Powered by RedCircle

John Horsfall (Adventure Athlete)

Marking the 1 year anniversary of the Podcast, in this episode I talk about my trip running 27 marathons across Kenya in a month and the extraordinary time I had doing it. Running through Tsavo National Park, meeting Vice Presidents and having a gun put to my head. This story was an adventure like no other, showing the very best of what Kenya had to offer.

For people new to the Podcast, I’m John Horsfall Adventure Athlete and host of The Modern Adventurer Podcast. I have spoken to amazing people over the last year and I thought having heard so many wonderful stories, I would share one of mine.


John’s Website

John’s Instagram

Video Podcast

Latest Podcast Episodes

  • lucy-shepherd-podcast
  • mike-corey
  • elise-wortley-iran

Transcript of our Conversation

John Horsfall 

[00:00:00] John Horsfall Podcast: This podcast is going to be a bit different. So today marks the one year anniversary of the podcast and it has come so fast from exactly a year ago. I was in this room talking to Charlie Walker about his incredible experience cycling for years around the world. And over the course of the year, I have spoken to so many incredible adventurers and explorers with amazing stories to tell, and I hope you have enjoyed it, but this episode is going to be a little bit different.

It’s me talking about one of my trips and this is just one of my stories from back a few years ago, when I decided. To run 27 marathons in a month across Kenya. It’s what one of my friends described as the stupidest idea he had ever heard of the idea was simple, though. It was [00:01:00] to run from Mt. Elgon on the Ugandan border to Khalifa on the Kenyan coast, a distance to say of running from here in London to Paris, and then turning around and coming back again.

Why did he think this was such a stupid idea? Well, partly because I really wasn’t much of a runner. In fact, I’d never run a marathon before in my life. And now I was proposing to run 27. In a month in the heat of Africa, solo and unsupported. It also didn’t help that I hadn’t given myself that much time to prepare.

They say to run one marathon, you need about six months to sort of prepare your body for it. I, on the other hand had given myself three months. To train for 27 marathons. And then there’s a fact that I just accepted a new job offer and I’d have to explain to them that one month after starting my [00:02:00] job, I was going to have to take two months off or seven weeks to go and run across Kenya.

So yeah, in hindsight, it probably. A pretty stupid idea, armed with very little knowledge and let’s say a backpack full of assumptions. I quickly learned on day one. What a quick Google search would have told me was that Kenya and the north is not very flat. I plan to start a Mt. Elgon on the Ugandan border, which at an altitude of 2,500 meters is.

Higher than any European ski resort. The scenery was beautiful. It had this sort of big rolling waves of Hills, beautiful green forest and farmland and these sort of dusty roads. However, it wasn’t exactly the easiest place to do your first marathon. Every step I took was either going steeply uphill or very steeply down.

It also, I remember at the time [00:03:00] it was actually quite a dodgy area. A friend of mine had given me like a report on the sort of safety of the area. And it was quite a dodgy area. I, it was some sort of tribal dispute between the tribes up there. And I, I can’t even tell you, so with this, I had to be escorted for the first 20 kilometers, but despite all this things started really well.

I had people waving to me. I had children running beside me. I even had some guys stop and sing to me.

to this day. I still have no idea what he was singing about. However, trying to complete your first marathon or ultra marathon on a mountain was hard. And it really was, the first day was really tough. And then the second day I had to get up and do another 60 kilometers [00:04:00] because I had talked about doing this.

To everyone, I suppose, the nations of slightly over promising and under-delivering set in. And I probably felt that I might have bitten off more than I could chew. Another big challenge at the start was the food sitting at home in England planning this trip, I would sort of look on Google maps and, you know, pinpoint different areas to look at and see that I could maybe stop it at village.

And this. To find lunch or things to eat. However, up in the north, in these towns, it’s not exactly overflowing with nice restaurants or supermarkets when I got up there and I was sort of running along when I got to these towns, which had earmarked, it’s like, okay, you stop here for lunch. They were nothing more than a wooden heart with avocados and bananas.

And so to run all [00:05:00] day on just an avocado or a banana was really challenging at the start at the spy tool that I soon got into some sort of rhythm getting up early each morning, running all day, staying in sort of hotels and lodges. It helped that there were such amazing things to look out while I was running people.

People think that sort of Africa. Really dry, dusty place, but a lot of it is beautifully green passing through the countryside on thirt. What’s an amazing experience, you know? If I was just in a car, you’d be going along it sort of 60 miles an hour, whizzing past all these little villages and towns. And they would just be a sort of blur in the background.

But on third you actually got to experience the sort of real Kenya in a sense, you got the smells, the sort of taste, the people he, you sort of met along the way. I remember on the seventh day when I just ran about 30 [00:06:00] kilometers in the morning. I was absolutely knackered. And so I lay under a tree to get some rest just around the sort of mid day sun.

And as I lay there, some kids started sort of crowd around me. There wasn’t very many, it was probably eight or 10, but they didn’t want doing anything. They would just stare at it. I didn’t really know how to sort of interact with them. And after a while I just got up and started walking and running on or jogging on and they began to follow.

And when I turned around that group of eight had suddenly become. 20. And they were laughing and giggling as they sort of ran behind me. I got chatting to them while I was running and they kept wanting to Blake pinch my, my arm and pull my hair. I wasn’t sure if they’d ever seen like a white person up in, up close before in person, they asked me to come and see the school.

And I was like, well, [00:07:00] Hey, you know, I’ve got no. 30 40 kilometers to cover today. Your school is up on that hill two kilometers on my way, but Hey, why not? This is, these are the sort of moments that. These sorts of trips. Incredible. And, and so I took the detour up to their school, but when I got there, there were hundreds of children there shouting , which is white person in Swahili.

And there they were. And now I had sort of a hundred kids wanting to sort of touch me and pinch my skin. Well, one of the teachers came to me and sort of asked if I wanted to be shown around the school. And I, of course accepted, I mean, I’d been running through these sort of villages with mud huts. And this school was really modern.

It was very glass. Like it look completely out of place in the middle of the sort of Kenyan countryside. You know, this, this [00:08:00] building wouldn’t have been. Anything different from something you might see in central London? After I had sort of spoken with the teachers and said my goodbyes to the kids I carried on a special day was the day I visited lay work children’s orphanage in the Eldoret district.

It was about the halfway point between Mt Elgon and Nairobi. One of the reasons I undertook this project was to raise money for the children’s orphanage there. And. Running through it made the whole experience really sort of special, you know, seeing where the kids lived and the amazing work that Phyllis K9 does up there for the children made the whole experience.

Really personal. I mean, there were a lot of times where things were really tough for me on this trip. And having that in the back of my mind really sort of inspired me to sort of carry on to the, gave me the strength to always keep going, no [00:09:00] matter how tough things got. So for the first week or so things went well, surprisingly, well, don’t get me wrong, like running every day.

Pounding against the hard Kenyan roads was really tough, but I, you know, I was sort of getting up and doing the distance and it seemed to, it seemed to work fine, but. Then on day eight, things started to go really badly for me. I had a sort of pain in my left calf. My right quad, I think had a dead leg.

And I remember turning in off the road onto a dirt track and then spraining my ankle. I rest it up for the night, but I didn’t really have much choice. I had to sort of just carry on, say strapped it up and. Kept doing the miles, the dead leg eventually went, but my left calf [00:10:00] just caused me agony for the rest of the trip.

And just when I was caping with my leg, I reached the town of lake element titer, which is this beautiful lake, which is between the Kourou and NAI Basha. And when I was there, I was staying with his family. He decided to take me to. What do you call it? And they are trauma, which was their favorite restaurant was like a barbecue shack in town where food so fresh.

They were like chickens running under your feet. And I remember as the food arrived in front of me, I think it was check-in and go out and maybe beef. And I can just hear my father’s words to me before I left with whatever you do, just do not eat the street food or the street meat, but, but doing marathon after marathon, you are like a sort of ravenous, Labrador.

You are so hungry. And so you just heard. [00:11:00] Anything that is put in front of you, which is exactly what I did. And just, just to prove my father, right. I got food poisoning really bad. I was throwing up all night. And I don’t think I need to go into too much detail about anything else. But then in the morning when I got up, I tried to hide the fact that I was ill.

And then as soon as I said, good morning, I was thrown up again. But any same person. Would have just decided to stay in bed, recover, try and get better. I had a target. I wanted to complete this trip in under a month and that’s basically what I needed to do. So I got up with no food and decided to run another marathon, but covering that distance that day was one of the toughest days I ever had.

So many times I would look over my shoulder and think, God. I should go back, but in my [00:12:00] mind it was just telling me, just keep doing another two kilometers. Just do another kilometer finally. I mean, when I got to know basher, I was actually surprisingly, okay. I think I was just completely high on adrenaline or something, but I still hadn’t eaten anything all day.

And someone had very kindly put me up for the night. And as I sort of came into that house, there was like draw off in with its head in the house and sort of, soon as it saw me, he got a complete fright and ran off, but seeing stuff like that certainly made me feel that was a reason to sort of go on.

However, the food poisoning stayed with me. And then the following day, I was meant to run 55 kilometers up the escarpment. But after nearly. Well, 24 hours, 36 hours of eating nothing. I, I had no energy to sort of even just about get [00:13:00] out of bed. So I spent the day recovering, not the best guest, but I spoke to a doctor who he told me that my legs were severe shin splints and his, his advice was really simple.

It was stopping. It’s only going to get worse. I obviously thanked him for his advice and completely ignored it. I’m not gonna sugar coat what the days were like getting to know Raby they were really dark one for me. And for quite a lot of time, I didn’t really see any light at the end of the tunnel with little or no food to sort of go on my sugar levels plummeted and.

I just fell into a completely, utterly depressed state, just questioning every single step, why I should go on, but reaching Nairobi gave me a real boost. It was the halfway point between the start and the finish. But as you [00:14:00] probably imagine, I was in really rough shape by then. And when I arrived in Arabia to be greeted by a friend and their flatmate who I had met two weeks ago.

Open the door and was just like, can I help you? But she didn’t even recognize me. I’d lost so much weight. And then running an authority was also really intimidating. You had gone through the last two weeks running in the countryside and suddenly you were contending with buses and mater cycles. And just so many people.

But it was a bit of an adrenaline rush. Another memorable experience came on my way out of Nairobi. When the former president of Kenya had got wind of my story and reach out and wanted to see if he could help. I wasn’t really sure what to expect. I, he said, you know, come over to my office and I was sort of expecting a handshake and a pat on the back and sort of well done [00:15:00] and bear in mind.

I, I have no clothes other than my running stuff. So I had to turn up in my running gear with all these suits. And when I got there, he shook my hand and then sort of told me about my experiences. And then Sunday, Well, let’s go meet the media. I was sort of expecting, you know, the local paper with sort of school, boy doing a little piece or something, but no, this was full Blaine conference with every single TV station, print media there, you know, and I’m sitting up right next to him and without hesitating, he just goes, John, why don’t you tell them what you do.

And I was like completely speechless and try to sort of what’s the word string, a few sentences together about what I was doing and why [00:16:00] I’m like, just couldn’t help, but maybe wish I. Sort of brushed up a bit on a speech or something. If I had known after Nairobi, things continued to be really tough. I was taking a lot of painkillers for my leg sort of questioning like how long I’d be able to go on for.

I was still, I was still doing sort of 40, 50, 60 kilometers every day approaching the. The it’s the scenery started to change it. The altitude dropped and it became a lot hotter and drier, not the sort of lush green that I’d had in the north. As I approached to Saba national park home of the man-eating lines of DeSalvo for anyone who knows the story, I thought I would inquire about what I needed to run through a park in a, if the.

Two weeks. It taught me anything. It’s maybe the lack of preparation had cost me a little bit. So I decided to cool. What, who I believe might be the [00:17:00] sort of head of the park and asked him if I needed like a knife or a gun to sort of run through the park. He sort of laughed at me basically implying that I’d be absolutely fine running through the park by myself.

So I was like, great. And though, so the next day I got up at 5:00 AM crossed into DeSalvo national park and started running and I’ve got 25 kilometers before suddenly this land driver pulls up next. Winds down his window and they just stare at me intently and then go, what are you doing? I I’ve had to explained to them like, oh, well, you know, I’m running cross country.

And I thought I would. You know, run anyway, they just say, they look at me like I’m a complete idiot and they’re just like, get in the band. You’re not allowed. So [00:18:00] they take me back to where I start and they say that I have to be escorted to go and run through the park. So for that day, I just inquiring about who I can get.

And luckily I managed to organize. Escort for the following day at sort of 10 o’clock the following day, I had a land Rover with four Rangers armed with AK 40 sevens going along beside me, as I ran through the park for 50 or 60 kilometers. Going at, I don’t know, five, 10 kilometers. And I mean, so slowly, I just felt so sorry for them.

Unfortunately, on my trip, I, as I ran through the park, I didn’t see any sort of majestic elephants roam past me or see us sort of line on the rocks, but. I think the only scale was like a sort of Babin. He would let me [00:19:00] pass. And so I had to sort of cross the road to get to the other side and a bit boring, but my, probably much to the relief of my escort that Nathan’s will fight on that day.

So throughout my trip, I have had like the most incredible experiences, real tough times, but. Another really interesting moment came on day 30. So we’re getting towards the end of the trip and it was lunchtime. And I sort of just, and I was sort of running down the road parallel between the train track and as it was being built and the road, and I sort of pulled over to the side and found myself under.

Completely by myself, just about to have my lunch. And as I’m having my lunch, I feel stained start to fall away from the railway. And suddenly out of nowhere, these two armed guards. To the [00:20:00] TIF run down the railway track, pointing their guns straight at me. I am just about to have my lunch. And suddenly I’m told to identify myself guns straight in my face after handing in my ID and sort of telling them what I was doing.

They sort of said that I was probably in the country illegally. And that I could be a terrorist, but then they made me strip my backpack and bear in mind, this is day thirsty and I only have one set of plates, maybe two or three boxes, couple of socks, that’s it. No much else. So they made me strip my bag and like take each piece out.

So one by one, I sort of take out a sock and the gum would sort of raise, take it out. And then they’d be like, what is that? And I’d be like, it’s, it’s a Salk. Put it on the dirt. Right. Then another one, these are my [00:21:00] pants dirty, disgusting. And then pull another thing out and he’d be like, It’s the other Salk.

I mean, I literally had nothing. It was only when all my stuff was on the floor, which they were happy that I wasn’t a threat and slightly lowered their God. And they, they then try to imply that I could have been a terrorist. And I try to explain to them if they’d ever seen a terrorist like me, you know, wearing light crush shorts, running top and a little small back.

They tried to claim that was, but I was a bit stunned by the events, but on day 32, the end was in sight. And the Indian ocean as Iran was there in the distance, like a sort of honeymoon postcard, it was beautiful white Sandy beaches. It was a boiling hot day [00:22:00] and in a blue turquoise water. And. By that point, I’d sort of done a month of pretty much nonstop running and I could hardly stand at that point, but after 1,250 kilometers in 32 days, I ran fully claved into the water.

I’d lost sort of six kilograms in weight. My legs were just getting worse and worse by the day. And I did look a bit of a mess, like some sort of crazy beard bearded. It was a great relief to know I had finished. In a strange way. It was also kind of sad because although this run had been incredibly challenging, it also been like a life changing experience, every little interaction along the way, whether good or bad with the truckers, the policeman just kept me going to sort of see what was around the corner.

[00:23:00] There wasn’t so much a fear of failure, but a fear of missing, like the next big thing along the way. And although this was a solo and supported journey, I never felt alone running across Kenya. The generosity of the Kenyan, people who didn’t have a lot to sort of give, would come, go out of their way to sort of show me what Kenya was all about.

You know, they would be running with me, give me food to eat, give me a place to stay. And they would just sort of go out of their way to sort of help and support me. But the biggest lesson I learned was probably about myself. Don’t get me wrong. Like waking up. I can’t tell you how torturous it is to wake up every morning, knowing that you’ve got another marathon ahead of you.

But I realized that endurance is more mental as it is physical sport. And I could always keep going, even as my body [00:24:00] was just slowly over the days, breaking down. As long as I had the willpower to keep going, I, I always Curt. So if there’s one thing maybe I want you to sort of take home from this tool is that there are no shortcuts to Alation.

Anything works, shearing. I mean, I think we’ve talked on this podcast before is gainer require you to suffer just a little bit because otherwise I don’t think it’s really worth doing when I was probably at my lowest, my lowest dab. And this was in between Natasha and Nairobi. I mean, I was in the middle of Kenya.

I was say depressed, but I got a message from one of my Instagram followers. You’ve given me sort of a message of support. I read a quote on our page that I suppose stayed with me throughout and sort of became, I didn’t know [00:25:00] the sort of feeling that I had throughout the trip is that. Success is not final failure is not fatal.

It is the courage to continue that counts.

And that’s sort of what this trip was all about. It wasn’t, I wasn’t getting any metal for, I never wanted it. It was the sort of experience and to sort of feel like I could just keep going. And there was a sort of feeling that as long as I could keep going and see. That was what I wanted. And as long as I had the courage to continue, then that was what made it.

So that’s my story from Kenya. It was an incredible. And just an experience that I will never forget for the rest of my life. And you know, some of the people I’ve met along the way, you know, I’m still [00:26:00] in contact with now and it’s, it opened up so many friendships and opportunities there. And I’ve just, absolutely.

I look back on that trip. Although my legs don’t look too kindly upon that trip as just such an amazing experience. So on the podcast, I always ask the same five questions to each guest. And I suppose I can’t be any different. What is the one gadget that I would always take with me would be like most is probably a camera.

I think I love photography. I love capturing moments that stay with you and they always joke your man. My favorite adventure book or travel book. I can’t remember the number of times, Lord of the rings has occurred on this podcast, but for me at the moment, it’s a difficult one. But at the moment, I’m reading heat by Serena fines, [00:27:00] which is great.

And after that, I think I’m going to try Megan. Hines is mind. Mind of a survivor, which I think is a fascinating, will be a fascinating read who we had on the podcast just a few weeks, just a few months ago. Next one is, why are adventures important here? I think adventures are important because you learn so much about yourself.

They put you in an uncomfortable situation at the best of times. And through that. You learn so much. And I think it’s a great schooling in terms of full future life. When you are in difficult situations in everyday life, knowing by putting yourself in there. Terrible situations makes you more adaptable to when things go wrong.

That’s probably the best way I can sort of say it. And they’re also great fun. I’d say [00:28:00] think Livia smoker said type two fun. When, when things go. That’s usually when the most exciting and the best stories come from the adventures. My favorite quotes, my favorite Quate is probably that Winston Churchill.

One that I just said success is not final. Failure is not fatal. It is always the courage to continue that counts. But I will say like a confident grave cannot co-exist don’t wait for the storm to past, learn to dance in the rain. I think it’s a great one, which I had quite a few years ago. That’s, that’s always stuck with me throughout.

And finally, what would I recommend for people wanting to get started? Well, it always be start local. There is so much opportunities where I am in the UK. There is an abundance of adventures and I’m sure wherever you’re listening in the world, just around the corner there. [00:29:00] Awesome stuff to be had, and might not get for you the recognition you want, but as a starting place, it is just phenomenal.

And here in the UK, you’ve got where I am in London in a, there are many, many adventures on the river out. See up in the Le in the district. National parks, wherever it is, there are all sorts of adventures to be had. And if you can’t think of anything, take out us the Humphreys walking around the M 25, which is a meter away in the UK, which for anyone listening, who knows the M 25 is just sounds hell on earth, but he managed to have quite the adventure around there.

So. Whatever you can think there’s always adventures to be had. And finally, what is next? What is next is at the [00:30:00] moment, hopefully I am working on a potential documentary. Next year across Europe, where I will be going to some of the most roommates spots. Off the beaten track in Europe to look at sustainable tourism.

And this will be a long documentary with seven other people involved, traveling all over Europe, seeing some of the most phenomenal places which are always off the tourist map. And we will be highlighting these incredible communities and showing a different side to tourism in. I I’ve absolutely loved doing this podcast.

It has been so much fun. And just speaking to some of the most incredible people, most incredible explorers and adventurers out there who are pushing their own [00:31:00] limits of endurance and breaking records along the way. So. I hate paper the next year to be speaking to a lot more people with more incredible stories to tell I’ll probably try.

And because in a, there are people like Nick butters and Lucy shepherd who are out at the moment who have just got back from doing incredible adventures who were on the podcast before, say probably look at doing sort of expedition specials, where they come on and. Just give the story of the expeditions that they’ve been doing.

And if you’ve got any recommendations about who you want to see on the podcast, then please let me know. Cause I. I’m always looking for inspiration. And I would love to hear who you want to hear on the podcast. So I hope you enjoyed this podcast. If you did, please subscribe and follow the [00:32:00] podcast for the future episodes.

You can watch. The podcast on YouTube has always, and it always goes out onto apple, Spotify, Google, whichever podcast platform you listen on, but I see you next week for another fascinating tale of adventure. This time with Jasmine Harrison, he became the youngest female to row solo across the Atlantic.

That will be next week’s episode, but until then have a great day. And happy adventures.

Privacy Settings
We use cookies to enhance your experience while using our website. If you are using our Services via a browser you can restrict, block or remove cookies through your web browser settings. We also use content and scripts from third parties that may use tracking technologies. You can selectively provide your consent below to allow such third party embeds. For complete information about the cookies we use, data we collect and how we process them, please check our Privacy Policy
Consent to display content from Youtube
Consent to display content from Vimeo
Google Maps
Consent to display content from Google