Sheffield running community rallies to help real life Forrest Gump complete 38 Parkrun route

It’s 8am, and as the Endcliffe Park Cafe staff prepare for a busy sunny Sunday, a man with a shaggy beard and red Bubba Gump baseball cap jogs past surrounded by a small posse of smiling followers.

Tuesday, 12th October 2021, 5:18 pm
Updated Tuesday, 12th October 2021, 5:18 pm
Rob Pope, 'The Real Forrest Gump' with supporters in Endcliffe Park during his Blackpool to Bridlington weekend parkrun challange.

People of a certain age are astonished: is Forrest Gump running across Sheffield?

“He looked tired when I met him, but he was still full of chat and banter,” said Kate Scott from Endcliffe parkrun. “He started from Blackpool yesterday morning, and I take my hat off to his staying power and mental strength to just keep going. But I don’t know how much sleep he’s had.”

None, as it happens. Unlike the real Forrest Gump, Robert Pope is from Liverpool, and after deciding in 2017 to run all 15,621 miles of the route taken by the 1994 film hero, last weekend he crossed England by running all the parkrun routes he could find between Blackpool and Bridlington - including six in Sheffield.

Rob Pope having selfies with supporters at Endcliffe Park.

His ‘Going the Distance’ run was to promote the Peace Direct and Worldwide Fund for Nature charities he supported in his epic run across the USA four times (see: https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/goingthedistancerun). His journey in Forrest’s footsteps is celebrated in his ‘Becoming Forrest’ book published this week.

“I’m pretty tired now,” he said after finishing his 25th 5k parkrun course of the weekend at Endcliffe.

He’d contacted the run directors of all the parkrun routes he was visiting for support from runners, and transport between individual runs.

But his Endcliffe to Millhouses Park transport was unique: Dr Girish Vaidya, a consultant child psychiatrist from Sheffield Children’s Hospital was waiting with his e-trike, which he uses as side by side family transport for him and his son, who has a disability meaning he can’t walk for any distance.

Rob Pope with Mark Norman at Millhouses Park.

“For us it replaces the car for many journeys, it allows two people to have a social conversation while they’re cycling, with the electric assist meaning we don’t get breathless going up hills, and for our family it gives us physio equipment we can also use to carry out day to day tasks,” he said.

Dr Vaidya, his wife Pari and son Varad all use the trike. “It’s a family vehicle,” he said.

“I hope to show Robert that Sheffield is an innovative city when it comes to health, and that while you’re e-triking you can have a conversation while also admiring the beauty of our city.”

So Robert sat by Girish as they gently pedalled up Ecclesall Road South, chatting while Sheffielders raised their eyebrows, and then trundled down to start the next run at Millhouses, where the parkrun co-director Mark Norman tried to match Robert’s stride.

Rob Pope with Dr Girish Vaidya after e-cycling to Millhouses Park.

“His pace was unbelievable,” panted Mark after one lap.

After 118 miles, Robert eventually clocked in after his 38th parkrun route at Bridlington late on Sunday, but later admitted he’d almost ended the challenge after 24 runs in 24 hours at Glossop.

“The Sheffield support in advance was the main reason I crossed the Pennines. I could have wound it up in Glossop and been happy. The self supported section in Manchester was so tough I just couldn't have looked forward to much more of that, for what seemed a ‘bonus’ achievement. But my Scouse honour made me want to repay the Sheffield people and running community for giving me a light at the end of the tunnel,” he said.

“The trike ride was certainly a highlight and I was surprised at how many lovely parks Sheffield has, despite the hills!”

Rob Pope having selfies with supporters at Endcliffe Park.

Robert’s Sheffield-based friend Craig Benson was one of the local team running some of the Sheffield route with him. “He’s absolutely crackers,” Craig said. “He keeps coming up with more and more ridiculous ideas and smashing them.”

Ashley Charlesworth from Endcliffe Park Cafe watched the red capped figure pedal away into the morning sun.

“Life is like a box of chocolates,” Ashley said. “And today is a good chocolate. Endcliffe Park is not a coffee cream.”

Rob Pope with supporters at Endcliffe Park.