Questions Arise Over Robert Young’s Attempt to Run Across the U.S.

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Last month I told you about ultrarunner Robert Young, and his attempt to set a new speed record for traveling across the U.S. on foot. Young is currently in the middle of that attempt, and is trying to beat the previous record which has stood at 46 days, 8 hours, and 36 minutes for 36 years. To do that, he needs to run more than 60 miles per day, every day, for a month and a half, something he’s being doing as he is currently on pace to beat the old record. But now, questions have begun to arise as to whether or not he is actually running all of those miles.

Outside magazine first broke the story, which involves a fellow runner tracking Young’s movements on his official website. That person – named Asher Dermott – posted his story to saying that on June 4 he followed Young’s GPS tracker as he passed through Dermott’s hometown of Lebo, Kansas. Seeing that the ultrarunner was close by, he decided to head out to meet him, and perhaps run a few miles with him along the way. But when he tracked down Young’s support vehicle, the runner was nowhere to be found.

To support these claims, Dermott has video and photos, along with time-stamped images of the tracking page on Young’s website. He claims that he watched Young’s support vehicle for an extended period of time, and that there was no runner to be seen at any time. The vehicle was moving along at roughly the same speed as a runner, with the implication being that Young was inside the RV resting, while the GPS tracker was used to trick anyone following along with his progress into believing that he was actually out on the road, covering all of those miles. Because Young mostly runs at night – it was 1 AM when he passed through Lebo – it would be unlikely that anyone would notice.

For his part, Young has denied the accusations and says that the accusations have had an impact on his already flagging spirits, causing his performance to drop. Over the past few days his daily distances have dropped to 50 miles (80 km), which puts him off the pace he needs to break the record. His support staff says they have been spending a great deal of time attempting to refute these claims and fight the allegations, which has cut into Young’s rest and recovery periods.

Young’s team also said that on the night in question, the runner fell of his pace and was left behind by his support van. In fact, they say he had to borrow a cell phone from a stranger to call one of the members of the team to ask the van to stop and wait for him. They also say that ultrarunner can be spotted in security footage that Dermott obtained, but he is actually nine minutes behind the support vehicle, which is why he wasn’t spotted initially. The updated video is reportedly going to be released soon to support these claims.

As you can imagine, the ultraruning community has been up in arms over these revelations. There are some who are willing to give Young the benefit of the doubt, while others are siding with Dermott. Some are going back to look at previous tracking data to search for anomalies. All of this scrutiny is of course taking its toll on the runner himself. Whether or not he’ll be able to overcome these challenges and continue on to Times Square in New York to break the record remains to be seen.

For now, all we can do is follow along with Young’s efforts and see how the evidence plays out. This could be a simple mistake on the part of Dermott, or a much larger conspiracy by Young and his team.

Kraig Becker