Marathon man on mission

2010-05-28 00:00

UNLIKE other tourists who take a relatively painless 12-hour flight to South Africa, Rob Forbes has cycled and swum his way from the UK to Pietermaritzburg … and he doesn’t even like swimming.

The 27-year-old ecologist and adrenaline junkie is involved in an epic triathlon that began in October last year and will end on Sunday — at the finish of the Comrades Marathon.

He’s doing it for two causes close to his heart: cycling and football.

As he goes along, he is raising funds for Re-Cycle, an initiative that re-routes second-hand bicycles to Africa; the bikes are then used by health and Aids workers to reach remote villages.

After his big triathlon he plans to get back on his bike and cycle his way to Rustenburg “in time to see England kick off a World Cup-winning campaign against the United States on June 12,” he said. Forbes is also in the running to be named “England’s biggest fan”.

His journey began last year when he cycled from his home town of Cirencester in the UK through France and into the south of Spain. There he swam 25 km across one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes — the Straits of Gibraltar — to Africa.

“As someone who strongly dislikes swimming, managing to front-crawl across the Strait of Gibraltar from Spain to Morocco was mentally one of the toughest things I have ever achieved in my life,” he says.

“My Spanish support crew, who spent most of the time having siestas and smoking cigarettes, were in contact with passing tankers to get them to move out of my way and fed me mushed up banana every 45 minutes like some kind of performing sea lion,” Forbes,said of the treacherous swim.

It took Forbes about six-and-a-half hours to swim the strait, and he had to complete the cross-continent expedition by literally climbing into Morocco up a jagged cliff face.

“Surely Comrades can’t be as bad as having sea water pouring in and out of your mouth for over six hours while staring at a mountain that doesn’t seem to get any closer?” he said playfully.

From Morocco, Forbes spent seven to 10 hours each day cycling down the west coast of Africa. “I’ve cycled 20 000 km through deserts, mountains and tropical rainforests from my home in England to Pietermaritzburg down the west side of Africa, passing through countries like Nigeria, the Congos and Angola,” said Forbes.

“To complete my epic cross-continent charity triathlon I now just have the small matter of running the gruelling 89 km Comrades course to Durban.”

Forbes has been touched by the hospitality and kindness he received while travelling through Africa.

“I have been blown away by hospitality and generosity shown to me by even the poorest communities. On frequent occasions I have been invited to share people’s food, sleep in their huts or given gifts of friendship,” he said.

“People have frequently come to my rescue with food and water despite my inability to communicate with them — I guess distress signs are pretty universal!”

Forbes’s travels through Africa have prepared him for Sunday’s race. He bought his first pair of running shoes in Ghana and began running regularly in Angola. He even managed to complete the Mweni Mountain Marathon in the Drakens­berg two weeks ago.

“It’s the oldest and largest participation ultra marathon in the world. I have always wanted to take part in Comrades and can’t wait to line up with the other 15 000-plus competitors to take on the hills between here and Durban,” he said.

“What more prestigious event could I have the honour of competing in to complete an epic triathlon? The timing also fits perfectly with watching England win the World Cup!”

To donate money, read more about Forbes’s travels or simply vote for him as England’s biggest football fan, log on to www.triafrica.co.uk

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