CLIFTON, Maine — Irish ultrarunner Tony Mangan had no idea where he would spend Christmas Day when he left his home in Dublin on Oct. 25 to fulfill his dream of running around the world alone.
“Last night, he was looking for a stable,” the Rev. John Walsh, pastor of Clifton United Baptist Church, said Thursday afternoon. “Now, here he is, spending three days with us.”
Mangan, 53, crossed into Maine on Monday at the Calais border.
“I’d run 50 marathons the day I crossed into the land of 50 states,” he said Thursday as he sat in a recliner in the living room of the church parsonage.
He left home after running the Dublin Marathon and hopes to return in time to participate in the 2013 race. Two months ago, he headed west from Dublin to Ireland’s westernmost point, then flew to Cape Spear, Newfoundland and Labrador. He jogged through Cape Breton, onto mainland Nova Scotia and south through New Brunswick.
Mangan said his goal is to run at least a marathon — 26.2 miles — a day. He is confident that his pace will improve as the days grow longer.
“I’m just getting into the swing of it,” he said. “My pattern has not really been established yet. I’ve just been on the road for two months.”
His route is designed to cross as many land masses as possible and every continent but Antarctica. The map on Mangan’s website crosses the U.S. on a southwesterly trajectory before heading south through Central and South America. From there, he will fly to Australia, jog through New Zealand into Indochina, through China into Russia and west through Europe.
“I get help plotting my daily route from people like the Walshes that I meet along the way,” he said. “But a lot of times, people tell me my next crossroads or landmark is just 20 minutes down the road, but they mean driving time, not running time.”
For two decades, Mangan has been running distances longer than marathons, which is what makes him an ultrarunner. After about 10 years, when he hit “the runner’s high,” he hatched the idea to run around the globe.
“I said to myself, ‘This feels so good, I feel like I could run around the world,’’’ he said. “But 20 years ago, it just wouldn’t have been possible to do without carrying a heavy pack on my back. The buggy I push now hadn’t been invented.”
So he put the notion aside, but it kept coming back to him. A few years ago, he started “reading obscure travel books,” written by people who had walked around the world. The idea took hold a few years ago, and Mangan began saving money from the construction jobs he was working around Ireland during the boom years in the early 2000s.
He plans to publish his own travel book when he returns to Ireland.
Mangan’s “buggy,” which he calls “Nirvana,” is best known in the U.S. as a runner’s stroller. It has one small wheel in the front and two large ones in the back. Mangan packs a tent, tarp, extra shoes, clothes and some food where most runners would sit an infant or toddler.
His biggest challenge hasn’t been finding shelter but finding the time and free Internet to update the blog on his website so family and friends can follow his journey. Hospitality has not been that hard to find, Mangan said.
The runner has garnered some media attention in Ireland and the Canadian Maritimes. On Saturday, he will do a telephone interview from Clifton with BBC radio for a segment about people doing unusual things on Christmas Day. He plans to get back on the road Sunday, running down Route 9 to Route 15 through Bucksport, picking up Route 3 in Stockton Springs. Then, he will head down the coast along Route 1.
Mangan said it was fate that he was running down Route 9 on Wednesday and caught the eye of a member of the Clifton United Baptist Church. She told the runner that he could stay in the church basement, but when he knocked on the door around suppertime Wednesday, Debra Walsh, the minister’s wife, invited him to stay at the parsonage, located behind the church.
“Tony is a blessing,” the minister said Thursday. “He’s brightened our world.”