The story began in South America in 2008. My friend and I were stopped on a 17,000 ft. pass in the Apolobamba Mountains of Northern Bolivia, unable to do anything but try and suck as much air as possible into our gasping lungs. Our mule panted beside us, grateful for the opportunity to rest. As we wondered aloud how anyone could ever get used to this constant effort to breathe, a figure came walking towards us out of the mist carrying a 50 pound backpack. It was here that I first encountered world traveler and ultra-runner, Markus Mueller. We became fast friends on that day, and three years later we crossed paths again in June as Markus got set to launch his newest challenge, a 3,200 mile run across America. He stopped by Alhambra for a few days before he began, and I sat down with him at Noodle World. While he ate pad see-ew noodles, I got to ask him a few questions.
What do you think of Alhambra?
I think it is like a little Asia. There are not many white people here and when you go to the restaurant everyone is Asian. It looks like the movie Blade Runner without the rain.
What is ultra running?
Ultra running means every distance beyond a marathon, which is 26.2 miles. It ranges from 50 miles races here in the United States. In Europe they have races up six or 10 days in length and the longest ultra race is in Queens, New York at 3100 miles. Runners run around one block for 16 hours a day.
What is the longest race you have done?
My longest race to date is my run across Australia. Twenty four people signed up, 14 finished and one died.
How did you become interested in running across the United States?
I read a book about a race across America that took place in 1928 and the organizer did it to promote Highway 66. I got the idea that by running you can see a lot more than on a car or bicycle because you are seeing everything at a human pace. In May 2009 this race from Los Angeles to New York was announced and I knew this was my chance to do it and more importantly my wife, Brandi, gave me the okay.
How many are running with you in this race?
There are 14 of us mainly from Europe and four runners from Japan.
Is there anything different about running in America as compared to other countries?
In America you must stay in the car when the police stop you and keep your hands on the wheel. No fast movements or they will think you have a weapon. We don’t have that in Europe. We also have been warned not to pee in public or run in the nude. There’s also tornados, which scare me because we don’t have them in Europe and all I know about them is to jump in a ditch.
What about the vast landscape of America?
I think that is very special. In Europe you cannot drive 20 miles and not see anything and in America you can drive 50 miles or more and see no civilization and that is special.
Tell me about your shoes. I noticed you have cut away the tops of your shoes in the front.
I do that to prevent injuries and when it is hot the feet will swell. I brought 14 pairs of shoes for this race.
How do you battle in your own mind about not giving up?
For myself I don’t know the word quit. I want to go to New York and now it is part of my DNA. Some other runners enjoy the suffering but I don’t. I know there will be problems and hard times but I try to keep focus on enjoying the landscape and the fact that I am out there.
You're 47 years old right? Are you getting near the end of this now?
No. My goal is to continue ultra running into my 70s or until I die. Running is like breathing and is a part of my life.
Is there anything else you want to say?
My wife and I talk about how in life you must do stuff and this is important. You don’t need to concentrate on the material things. People ask me how do you fund this and you must have a lot of money. I don’t have more money than everyone else, and I don’t have an I phone, no cable TV and I drive an old car. For the most part of my life I have not had a car and I use my money to travel.
You set your priorities and right now I want to run across America.
Markus started his race across America June 19th from Huntington Beach. As of July 21, he had reached Oklahoma. You can follow Markus on his run at: LANYfootrace.com or on his blog: My road to New York