What are you doing this week? A few after-work training rides, an evening jog or run commute perhaps? Meanwhile, a group of six friends are embarking on a mammoth adventure – running seven marathons in seven days on seven continents.
Team1Above, as they call themselves, are starting in Antarctica on January 19th and then heading to Chile, Houston, London, Cairo, Singapore and Sydney, hopefully crossing the finish line no more than 168 hours later (time zones be damned). That’s including all flights, all transfers and all those miles running: seven marathons in seven days on seven continents – so why not seven people too?
There’s only six of us because we couldn’t find a plane big enough for seven of us and a pilot!
said Ben Goodburn, one of the intrepid runners, who came to chat to Strava. “Maybe we could have found a runner who was also a pilot!”
Antarctica is the first marathon on the list: it’s the most difficult because the weather conditions there are least predictable. “Generally speaking, with the other places, you’ve got a fair idea of what the weather’s going to be like,” Ben explained, “but with Antarctica you’re completely at the mercy of the gods. We need to be sure we get the right weather window – we don’t want the clock to start until we’ve started that marathon.”
Perfect Antarctic conditions are sunny and windless and between -2 and -5C (23-28F). Once they get out of their tents — yes you’ve read that right, tents — in Antarctica at 3am, and the first gun has been fired, they’ll be racing against time, aeroplane schedules and accumulating fatigue to become the latest of only around 30 people ever to complete this ultimate running challenge. The first man to achieve it was Sir Ranulph Fiennes, the celebrated adventurer and explorer.
Southern Chile is also cold and London is currently threatened by snow; Egypt, meanwhile is warm, Singapore a constant 30C (86F), with killer humidity, and Australia is experiencing a heatwave — so they’ll be battling through four seasons in the course of the week.
But take a moment to think about the logistical challenges they face and the running starts to look like the easy bit. “We don’t have any accommodation,” Ben said. “We’ve got 8-12 hours ground time in each of the places, so timing is tight. Think about it: when you land, it can take you a good 90 minutes to get out of some airports, then another hour for us to get to the start. And that’s with no glitches or delays in the flights. You’re talking maybe six hours in total gone, and you’re left with five.”
Add to that the challenges of recovering on an aeroplane — on a standard scheduled flight in a normal economy seat — and the size of the task grows even larger.
We’ll be going from a marathon to a long-haul flight, which is probably the worst possible place you could recover,
Ben admitted. “It’s a hotbed of germs, and there’ll be airline food not to mention the increased risk of DVTs. We’ll have cramped seats and we’ll be wanting to stretch out, trying to hydrate and to eat properly but at the same time trying to sleep. You can’t do all those things at once, something’s got to give.”
Their major sponsor is a company that makes electrolyte drinks for business travellers, which are designed to help combat jet lag and boost recovery, and the team has a performance coach physiologist travelling with them to oversee their progress and collect valuable data on what exactly happens when a body undergoes such an ordeal. He’s also a sports psychologist, which could come in useful. “I think probably 75% of the challenge will be a combination of recovery and mental strength,» Ben said. «We’ve spoken to guys who’ve done similar feats, and their advice is really concentrate on that mental aspect. Some of our routes are where traffic is, and if you haven’t had any sleep for four days, you’re going to have to be really switched on.”
The attempt has been two years in the planning and the team has undertaken hundreds of hours of training in London and Singapore, where its members live, coordinating and motivating their efforts using Videxio and Strava.
“Strava has really helped us keep on top of everyone’s training,” Ben said. “It’s been quite clear when someone’s injured, or they’re away on business, as their training drops off. And also, just as a source of encouragement and for generating chat, Strava’s been great. I haven’t seen some of the runs the guys have done in Singapore before, but I feel like I know them really well as I see them every week on Strava.”
The guys undertaking the challenge in aid of two charities that help kids with disabilities benefit from sport, but also, in Ben’s words, “to prove that if you’re a group of friends, or a small running club, you can get out there and do something like this. It’s been great, and daunting at times, and there’s a lot of stuff I’m sure we’ve missed, but we wanted it to be something we planned and achieved personally.”
It’s a team effort all the way, but that’s not to say they haven’t asked for help – they’ve crowdsourced the routes for all of their marathons other than the first (“Antarctica has proved a bit tricky because we couldn’t find a local running club”), and are inviting runners around the world to run with them.
Only a few days out, they’re now in the depths of the southern hemisphere, making last minute preparations and acclimatising to the weather. From the start they’ve acted as a team – a virtual team, maybe – and they intend to complete it as a team, pledging the others total support along the way. But there may come a point at which they might have to break it up: “One of the most difficult conversations is going to be when someone is either injured or when someone is running and it becomes clear we’re not going to reach the cut-off and catch our plane,” Ben said.
Someone’s going to have to say, you shouldn’t be running any more. That’s going to be really tough – for us all – psychologically.
We’re all behind them in hoping that that doesn’t happen. And you can also give them tangible support: follow them on Strava and give them Kudos that will help them keep going when times are tough. Follow them on their live tracker (after Antarctica at least, where there won’t be a phone signal to transmit the data. Or if you live in one of the cities they’re visiting, sign up here, run with them – whether that’s a marathon or just a couple of kilometres – and take part in something phenomenal.