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This physics professor ran 3,000 miles across America in record time

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Harvard physics professor Jenny Hoffman did something I could never imagine doing. She ran some 3,000 miles from San Francisco to New York City in 47 days, 12 hours and 35 minutes. That is the fastest a woman has ever done that journey on foot.

(SOUNDBITE 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 just 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 this run so I could talk to you. I have so many questions. But first, how is your body feeling right now? It's been about a week since you finished this epic run. How are you feeling?

HOFFMAN: I think my body's a little confused, still trying to figure out which end is up and what to do with myself.

CHANG: Maybe, why aren't you running today?

HOFFMAN: Yeah - had a dream last night that I had run the wrong way across New Jersey, and I woke up thinking, oh, my gosh, I ran the short way. Now I need to run north-south across New Jersey.

CHANG: Well, let me ask you this 'cause I know that you attempted this cross-country run back in 2019, but you had to stop because of an injury. What made you feel you had to do this again, you had to make the attempt again?

HOFFMAN: Oh, that's - it's hard to explain. I don't know, it just - it's something I have dreamed about - crossing this country under my own power - since I was a child. Once I got it in my head, I just couldn't let go. Every single day, every moment that I wasn't actively doing something else, it was there in the background as something I just knew that I wanted to do. I would be driving, and I would see the open road ahead of me, and I would say, I could be running this. It just kind of permeated everything.

CHANG: You ran through 12 states and 27 days of 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 warped our perspective can be living in the coastal cities. But running through cornfields - yeah, it got 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 did take some detours into some cornfields, and I had a tracker that broadcast my location every 10 minutes. And so every once in a while, I would get a message on my tracker from a friend saying, hey, I saw your last ping in a cornfield. What you doing in there?

CHANG: Guess (laughter). Well, you were just talking about kind of how eye-opening this trip was to do it by foot rather than, you know, just drive across the country. And I'm just curious, what were some of the other things that stand out in your memory that you learned about this country running through it?

HOFFMAN: I learned how friendly Americans are. We had a wonderful woman in Nebraska who gave us a dozen eggs fresh from her chickens, and we had a cement company in Utah who gave me a reflective vest that kept me safe all the way across the country - so just so many generous Americans. And, you know, red states, blue states, whatever their yard signs, they were so generous and so kind.

CHANG: Yeah. I wanted to ask about the solo meditation parts because when I was training for my first marathon, I used all of that alone time to process my divorce that was coming up around the corner. What about you? What did you feel your mind kept returning to inside all those hours by yourself?

HOFFMAN: When I first did this in 2019, I was spending a lot of time processing my father's passing, and that was really an important time to grieve. And this time in 2023, I was thinking a lot about all the things I'm grateful for and a lot about how I could use this journey to learn to be a better person and also to provide inspiration for others to pursue their audacious goals no matter what they may be. And I tried really hard to do a better job of publicly documenting my journey and hope that somebody somewhere sees that and thinks, oh, maybe I can tackle that big goal that I was afraid to tackle.

CHANG: I love that. Jenny Hoffman - she is the fastest woman to run from San Francisco to New York City. Congratulations again, Jenny.

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

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who hosts All Things Considered along with Ari Shapiro, Audie Cornish, and Mary Louise Kelly. She landed in public radio after practicing law for a few years.
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