Ive found people who have offered me a nights' stay at their home. Restaurants like McDonalds, Dennys and Burger King, when Ive told them about the fund raising and the trip, they have given me food. I have felt the great generosity of Americans first hand.
Its hard to imagine that someone like Llewhellin, who has conquered the Sahara Dessert, passed the British Army Commando course and won his green beret would have ever had a self-esteem problem.
But, he did.
I was totally out of shape when I was 15, recalled Llewhellin, who grew up in Haverfordwest, Wales. I remember our school put out on the cross country course for a two mile run. I couldnt do it, I stopped. I could just manage to walk across the finish line
I had very low self-esteem and it translated into all aspects of my life, said Llewhellin. I wanted to be a car mechanics, but I didnt think I could do that. I didnt do well at all in school mainly because I didnt pay much attention.
Figuring he couldnt do anything else, a 16-year-old Llewhellin followed several friends into the army. There he started paying attention to his life. After eight months in the junior Artillery he decided that he would like to take a new challenge and in 1991 after failing twice through a lack of fitness, he passed the British Army Commando course and won his green beret.
Llewhellin served seven years in 29 Commando Regt RA. He then left the Army and became a personal bodyguard in London before moving to Cardiff to become a personal fitness coach.
I really love helping people and coaching people, said Llewhellin. Maybe the fact that I was so out of shape and unfit when I was young that I take great pleasure in training people, whether it be to lose weight or to run in their first marathon.
Obviously Llewhellin has gotten himself into great shape both physically and mentally. And he is already planning on his next major run.
I would like to run across the United States next year, said Llewhellin. It would take a lot more planning. And this time I would bring my Siberian husky Hope with me. My plan would be have him run along with me and we would visit various childrens hospitals together. It would be a charitable run, in which we would like to raise $1 million for childrens charities.
Thats a big order, but Llewhellin has already crossed the most significance hurdle believing in himself.