IT was as he jogged over the peak of the Rocky Mountains the extraordinary enormity of the run Stephen Pope was attempting suddenly hit him.
“I thought it’s downhill from here, I’m on the home straight now,” he says.
“There were 1,800 miles left.”
Some home straight.
But then this was some challenge.
Only a handful of people have ever attempted what the Sheffield student landlord and his running partner Chris Finill were doing: running across America - from the Pacific Ocean on the west coast to the Atlantic on the east.
“Why did we do it?” ponders the 44-year-old of Crosspool. “What better way to see America than at six miles an hour?”
The statistics of the achievement are mind-boggling. The pair ran 3,126 miles over 79 days, completing about 40 miles a day between 7.30am and 5pm.
They took in big cities and small towns, deserts and mountains, forest and prairies, snow storms and blazing heat.
The distance covered was so vast, the shortest route between the starting point in San Francisco and the finish line in New York had to be worked out taking into account the curve of the globe.
The pair – who met through their mutual interest in long distance running – stayed in more than 50 motels and were put up by strangers on a handful of occasions; and they’ve raised more than £4,000 for Help For Heroes. Just for good measure, the day after they finished, they took part in the New York Marathon.
“It seemed appropriate,” notes Stephen, who lives with wife Penny. “It’s strange; I’m physically exhausted and I have no desire to run for a while but now it’s over, mentally, I’m missing it. It was an incredible journey. We met so many good people and spent a lot of time laughing.”
Among his happiest memories was passing through Sheffield, Illinois; meeting an American in a Colorado motel who, upon hearing what they were doing, gave them $100 for the charity; and generally discovering ‘small town’ America.
“The warmth and generosity of the people is something I will cherish forever,” says Stephen.
Not that it was all plain running.
Chris, a 52-year-old school bursar from Harrow, picked up an injury in Utah (“fortunately he ran it off,” says Stephen), while damaged bridges in Mississippi meant their route had to be extended and the pair had to be aware of both snakes and, bizarrely, goats.
“There was one rattlesnake in the road we almost didn’t see which could have been nasty,” says Stephen. “It raised its head and was clicking as we approached. We looked at it for a second and then very slowly took the long route round.”
Then there was the two goats in Nebraska that wouldn’t stop following them.
“They came out of a field and ran with us for about two miles. We had no idea how to get rid of them,” says Stephen. “Eventually a guy in a pick-up pulled up alongside us, and we asked him if he could help.
He said ‘Oh they’re mine’ and loaded them onto his truck. To this day, I don’t think they were his.”
But there were no goats when the pair finally plunged into the Atlantic on Saturday - although a chap called Jim Shapiro was waiting for them.
“It was his book, Meditations From The Breakdown Lane, which is about him running across America, which first inspired us to do this,” says Stephen. “It was that book that set the whole journey off so it was nice to meet him.”
Now, for the next challenge. The pair, who were accompanied on their journey by documentary maker Ben Southern and Chris’s wife Julia for technical support, are set to write a book about their experience.
“It was a fascinating journey and we feel like we have lots to share,” says Stephen.