Forrest Gump is one of my favorite movie characters. In the movie, among other things, he was portrayed as a man with incredible running ability. He constantly ran from bullies at a young age. He became a member of the All-American team at college because he could outran all other football players. He ran under heavy artillery to save his fellow soldiers during Vietnam War. And of course most famously, he ran across America back to back several times over a span of three years to get over the heartbreak of Jenny's leaving him.
Putting aside the symbolism of all his runs, I always wondered how realistic his ultramarathon run was (even though it's a fiction, you don't want to show too many goofs in the movie), what route he had completed, and how he measured up with real ultramarathon runners. So I watched the movie a few more times (especially the running part) and did some detective work on the topic. I came up these clues:
- Forrest started his three-year-long run from his front porch in Greenbow, AL in the early morning of July 5, 1976. Greenbow, AL is fictional but according to the Forrest Gump novel Forrest's hometown is Mobile, AL.
- Forrest headed to the west first. He ran clear the ocean and reached the west coast at Santa Monica Pier, Santa Monica, CA. He then turned around, kept on going and got to another ocean (Atlantic Ocean) at Marshall Point Lighthouse, Marshall Point Road, Port Clyde, ME. He only stopped for sleeping, eating and going to bathroom (see this movie clip . Sorry for the squeezed frames. Still haven't figured out how to adjust the aspect ratio in Adobe Premiere).
- This movie clip shows that Forrest had run for more than two years and was about to cross the Mississippi River for the 4th time at somewhere near St. Louis, MO. Most amazingly, the TV screen actually showed a sketch of his route up to then.
- We don't know what route Forrest took after he crossed Mississippi River for the 4th time, but we do know where and when he ended his run. Based on this movie clip, he ended his run at Monument Valley, UT on US Highway 163 near UT and AZ border in the evening of September 19, 1979. He had run for 3 years 2 months 14 days and 16 hours.
Obviously, the single most important clue is the sketch of the route on the TV screen. The following image shows a enlarged and sharpened frame of it.
From this sketch we know in more than two years he ran across America about 3.5 times. For the remaining a year or less, he probably kept running to the east, hit the east coast somewhere, turned around and started his fifth crossing from east to west. We know he ended the run in Utah. The question is: did he stop in Utah before he finished the fifth crossing or after he finished the fifth crossing and started the sixth crossing from the west coast? My guess is that he didn't finish the fifth crossing because he probably didn't have enough time otherwise, if he kept the same pace throughout his journey. The last movie clip indicates that just before he stopped at Monument Valley, UT, he was running from east to west because when he said "I'm pretty tired. I think I'll go home now", he went to the opposit direction, his home direction.
Based on the sketch and fair amount of guesswork, I came out the following list of cities that he might went through:
||Santa Monica Pier, Santa Monica, CA
||Marshall Point Rd, Port Clyde, ME
||San Francisco, CA
||Las Vegas, NV
||St George, UT
||Salt Lake City, UT
||Fort Duchesne, UT
|Santa Monica Pier, Santa Monica, CA
||Oklahoma City, OK
||Rapid City, SD
||St Louis, MO
||New York, NY
||San Francisco, CA
||Marshall Point Rd, Port Clyde, ME
Using these cities as waypoints I was finally able to generate the Forrest Gump Route and this is what it looks like in Virtual Earth (click it to see live demo):
Notice that the route I generated does not match the sketch very closely. This is because 1) My route is entirely based on drivable roads. The route engine used tends to pick fast, major highways, while Forrest might pick any roads, including less important country roads; 2) The sketch is not very realistic in areas such as big mountain ranges and deserts, where there are simply no roads, assuming he always ran on some kind of roads.
The following table compares Forrest Gump with some famous distance runners:
||Forrest Gump ran across America back-to-back for five times in a span of three years (1976 - 1979), covered a distance of some 15,000 miles.
||Jesper Olsen of Denmark is the record holder of world run. He ran around the world in 22 months, on a route consisting of: London-Copenhagen-Moscow-Vladivostok-(air)-Niigata-Tokyo-(air)-Sydney-Perth-(air)-Los Angeles-Vancouver-New York-(air)-Shannon-Dublin-(air)-Liverpool-London. It covers a land distance of some 26000 km.
||Dean Kamazes, the ultramarathan man, was ranked by a TIME magazine poll as one the "Top 100 Influential People in the World." One of his recent endeavors was running 50 marathons, in all 50 states, in 50 consecutive days.
||Mark Covert, a teacher of Lancaster, CA, is the longest streaker in the U.S., having run at least one mile a day everyday since July 23, 1968, which is more than 40 years and still counting! His lifetime total distance is over 150,000 miles so far.
||The trans USA ultramarathon record is 46 days 8 hours 36 minutes (San Francisco, CA - New York, NY) set by Frank Giannino in 1980.
By comparison Forrest Gump was more like a streak runner than a marathoner. He ran at a moderate rate everyday for a relatively long period of time. Keep in mind that he did not run for setting record. He did it for clearing his mind as he explained "My mama always said 'you got to put the past behind you before you can move on' and I think that's my run was all about."
Now I have figured out the Forrest Gump Route. The next thing is to form a "Forrest Gump 5X-Country Running Association" and have some crazy runners try it out.
- The movie captions are created using Microsoft Movie Maker
- The code for numbered pushpins is taken from Keith Kinnan's Blog
- The route shape data is generated using Google Earth
- The shape data reduction was discussed in this post