When he left his running shoes on top of the famous statue of the bear and strawberry tree in Madrid's Sol Square, Lennart Cromstedt knew that his adventure was over.
For 15 days, this Swedish-born Madrileño ran a total of 650 kilometers to protest the recent shutdown of Spanair, the airline where he worked. Another one of his goals was to raise funds for a colleague who is suffering from cancer.
"Spanair stopped paying the insurance, and now he is having a really hard time, so I collected money from my colleagues and friends to run from Barcelona to Madrid, and whatever is left over will be for him," he explained.
Although he is a regular runner, the 43-year-old admits that he was on the verge of quitting three days before reaching his destination. "But now, with all these people around, you forget your suffering," says Cromstedt, who once competed in the Israeli Ironman triathlon event.
"He is the Spanish Forrest Gump," says another former Spanair employee of Cromsted, who ran over 46 kilometers a day - more than a marathon's worth - with one day's rest in Zaragoza. Despite the effort, which has led to tendinitis, Lennart has not lost weight: "Barely one kilogram, since I am used to running on a regular basis."
I have cried, sung and yelled a lot in the middle of the countryside"
When he talks about his adventure, Lennart only brings up the positive anecdotes. "In Fraga [Aragon], an elderly lady came over to me with her fist closed, and when she opened it I saw she was holding five euros in her hand. She insisted on helping. Some people thought I was doing the Camino de Santiago [the pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela], but everyone wished me luck. One pharmacy did not even charge me for a knee guard. And I was treated to more than one coffee in many of the villages I ran through."
When he finally reached Puerta del Sol, over 500 Spanair ex-workers and onlookers were waiting for him, some sporting t-shirts with a photograph of Lennart's daughter printed on the front.
Yet for all the optimism, as he was running Cromstedt also had time to reflect on his own future, which he describes as quite complicated.
"I've thought about my outlook and that of my partner, who also worked for Spanair. At our age, the possibilities of finding a job are increasingly low, because I'd been with the company for 25 years and the industry has been very hard hit. That's why I have cried, sung and yelled a lot in the middle of the countryside. That was a way of trying to forget about the pain in my legs."
In all, Lennart has raised around 2,000 euros, of which he spent 500 on his journey. "Since I'm unemployed I asked for help. With whatever is left over I'll pay the physiotherapist. That is essential because I've ended up in very bad shape," he says. "Some people protest with signs, others with car horns. Running is what I like to do. That is why I began this adventure, like Forrest Gump. Except I did know why I was doing it."