Aidas Ardzijauskas got his kicks on Route 66

Aidas running across New Mexico. Photo Aidas Ardzijauskas archive

In his introduction, Ambassador Žygimantas Pavilionis said: “In Washington, we often hear that Lithuanians are punching above their weight. Aidas just did it again. I am proud of him (achieving this) and proud of my people”. A day later, we sat down with Aidas to reminiscence about the trip.

It was in 2001 that Aidas saw a presentation at his local athletics club in Vilnius about athletes running across the USA. The runners used a combination of Route 66 and the National Route to cross from the West Coast to New York City. Aidas, an energetic, down-to-earth Vilnius fire fighter, was hooked. The father of two made a plan and set out to realise his dream. Later in 2001, 30-year-old Aidas made his first trip to the USA and took part in a world competition for fire fighters and police in Indianapolis. Achieving his goal, to cover the distance of about 5000km (3100 miles), would take Aidas another 12 years of preparation.

Route 66 has inspired many artists and travellers to the American West. Route 66 is the legendary route that runs from Chicago to LA and was established in late 1926. The Route gained even more world-wide fame with Bobby Troup’s ‘Get Your Kicks on Route 66’, widely covered by Nat King Cole, Chuck Berry, The Rolling Stones and a host of others. In the 1960’s there was also an eponymous American TV show.

Aidas, now 43, was not the first to be inspired by the famous route and to have such plan. In 1928, some 275 runners set out to run Route 66. Half of those athletes dropped out after 3 days of what turned out to be a gruelling undertaking. With the completion of the first road network in the USA the possibility to run from coast to coast, across the American continent, became a reality. In 1980, Frank Giannino, in his second attempt, ran across the USA in a record 46 days 8 hours and 36 minutes. That record still stands. What makes that crossing even more amazing is that Giannino ran about 112 km (70 miles) on average every single day. In total 404 runners have made the attempt of those 132 completed the run. That is until Aidas succeeded as number 133 on 22 August.

Aidas dream was to beat Franks Giannino’s world record. He was initially taken back a bit after having a detailed look at the topographical map of the USA. He realised that there was a large amount of mountainous terrain. Training for the biggest challenge of his life, Aidas started out small. He ran 18 Olympic distance marathons, races of a ‘mere’ 42 km. He won several as part of training for his bigger goal. Aidas also ran around the Vatican, then Gibraltar and finally in 2012 around Lithuania, completing that run in 24 days. The next year he set out to run around the Baltic Sea, an achievement he completed in 45 days.

Late last year the team supporting Aidas started to look for sponsors. Baltic Auto Shipping, based in Chicago became the lead sponsor and provided the car. Tower Communication and several other sponsors came up with a large part of the funds to complete the run. Martinas Romanovskis would provide the necessary support and accompany Aidas on this big trip. Early June Aidas and Martinas set out from Chicago to Los Angeles to pick up the car and finalise preparations.

The Lithuanian Honorary Consul in Los Angeles, Daiva Navarrette, hosted the team at her house in the days before they set out. Aidas met up with a number of local Lithuanians, including father and son Markevicius of ‘The Other Dream Team’ fame. They became fascinated and father Markevicius also provided sponsorship. Many expressed doubts that Aidas would be able to complete. They knew all too well the topographic obstacles and the blistering heat he would encounter running through the large stretches of barren desert. When asked if he was aware as to how many had bet on a successful outcome Aidas said: ‘There were no bets in Vilnius, but several in the USA had placed some bets on the outcome’.

He set out on 19 June from Los Angeles. Aidas planned to run 10 to 12 hours every single day. As part of the detailed plan, he also decided to sleep no less than 6 hours a day. During the first weeks, Aidas ran mainly at night to avoid the heat. They slept mostly in their station wagon, but every 3 to 4 days they would refresh and have a good night sleep in a hotel or motel along the road. Sponsors generously paid for all of these costs.

He managed, depending on weather conditions, to run somewhere between 100 km (60 miles) and 144 km (90 miles). Aidas complied with all the reporting requirements to enter the exploit into the Guinness Book of World Records. After about 3 weeks running in exhausting heat, he realised that his dream to beat the world record would be unachievable. In true Olympic spirit, where participation is more important than winning, Aidas kept going. He revised his goal and set out to finish the run in 67 days and he adjusted his daily runs to a more manageable 80 km (50 miles). Whenever he was down or when he experienced some severe stomach pain during a few days, it was his dream and goal that kept him going.

Running across 13 states Aidas was most impressed by the fabulous nature along the way. Although after a while, some of the smaller towns started to look very much alike. They were equally surprised, when crossing a large number of these hamlets that they did not see one single human being there. Nevertheless, it was also in the small-towns that he got the most attention at the unusual sight of a small, but very energetic, Lithuanian on a big mission! Larger towns mostly ignored his presence. Probably there was too much going on every day and no time to take note of one of these tenacious 133. Chicago, a town with a large Lithuanian population, was the exception and Aidas reminisces with a big grin about the very warm welcome there.

On 22 August in New York City’s Central Park, he finally reached his goal completing the punishing race in 63 days. A small delegation of the Lithuanian Community in New York welcomed Aidas. Deputy Ambassador Nida Jakubonė presented Aidas with a letter on behalf of UN Ambassador Raimonda Murmokaitė congratulating him with the successful completion of his run and promoting Lithuania.

Aidas had beaten his own revised goal by about 4 days and lost about 10 kilos (22 lbs) during his ordeal. He proudly shows us a picture of himself at the end of the race where he is sitting on a bench in New York City. Two runners pass by and he knows how most athletes generally think about those that relax or seem not to exercise. Little did they know that the man sitting at the bench had run, every single day for 63 days, a larger distance then they would probably cover in 1 week.

Aidas Ardzijauskas undeniable provided proof that a man with plan can achieve his goal when he sets his mind to it and realistically makes adjustments.

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