This Physics Professor Ran 3,000 Miles Across America in Record Time: NPR

This Physics Professor Ran 3,000 Miles Across America in Record Time: NPR

NPR’s Elsa Chang speaks with physics professor Jenny Hoffman who’s been traveling around the country.



Elsa Chang, host:

Jenny Hoffman, a physics professor at Harvard University, did something I never imagined doing. I ran about 3,000 miles from San Francisco to New York City in 47 days, 12 hours and 35 minutes. This is the fastest woman to have made this journey on foot.

(Audio of archived recording)

JENNY HOFFMAN: I can’t believe this is happening – 3,000 miles, 3,000 miles. God bless America.

CHANG: God bless America. That was Hoffman before crossing the George Washington Bridge into New York City. Holy cow. Jenny Hoffman, welcome to All Things Considered.

HOFFMAN: Wow, thank you so much for having me on your show.

CHANG: I mean, thank you so much for doing the tour so I can talk to you. I have a lot of questions. But first, how does your body feel now? It’s been about a week since I finished this epic journey. How do you feel?

HOFFMAN: I think my body is a little confused, still trying to figure out where it ends up and what to do with myself.

Zhang: Maybe, why don’t you run today?

HOFFMAN: Yes – I dreamed last night that I had run the wrong way across New Jersey, and I woke up thinking, Oh my God, I ran the short way. Now I need to run north to south across New Jersey.

CHANG: Well, let me ask you this because I know you tried this cross country run in 2019, but you had to stop because of an injury. What made you feel like you had to do it again, you had to try again?

HOFFMAN: Oh, that’s – it’s hard to explain. I don’t know, it’s just – it’s something I’ve dreamed of – crossing this country under my own power – since I was a kid. Once it got into my head, I couldn’t let it go. Every day, every moment that I wasn’t doing anything else, it was there in the background as something I knew I wanted to do. I’d be driving, see the open road in front of me, and say, I could drive that. It just kind of permeates everything.

CHANG: I’ve been through 12 states and 27 days in the cornfields. I’m just curious, did you go into a trance at that point? I mean, mile after mile of cornfields, what was that like?

Hoffman: It really opened my eyes to the vastness of this country and how skewed our perspective is to live in coastal cities. But running through cornfields – yeah, it gets a little old after a while.

Chang: But I imagine cornfields are a good place to hide if you want to take care of business.

HOFFMAN: I took some detours in some cornfields, and I had a tracker broadcasting my location every 10 minutes. And so, every now and then, I would get a message on my tracking device from a friend saying, I saw your last contact in a cornfield. What are you doing there?

CHANG: Guess (laughter). Well, you were just talking about how great this trip would be when you do it on foot instead of just driving across the country, you know. And I’m just curious, what are some other things that stand out in your memory that you learned about this country passing through?

Hoffman: I learned how friendly Americans are. We had a wonderful woman in Nebraska who gave us dozens of fresh eggs from her chickens, and we had a cement company in Utah that gave me a reflective vest to protect me all the way across the country — so many generous Americans. And, you know, the red states, the blue states, whatever their yard signs are, they’ve been very generous and very kind.

Zhang: Yes. I wanted to ask about the individual meditation parts because when I was training for my first marathon, I used all that alone time to process my divorce that was coming to an end. What about you? What did you feel like your mind kept coming back to all those hours alone?

HOFFMAN: When I first did this in 2019, I was spending a lot of time processing my father’s death, and that was a really important time to grieve. And this time in 2023, I’ve been thinking a lot about all the things I’m grateful for and a lot about how I can use this journey to learn how to be a better person and also to provide inspiration for others to achieve their own bold goals. No matter what they may be. And I’ve tried hard to do a better job of documenting my journey publicly and I hope that someone somewhere will see that and think, oh, maybe I can tackle this big goal that I’ve been afraid to tackle.

Chang: I like it. Jenny Hoffman – She is the fastest woman to run from San Francisco to New York City. Congratulations again, Jenny.

HOFFMAN: Thank you very much. Thanks for taking the time to talk to me.

(sound of Music)

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