Seven Marathons, Seven Continents, Seven Days
Atlanta Track Club member and former ambassador Michael Gabriel is on a round-the-world running trip. Gabriel is taking on the World Marathon Challenge which involves doing seven marathons in seven days on all seven continents. He's doing it to challenge himself and to raise awareness and money for She's The First, a non-profit committed to providing access to education to girls around the world.
Gabriel is known for running races in a costume and the World Marathon Challenge will be no different. He has packed seven costumes, one for each marathon. We will post Michael's daily recaps here. You can follow him on Instagram as well.
Marathon #1 - Antarctica Intercontinental Marathon, Novo, Antarctica
Running a marathon in Antarctica has been a dream for years and now it's done. And I did it dressed as a penguin!
This all started with the plane to Antarctica moving forward 10 hours via an emergency email yesterday due to an incoming weather front we needed to get in and out of the continent ahead of.
Once we landed, I first just stood in awe of the landscape. Then I noticed the surface we'd be running on and knew I had NO idea what running on it would be like, except that it would not be anything resembling fast.
Then wind started picking up. And picking up. And picking up. And the course got changed to an out and back instead of loops to help with safety because visibility dropped. And then the course got changed again to 10 out-and-back loops instead of 5 so that the turnaround would be closer because of even further reduced visibility.
And then we started. And for that first ~1.3mi/2.1km I thought "wow, this is pretty nice! It's so pretty, not too bad, I can keep a good pace".
Then I turned around. Into the headwind. It took about 10 seconds to learn I really truly hate running into Antarctic headwinds. It was awful, gross, brutal, miserable and, frankly, I'm tempted to call it malicious and mean-spirited. The same effort produced about a 2:30 slower minute mile on lap 1. And then I got to lap 2, breezed through the first half, and turned around… and found the headwind had gotten worse.
It got progressively worse throughout the race and I gave up on running the back half of each lap entirely at lap 5 the halfway point (until the last lap for a strong-ish finish).
I noticed that my legs were feeling fatigue way more than I would expect given the pace, mainly just because, well, we were running entirely on snow and ice and each step was an exercise in finding a nice patch of crunchy snow—not slick ice that would put you on your butt and not soft pillowy snow that would eat your foot. But even the crunchy snow was unstable and had plenty of give and slide.
Oh also: I was overheating at lap 1 and ditched my mid layer. Bathroom break at lap 2. Re-tied my shoes at lap 3. And forgot my outer mittens in the fuel/warming tent at lap 4.
Ok, whining done! Because I'm a man who runs a marathon in Antarctica dressed as a penguin because it is FUN and I made sure to keep it that way!
Antarctica is BEAUTIFUL. So I just kept admiring it. The incredibly blue ice. The near featureless white horizon with rock formations in the distance. The incredibly clean air. And the cold really didn't bother me because I was dressed appropriately.
During the tough headwind portions I started playing a game. I carefully selected my favorite rock in Antarctica. Then I chose my favorite snow drift in Antarctica. Then I stopped to take pictures of them.
And of course the other incredible people out there were so much of the fun. From the lead runner lapping everyone to everyone else, we got to see each other so many times and give high fives and cheers as we did. I'm so glad I get to do this with these people for 6 more days.
After finally finishing and collecting my medal I threw on my She's the First shirt, because OF COURSE I'm bringing them with me to all 7 continents. STF has been part of my marathon story since my first and that isn't stopping now.
Today alone was an incredible adventure alone, and it's almost overwhelming to think this was just day 1 of 7. But tonight? Tonight is a glorious full night of sleep in a hotel bed.
Marathon #2 - Africa Intercontinental Marathon, Cape Town, South Africa
World Marathon Challenge Marathon 2 was much more relaxed than the first.
Weather was warm, with a pleasant breeze coming off the nearby water for much of the race. The weather really felt like a warm Spring day for me, though I know many of my new friends were less pleased.
This was 6 laps around a fun area where locals were running, walking, playing, cheering, and even landing from paragliding!
I ran probably too much straight to start before switching to a run walk with some other runners and then basically maintaining that for the rest of the race.
It was incredibly nice to have local race marshals and water support at multiple places along the loop after yesterday's Antarctica adventure.
My zebra outfit got a lot of attention with random locals shouting to me on every lap. My favorites were the course marshals counting down laps with me and every time someone with a child would say "look! A zebra!" followed by the child shouting "ZEBRA!"
This particular area of Cape Town has been my temporary home base since a few days before the challenge began. It's beautiful and I got some last minute photos during the second half of today's marathon. It's going to be a little sad to say goodbye… so I suppose staying just a little longer is the silver lining to this next bit:
Our travel to Australia has been unfortunately delayed considerably. That means much more rest now but far less rest later. We'll still be completing 7 marathons in 7 continents in 7 days… but the last few will be compressed into a tighter time frame as we lose almost an entire day in our transit plan.
This is quite an adventure, isn't it?!
And of course I wore one of my She's the First shirts during my recovery meal!
An Unexpected Delay
Marathon #3 - Australia Intercontinental Marathon
After a logistical delay with our plane kept us stuck in South Africa for almost an entire day longer than planned, we finally touched down in Australia for Marathon #3 of the World Marathon Challenge!
After my first time ever changing into race gear on a plane, I had to make my way through Australian customs and the airport dressed as a kangaroo wearing very short shorts, which isn't really a life experience I planned for.
A 5:30 p.m. local start time meant 95°F/35°C temps, and we could feel it the moment we stepped out of the airport.
We made our way to the Western Australia Marathon Club, which hosted us and provided a beautiful race course alongside the Swan River. Somehow, I managed to tweak my back lifting my backpack as we were getting off the bus. It was only a matter of time until *something* started to hurt this week! I don't really need my lower back for running, do I?
Because of the delay before this race, these last five marathons are all being run in less than 3.5 days … so I knew I'd be sticking to the same conservative pace I found working for me during the last race. I locked it in early and it meant a pretty pleasant run through a 12-lap out-and-back course. My back even loosened up a little after the first 10K or so (though I'm definitely still nursing it after finishing).
Thanks to being accustomed to training in Atlanta's heat I was able to keep ahead of issues with hydration, but this trip has had me feeling constantly hungry and I found myself in desperate need of real food rather than race fuels pretty early. Thankfully, one of my fellow runners had family who brought amazing homemade Chinese buns. I think the pork and shrimp bun I had at the one-third mark may be one my favorite race food moments ever.
After about two hours, the sun set and we got some gorgeous views as the heat let off a bit. I kept things even and steady until my last lap, then picked up the pace for the final lap.
I can't thank the local support enough, including someone who knows me from a social running club! It was also fun seeing locals out on the trail cheering us on, smiling at my kangaroo ears and the joey I was carrying - and I also got a kick out of the people who kept calling me a bunny for the entire race. After about three laps I decided the window for correction had passed and completely accepted their enthusiasm toward their favorite bunny.
The break between this race and the next is the longest we have left, which means the final four marathons and continents will be in less than 2.5 days! I can't say I'm ready but I knew there would be twists and turns on this adventure so I'm embracing the chaos and the amazing people on this trip with me - who of course were all incredible today and continued to dish out high fives and compliments as we passed each other repeatedly.
Finally, while I wait to depart for the airport, I'm happy to be wearing another She's the First shirt while enjoying recovery pizza.
Marathon # 4 -- Asia Intercontinental Marathon
Wow. What an intense (small fraction of a) day!
We landed very slightly ahead of schedule in Dubai after a long and, for me, restful flight - the last real rest we'll have this trip.
Some of the equipment for our chair athletes got held up getting through the airport, which put us behind schedule before we got on the road. After some chaotic bus-packing we started the long ride (which I largely slept through) to the villa we had reserved. We then promptly left all of our bags on the side of the road outside the building for staff to carry in while we walked across the street to our start line.
This adventure is so much more than endurance running. It's a huge logistical challenge, with the incredible team doing everything needed for us to get a measured course run and completed in every location. Every bump means a different course time. Every course time change means different conditions. And different conditions can mean the need for a change in the course itself. This time, the busier time of day meant our loop was shortened to a ONE KILOMETER stretch on which we ran out-and-back loops TWENTY-ONE times (each lap being 2km) plus an extra 100-meter stretch we did in both directions at the end of the first lap.
The short stretch of Jumeirah Beach was still beautiful. It was also by far the best weather we've had so far this week and the easiest path to run on.
I know it's a disappointment to many that I didn't go with a camel theme for my outfit in this one, but I couldn't think of a way to make it distinct enough: I wasn't going to wear a hump and turn around for pictures! So, I went with a panda for Asia instead!
While I appreciated the view immensely, I got some personal entertainment out of overhearing the locals chatting away, catching lots of Arabic I couldn't understand and small bits I could.
As for the run itself, after a quick bathroom break a whole 1km into the race I caught up with Danielle, who was having a rough start, and from there we ran the remainder all the way to the finish together, with me managing our pace.
We kept our splits very solidly even with a gradual increase over time before picking things up for the very last 2km lap and a big push to the finish. It was a great long chat getting to know one of the many cool people on this trip and with so many laps we got to cheer for (and get cheered on by) our fellow runners SO MANY times today.
At the final 1km point I thanked the locals supporting us in Arabic and then we quickly made our way to the finish. There, we learned that we needed to rush to the villa to shower, change and repack our bags so we could carry on everything we needed for the next two locations after being told "you won't see your checked bags until Miami." Then we got right on a bus to the airport!
Just 6 hours and 20 minutes after the race started, I was en route - and I wasn't even on the first bus. This bit of the challenge is just surreal.
Onward to Madrid!
Marathon # 5 -- Europe Intercontinental Marathon
Our original race venue was the Jarama Formula 1 Circuit, but because our schedule got pushed back the team had to work its magic again. The nearby municipality of Torrelaguna came through with quick permitting for a beautiful but very tough course.
We got on the bus from the airport quickly with no checked bags to pick up, dropped our items off at the local sports club, then walked to the race start nearby.
After some joking around at the start and faux bull fighting with my animal outfit of the day, the mayor of Torrelaguna counted us down to our start and we were off through the town for a quick leg before then doing THIRTY-THREE very hilly laps around the block near the club. There were two very steep climbs followed by downhills that were too steep to enjoy going down - 2000 feet/610 meters of climbs and drops made themselves known to very tired legs.
All week we've been checking in with each other as different people have good days, bad days, pains, heavy legs and stomach problems. My answer was always, "I feel great! And I'm going to appreciate that because at some point I won't."
Today was that point. My legs just did not want to move. About 10 km in I knew I couldn't attempt even my previous easy pace. So, I just chilled and kept plodding through, eating a surprising amount of food (apple and orange slices, raisins, an entire chocolate bar, chewy candies) each lap. It was what I needed to do to keep enjoying the experience and it worked! My legs felt better at the end of the race than they did at the 10 km point. Let's just call that "active recovery." Meanwhile, the view at the top of the biggest hill was gorgeous every single lap.
Support was amazing once again. It never got boring hearing shouts of "vamos" and "toro." I'm so grateful to everyone who made another one of these races happen.
Now it's another quick turnaround as we head to the airport. Like yesterday, my post-race "She's the First" shirt is basically seeing only the bus and airplane.
On to Fortaleza!
Marathon # 6 - South America Intercontinental Marathon
Whew. This one was rough.
We landed in Fortaleza and ran into yet another unexpected delay related to customs. These little things really wouldn't matter if not for all the time in South Africa, so now we're in a tight squeeze.
Once things were sorted, we headed to the beachside race course. It was a 13-mile out-and-back course, starting just as the sun came up on a hot morning. While it was hot and humid, we got fortunate with good cloud cover for much of the race, an occasional breeze and even some scattered showers. And of course the view was fantastic once more, with the prettiest course turnaround we've had all week - out on a pier.
The locals were out using the space, which made it a bit chaotic but also quite fun as they gradually figured out we were running a race. This was by far my most over-the-top costume of the week, which wasn't a great match for conditions. It was also totally worth it given the entertainment it provided the locals. The truth is, even though this was the worst combination of fatigue, energy-store depletion and costume warmth, heat wasn't my problem because I'm used to wearing costumes in rough conditions.
While I was generally tired, my left leg just really started quitting on me at about mile 17. I couldn't run due to pain. I've never taken painkillers during a race before, but at mile 18 I did and I think that's what got me through this race.
We had a rushed breakdown of the course, meaning I was one of the last few to cross the finish line (others kept getting their miles/kilometers in after teardown) after leaving every last bit of energy I had out there. I've never had so little to give at the end of a race of any distance. Now I'm currently writing this while still in my sweaty running gear (sans costume layer!) on the bus back to the airport.
I'll get my obligatory post-race "She's the First" shirt on at some point!
We're trying our best to get to Miami tonight for a late race. I'm not feeling optimistic I'll be able to hit the finish line in the 168-hour window due to all the travel hiccups but I love my fellow runners, I'm proud of myself and I'm going to see what my legs will do one more time this week.
Thanks for the support, everyone. See you in Miami!
Marathon #7 - North America Intercontinental Marathon
After the rush from the Fortaleza finish line to the airport we had another unexpected issue in the airport delaying our flight to Miami by quite a bit. As the clock ticked, our start time shifted to midnight. We landed in Miami and made our way to the buses and the start line where many of us had friends and family waiting for us to start. The energy was unreal! I was so happy to see several of my friends waiting to say "hi" and give me quick hugs as we all gathered at our final start line of the week.
Within just a handful of minutes we were ready to start! I started my Garmin a few seconds early to be sure it would count the workout on the day I wanted it to (I know some of you get it). And then we were off!
The course was 5 clean loops of the Miami Beach Serpentine (I ran as an alligator, of course!). The weather was amazing. It was incredibly pleasant to soak in energy from friends and family joining people for laps, the people handing out hydration and fuel, and of course the start/finish line crowd. I didn't stop to take pictures this time, but I promise the course was still pretty!
Before I started running I felt pretty bad. Not as bad as I did at the end of marathon 6, but not a whole lot better. Thankfully I gradually felt better as this race went on. I ran some sections alone, ran some with others, and at mile 20 my friend Trent even joined me for a little over a mile which was a really nice mental boost!
The further I got into this marathon the more and more excited I got for everyone else on this journey this week. And right when I came in to end lap 4 I saw my mom and other family had arrived and they cheered me I approached the turn to start my final lap.
From then on it was just a matter of plodding one foot in front of the other and counting down the final miles of this adventure.
I crossed the line, celebrated with family and friend hugs and group photos, enjoyed finish line Oreos, and then forgot to update my Instagram stories to indicate I finished—which caused some concern for people following along. Oops.
I'm so proud of myself and my peers. I'm in awe of the amazing athletes I got to go on this journey with. It has been an amazing week which will take time for me to fully process.
For now, I'm going to enjoy NOT running a marathon or getting on a plane in the next 24 hours.
And yes I'll throw on a She's the First shirt later in the day after I get some sleep.