Jon Nabbs lost both his parents to cancer in the space of three years.
Now he’s embarked on an epic 8000km run across Canada in a bid to raise $75,000 to support child cancer patients.
Nabbs, 32 and originally from Waikato, spoke to the Herald from Gander, a small town on the island of Newfoundland off Canada’s east coast.
He is 345km into the over 8000km cross-country route, meaning he’s completed just over eight of about 200 marathons he’ll need to reach the country’s Pacific coast.
The mission is made even more gruelling by the fact he is running solo and unsupported. With no entourage he’s carrying everything he needs in a tricycle pram he pushes in front of him.
Only seven people, none of them Kiwis, have ever completed the run.
“The reason I’m doing it is the chance to draw people’s attention to the need to support cancer fighters, particularly our young ones,” Nabbs said.
“I’ve been part of a family that’s been heavily affected. In the last three years, I lost both my parents to different forms of cancer.
“And I know how much of a kick in the guts it is to receive the diagnosis and how important it is to try and live through that time on your own terms.”
Nabbs said he hopes the funds he raises will help cancer research so others don’t suffer the same way so many have.
Formerly a farm worker, he was studying the German language in Austria before embarking on the run, and prior to that completed the Te Araroa trail walking the length of New Zealand.
He has completed ultra-marathons before, including Tarawera and Taupo, so has a favourite pair of shoes locked down. They are a pair of neutral gait low-drop (5mm) shoes from Topo Athletic, with a wide toe box.
Nabbs expects to burn through at least eight pairs before finishing the run, using the runners’ rule-of-thumb of 1000km as the lifespan of a pair.
It has not all been plain sailing.
The start of the run took him along the Avalon Peninsula, home to Newfoundland and Labrador’s capital St Johns. Connecting the peninsula to the mainland is a hilly isthmus and Nabbs said pushing the 30kg pram up and down the hillsled to tendonitis in his right knee.
As a result, he’s cut back to a still-challenging 20km of slow running per day. His best mate is a physio and has advised that tendonitis doesn’t necessarily benefit from complete rest, and in fact can respond well to keeping a little bit of load on the tendons.
Inside his pram is a small one-man tent that is his usual nightly digs in Newfoundland’s unique landscape.
“It’s insane how many lakes and tiny wee ponds there are,” he said.
“They’re all drinkable, and you can camp right on the side of them.
“It’s actually like a sort of camper’s paradise.
“So I’ve been having a good time doing that. The only thing is it’s pretty cold at the moment.”
Nabbs describes his run as a “race against winter”.
He is hoping that by September or October, he is through into Manitoba and Canada’s expansive prairies after the lakes of Quebec and Ontario.
After that, he is staring down the barrel of a largely straight 2000km run to Calgary.
He wants to be out of the interior of the country by winter because snow will be piled metres high on the side of the road, he explains.
That will require a “nice, steady” increase in mileage of about 10 per cent per week to 45km - nearly 3km more than a marathon - every day.
While the climate has been chilly, Nabbs said he has been blown away by the hospitality in Newfoundland.
“It’s sort of like old-school New Zealand.”
He has sometimes been knocking on doors asking if he can camp on someone’s back lawn, and every time bar one the answer has been yes.
A few minutes later they’ll be outside with a cup of tea inviting him inside for dinner, he said.
“It’s so, so lovely.”