Sunday, January 25, 2009

Swiss Runner Serge Roehteli Completes 25,000 Mile Run Across 66 Countries (video)

Ask Swiss native Serge Roehteli what defines "long run" for him, and the answer will blow your mind. How about a five year run totally over 25,000 miles on six continents and through 37 countries? This epic round-the-globe adventure is exactly what Serge set out to do in February, 2000, with his wife, Nicole, as his sole support with a motorcycle towing a small trailer. A movie about their adventure is premiering this month, and will soon find it's way to DVD.

I had a chance to interview Serge about the run, the movie, and what he learned about the world in the process.

1) Such an incredible journey! What motivated you to sell your worldly possessions and take off on a 25,000 mile run?

To be free. To help kids in the suffering parts of the world. To have an amazing journey. We traveled with very few things: our Yamaha motorcycle-- which still works-- sleeping bag, camera, batteries, one coffee pot, pot to cook spaghetti, passport, toothbrush, camera, extra clothes, food that we bought at markets, gifts received from people we met a long the way, and a machete for cutting away shrubs. I also kept pictures of my children. We were completely free, but we also had to rely solely on ourselves.

2) Why run? Why not just travel?

It was my dream and we chose to just do it. We wanted to bring attention to the suffering children around the world and running was the best way to do that. When you travel normal, you meet normal people. When you travel unique, you meet unique people.

3) What were the toughest stretches? Did you ever fear for your safety or health to the point of contemplating quitting?

The toughest stretches were when it was hot and humid. All of Asia--Singapore, Thailand especially---West Africa, and some parts of the United States were very difficult. The deserts like the Sahara were very challenging. It was also very difficult to run when it was freezing cold.

When it was really tough, like when we got Malaria, or when I thought I didn’t have the spirit, or thought I wasn’t good enough, I would think to myself- your life is hard, because it is a free choice. I chose to pay this price. I met thousands of people whose lives are so hard all of the time because they just to want to survive-- they are sick, poor, or they have no food-- when you realize that your life is good and you met so many people whose lives are so hard, you shut up and keep going.

I was afraid of the political trouble around the world. I was afraid of Malaria, but I knew it could be treated. But, the worst animal on the planet is the human. Humans can be frantic when they believe too strong in one ideal that doesn’t allow them to be open minded. That happens especially with religion when people are sure they have the truth. We ran through the Middle East four days after Sept. 11 and that scared us. Everyone was scared and we were too. We were afraid in Guinea, also, because we got caught in war. We had to stay in the Swiss Embassy for four days while the war continued. Houses were burned, people killed, and women were raped. We were also afraid sometimes in the downtown areas of huge cities like Cape Town and Johannesburg in South Africa, because they are very dangerous. Sometimes we were afraid in the big cities of the United States as well, because a few times we stayed under a shelter or freeway. But, we knew this was the price of our dream to run around the world, so we continued on.

I had many injuries along the way, including severe tendinitis. While we were in South Africa, I had to spend 28 days in bed to recover from it because the running was so hard on my legs. I also had trouble with my sciatic nerve, and while running through India, a car hit me and I broke a bone in my elbow. But, none of those injuries compared to Malaria.

During the World Run, while running through Africa, Nicole and I both caught Malaria. It was bad for Nicole because she fell into a coma after she got a very bad fever. She had contracted one of the worst kinds of the disease. When I came down with it as well, I went to the doctor in Africa and he told Nicole that if they don’t give me a shot, I will die. Even after we caught Malaria, we did not quit. We knew we could succeed.

(Serge picks up a couple of pacers in Africa)

4) How many pairs of shoes did you go through?

I went through 64 pairs of shoes during the World Run. I always had small injuries on my feet. Including losing toe nails.

The run also had a huge effect on my knees. They are very bad now. I have had three operations on them and one operation on my ankle. I have run more than 50,000 miles in my life and that is hard on them. During the World Tour I took care of my knees in three different ways- I slept nine to 10 hours a night, drank lots of water and tea, and kept stretching.

5) Do you think about running the same way after this journey than you did before you started? What does it mean to you now to just go out for a run?

I realize day-after-day, month-after-month, year-after-year, that running around the world was one of the best things I have ever done in my life.

It started as a dream in my heart. I remember when I was thinking about running the world or doing another challenge -- I considered climbing to the highest peak in the world as well-- but we chose to run the world. What a fantastic way to be free!

When I take off for a run now, I begin to think I was crazy. Because now, when I see a picture or read a story about the run, I think “how did I do that”? You have to be crazy to imagine you can run the world. But, it’s better to be a crazy, happy man than a boring man.

I don’t run as much as I used to, but if I could run on the moon, I would leave tonight.

6) I bet you got to meet a lot of locals in the 37 countries you visited. What surprised you the most?

You find nice people all around the world. But, the country closest to my heart is Madagascar. I loved the people there. They are very poor, but they are very friendly. I also enjoyed meeting people in Laos and Nepal. The people in the U.S. are very nice as well. When I ran in the U.S., everyone had an open mind and everyone wants to know you and ask questions.

7) How did the two of you meet? Are you both runners?

I met Nicole in a coffee shop 19 years ago. She was a waitress. Nicole does not like to run, except to stay in shape.

8) Serge, were you an ultrarunner before beginning this journey? What are some of your favorite ultras?

Yes, I have always been a runner, boxer, biker, mountain climber. I believe all of those activities helped me prepare my body for the world run. My favorite is to run a mountain trail near my town. It connects six Swiss mountain cabins. When I run that trail, I feel free. I do it with just a small backpack on. Sometimes I am out running that trail for a day, three days or I will do it for a week straight.

I did many runs before the World Run such as Death Valley, which was 100 miles, and the Grand Canyon. I ran Europe in the winter from Gibraltar to Norway, which was 4,375 miles; I ran from the southern tip of Argentina to Fairbanks, Ala. in what became known as the America’s Challenge, which was 15,000 miles; and I ran Italy to Milan, which was 1,100 miles.

Running Death Valley was worse than running the Sahara during the World Run, because I wasn’t trained well enough. I spent three months in the Sahara and every day I felt better and better. Death Valley was one of my first major runs. I ran it – 100 miles- in four days and I was not prepared enough.

Running the Sahara, I felt very mentally prepared. My America’s Challenge two years prior took me through Chile, Mexico, and Baja California, which prepared me for the conditions of the Sahara. I ran during the night from 2 a.m. to 10 a.m. and after we found a shadow to retreat in such as our tent, or a dirty old house. I drank water all the time; a minimum of two to four gallons a day. The Sahara is 2,000 miles and it took me three months running 30 miles every night. I just took it step by step.

9) Tell us a bit about the movie. How much footage did you have? How long did it take to make the film?

The movie is about the World Run. The footage was captured from our video camera that we kept to document the film. All in all, the run took us five years. I ran more than 25,000 miles, over six continents, and through 37 counties (see map). I believe the movie is inspiring for all runners who are trying to achieve a goal or for anyone facing a challenge. We had 80 hours of footage from the trip and shot another 10 hours to finish. It took two years to make the film.

10) What are you hoping people will get from it?

I hope people feel inspired after watching the film. I believe it is hard to change the world, but we can try by doing small things. You build your life step-by-step, day-by-day. Don’t think about the big things; just try to do the small things one step at a time. Some advice I have for people who are going through a hard time or athlete trying to overcome a challenge is not to focus on the finish line. Just take it a little bit at a time and concentrate on that moment and what you are dealing with. I have said it before, but nothing is impossible as long as you are willing to pay the price for your dream.

10) Where will it debut first? How can we find out where it might be playing next?

The official premier will be in New York City at the end of April. Before the official premier, we are having several private screenings that will take place in 13 major running communities across the U.S. including: Albany, N.Y.; San Antonio; Los Angeles; Boston; New York City; Washington D.C.; Minneapolis, Minn.; Indianapolis; Kansas City, Mo.; Denver; Seattle; and Milwaukee.

The first screenings are:

Albany, NY: 1/21/09
San Antonio: 1/28/09
Los Angeles: 1/30/09
Boston: 2/02/09
The rest of the screening dates are TBD.

The movie will then play in select theaters across the U.S., then be available on DVD, and then move to T.V.. There is also a book coming out about Nicole’s Diary, which she kept during our journey around the world. The film is narrated with excerpts from it.

You can find out all movie information including the dates of the private movie screenings, theaters and DVD release on the movie blog at,

That's great! Congratulations to you and Nicole on your adventure and the film, and I look forward to hearing more! - SD


  1. Scott, What an amazing story! It's exactly what I need at this very moment... motivation and inspiration. Thanks very much for pulling it together and posting the story. I didn't notice any Canadian release dates, but I can always hope. Thanks again Scott. Another great post. Mike

  2. Wow! That is really inspiring - on so many levels. Thanks for sharing this - I'm looking forward to seeing that film!

  3. Pretty cool stuff. Now that's endurance!

  4. Scott, I call myself a trail runner because I like to run trails around Boulder, CO. I've never run a marathon, and certainly haven't run for days on end. You're an inspiration, a little bit crazy, and yes, I know what you mean by the "runner's high". That's why I do it!

  5. how old is he? and his kids?

    thanks - good post

  6. Great story! That is crazy racing. Looking forward to the 2009 racing season.

  7. That story is amazing! Thanks for posting it!



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