Seven marathons. Seven continents. Seven days.
If you haven’t heard of the World Marathon Challenge, it’s worth a jaw-dropping peek. Last week, the challenge hosted 10 daring runners from all over the world who navigated seven marathons on seven continents in seven consecutive days. Beginning with a marathon in the Antarctic Circle, the series bounced from Antarctica to Punta Arenas, Chile; to Miami; to Madrid, Spain; to Marrakech, Morocco; to Dubai, United Arab Emirates; finishing with its final 26.2-miler in Sydney, Australia on Friday, Jan. 23.
Runner Tim Durbin was the only American among the 10 that competed in the weeklong world tour, adding tons of mileage to his already existing task to cover 24,901 miles— the length of the equator—before the year 2022. Birthed in 2013, Durbin’s “24901Experiences” 10-year goal started like most out-there endeavors do: It was a way to stay in shape.
“I set a goal for myself I thought was attainable, which was to run 1,000 miles and walk another 1,000 in 2013,” he explains. “About halfway through the year, I saw I was easily going to reach it, so I started increasing my goal.”
Totaling 2,900 miles in 2013, the experience rapidly gathered momentum. It eventually transformed into a 10-year quest to cover the diameter of the Earth, “because I love to travel and visit other places,” Durbin says. “Running and walking the distance around the world only seemed fitting.”
Prior to the seven-continent adventure, Durbin had already completed a marathon on Antarctica with the founder of the challenge, Richard Donovan. As soon as registration opened, Durbin, who saved his own money to pay the $36,000 price tag, committed to the journey.
“One competitor said, ‘There are two times: running time and flying time. That was definitely true,” explains Durbin, who spent nearly 60 hours traveling more than 23,500 miles over seven days. He says the most unexpected obstacle was the extremely quick turnaround times. The group of 10 completed the first two marathons within 25 hours of each other and the third before the 48-hour mark. “I wasn’t expecting this, but you have to handle what is thrown at you and move on.”
Averaging 11.1 moving miles per day in 2014, more than 4,050 miles total, Durbin says that training preparation fell right into his already-existing 10-year quest to tackle 24,901 miles. “On average, I spent 2-2.5 hours per day running or walking. That time and distance prepared me well to handle it over multiple days,” he explains. After signing up for the challenge, the Bay Area resident upped his game to 3-5 days per week of 20-plus miles walking and/or running consecutively, including 12-15 marathons over the six months leading up to Antarctica on Jan. 17. Durbin, however, made no significant changes to diet, explaining that he ate normal foods and fueled as usual during each marathon.
The marathoner also gave a whole new meaning to packing light: he stuffed most of his gear for the entire trip into a carry-on bag and small backpack. “I had running shorts for each day, dri-fit T-shirts, a couple of running pants and long-sleeve shirts,” explains Durbin, who also cycled through two pairs of the same shoes, which came in handy when weather got wet. “I also had compression socks and sleeves to use on the plane.”
While the gear worked well for Durbin during the challenge, he was not immune to the mental obstacles that the schedule not surprisingly presented.
“Everyone hit the wall in the African leg in Marrakech, Morocco. It was our second marathon in 24 hours and third in 48 hours. We started the run at midnight, and it was cold and rainy,” explains Durbin, who, like the others, got one hour of rest on the plane from Madrid. “That marathon was solely about survival and pushing through for the entire 26.2 miles, as none of us wanted to be there. If you look at the times for everyone, they were the slowest of the entire challenge.”
Looking back on the experience, the runner says that Antarctica was definitely in his top-three favorites from the excursion. “[It] is surreal and an amazing place to visit. There is nothing like it in the world. The silence and loneliness combined with the landscape is awe inspiring.”
Durbin, who raised funds for the V Foundation along the way, says he was attracted to this particular challenge because of the incredible stories that come out of adventures such as this one. “The overall winner weighed 270-plus pounds 20 years ago. He is now a sub-3-hour marathoner,” says Durbin. “The guy who finished second had a non-cancerous brain tumor removed less than 18 months ago. Another competitor hasn’t had a drink in 17 years and raised over $200,000 to support MS, which his wife was diagnosed with. Meeting these types of people inspire me that anything is possible.”