Around the world in 2066 days

A 36-YEAR-OLD college drop out, who said he has never stuck at anything in his life before, has completed his goal of being the first person to run round the world.

Robert Garside began his epic jog more than five years ago, when he set off from New Delhi, in India, on 17 October, 1997.

After more than 35,000 miles and 50 pairs of running shoes - and having been jailed in China and threatened by armed men in Mexico and Panama - he arrived back at his starting point yesterday.

His record-breaking run has been dogged by scepticism, with many critics claiming that his supposed feats were simply "not credible".

Experts from the world of endurance running are astonished at Mr Garside’s assertions that he ran up to 110 miles per day for days on end, without a support team, through hostile environments.

They said that because of the question marks still hanging over the veracity of his bid, any claim to enter the record books should be subject to rigorous scrutiny before being accepted.

In 2001, he reportedly admitted taking an aeroplane for more than 800 miles of the route from Mexico City to the United States border, but insisted he had all the evidence proving his record attempt was authentic.

His spokesman, Mike Soulsby, yesterday defended the run. "If there is a part of the run he hasn’t done, I don’t know about it. If I had known he hadn’t done a part of the run, I wouldn’t have helped him out as much as I have."

Mr Garside originally began his run in 1996 from London, but after reaching Eastern Europe, he returned to England after relationship problems with his girlfriend, Mr Soulsby said.

"He wasn’t supposed to be off the run for as long as he was. He went back and instead of going back to where he ran to, he flew back further.

"He told me about it and I said, ‘it’s no use you can’t do it - what’s the point of doing the whole bloody run’. I said ‘choose the place and start running from there’.

"So he chose to go from New Delhi and finish in New Delhi, and that’s what he’s done."

Born in Stockport, Greater Manchester, Mr Garside left home at 17 and lived and worked in about 80 different places in the next ten years.

He had the idea of the record attempt in 1995 when he read an entry in the Guinness Book of Records about a man who had walked around the world.

At the time, he was a second-year psychology student at Royal Holloway College, in west London. He decided to drop out of college and, in December 1996, set off from London on his first attempt on the global running challenge.

Later, in 1997, he tried again, this time using New Delhi as his starting point, avoiding areas where the political situation could have meant trouble.

His worst experiences were running without eating for three days and being jailed for five days in China for not having the right documents. In Panama, he was threatened with a gun as two men tried to steal his backpack.

Despite inhospitable terrain and temperatures dropping to minus 35C overnight, he found the journey over the Himalayas "fantastic".

Mr Garside’s journey has cost him 170,000, funded mostly from private donations and some from sponsorship. He was given free accommodation in hotels and private homes, youth hostels and police stations, straw huts and a Tibetan monastery.

During his run, he claimed to have met the Libyan dictator, Colonel Muammar Gadaffi, Nelson Mandela’s jailer, the crown prince of Nepal and the train robber Ronnie Biggs.

He has also found new love after meeting a Venezuelan girl, Endrina Angarita Perez, 26, as he made his way through Caracas three years ago.

A spokeswoman for the Guinness Book of Records would not comment on whether Mr Garside had become the first man to run around the world until they had seen all his evidence.

He maintains that he has evidence in the form of witness statements, time-coded video tapes, receipts, tickets and log books which will vindicate all of his claims. His website states: "Verification is a chore but it must be done. The very basics are start and stop verifications by credible officials such as police or postal workers."