Earlier this year TV presenter Rob Bell took on the challenge of running seven marathons on seven continents in seven days, starting in Antarctica and finishing in Sydney, Australia. Here he recounts for 220 how he and his team got on…
We flew out to Antarctica and toasted some of Shackleton’s finest whiskey to mark the start of our epic adventure and the upcoming battle ahead. After landing we began a full day of trekking through the snow around the beautifully stunning and serene King George Island, getting up close and personal with seals, penguins & many other wildlife. By 10.30pm it was time to call it a day and rest up before we began our first marathon.
To avoid the weather disrupting our travel arrangements, our day began at 2.30am in order to get back to the mainland in time to start our marathon at 4am. This far south, this time of year, it’s almost 24 hour daylight so when we arose after our anxious 4 hours kip, it was still light. The low sun rising slowly over the mountains and icebergs in the distance was the perfect setting for a very special marathon.
The running itself was tough – make no mistake. It was cold. The wind steadily blew harder the longer we ran and the terrain underfoot was slippery, unstable and punishing. To make matters worse, we had to dodge inquisitive penguins springing out of the water to investigate all of the alien action. Add that to potentially aggressive and territorial seals who themselves have been known to be nimble on their flippers, and you’ve got a race like no other.
The whole team nailed it. Everyone ran an Antarctic PB!
We made it back safely to the Chilean mainland from Antarctica and got straight on with preparing for our South American marathon. We sought out pasta, bread and potatoes. Can you spot the theme? Survival on this adventure is a lot to do with replacing and pre-loading with carbohydrates as best as we possibly can. Not always easy in the locations we were when not running – mainly airports.
There was a window of about 20 minutes around 7.00pm where everyone got an almighty slap in the face with the tired stick. Ouch! Red eyes. Grumpiness. Desperate sighs. All the signs were there. It was time for bed. But not before we shoved more food down. Is it healthy to eat just before bed? I don’t care. I don’t have a choice.
Up early once again, time for a quick bite and some words of wisdom from Road Captain Steve. Our extensive research had informed us that Punta Arenas is one of the windiest places on earth.
But there we were once again; brothers in arms; side-by-side; ready to do battle with another 42.2km. This time on Chilean soil.
Our efforts for our second marathon took us 21.1km south along the coast – continuously looking east across the sea to the land know as Tierra del Fuego. The smooth road and (mostly) flat route was such a welcome break from the cruel terrain of yesterday.
We had two local guest runners:
– Pablo, a local running enthusiast and possibly the friendliest guy on this continent
– A guardian angel in the form of a local stray dog. He ran the entire marathon with us and fought off several challenges from other, less friendly strays. We thank you Lil’ Steve – we couldn’t have done it without you.
Another very enjoyable run for all.
After 18 hours of uncomfortable travel, we arrived in Houston. Tired, grumpy but also excited about the day ahead. We were very kindly hosted by the friendly folk at the Memorial Athletic Club (www.fitmac.com). This became home base and allowed us to prepare for the race and recover after – an invaluable asset.
We were also met by members of the Houston Striders and Cypress running clubs. Not only did they join us on the run but they also provided food and drinks on the course. It was the hottest run to date but nothing compared to what awaited us in Singapore and Sydney. The course was much hillier than expected, which sapped the energy. However once again, the team pulled through and completed marathon number three in some style.
The general feeling in the camp was of happiness but we were now feeling the effects of three back-to-back marathons. We all had minor injuries ranging from achilles pain to knee and ITB issues. I couldn’t see those niggles improving on the 10 hour flight to London though!
Another flight (Houston to London), another amazing stroke of fortune – hardly anyone on board and three seats each! So we iced our injuries, stretched our muscles, ate more food, rehydrated like madmen and used the remaining time to sleep.
As we made our way through Heathrow it became apparent that one of our team members Dan could hardly walk. What he’d made out to be (and heroically run on in Houston) a little niggling injury the day before turned out to have crippled him. After a thorough diagnosis from the England Rugby Team Sports Doctor, he was advised not to run until MRI scans revealed the extent of the injury. A slightly teary farewell in the treatment room meant only five of us made the London start line.
What a start line it was, the five of us could hear the crowd before we saw them, cheers, clapping and an all round sense of joy from family, friends and loved ones made quite an impact. We were left feeling a little embarrassed maybe that so many people were taking interest and making such an effort to come and support us. It was also great to see our London charity, KEEN at the start and finish line. They waved us off, ran with us and were there at the finish. A huge heartfelt thank you from all of us to everyone! You made our day!
Chatter flowed fluently through the ranks. Strangers meeting and brought together by this silly little project we’ve embarked on. Others joined as those from the start line went back to work. It was like Piccadilly circus out there!
Lady luck shone upon us once again as the winter sun and blue skies showed off London in all its beauty – even if it did get a tad cold later on. Our hearts were warmed though and spirits turned euphoric with the news that Dan would not only continue the remainder of the journey with us, but would also run the rest of the legs, so long as he could bear the pain.
Travel Channel presenter Rob Bell continues his report on running seven marathons on seven continents in seven days…
We left London in good spirits for a short four-hour flight to Cairo. This gave us a less than restful two-hour sleep, but Cairo was the race we were most curious about. With more than a 1000 people signing up to run with us. We were eager to see what awaited us. The answer: one of the best running experiences of our lives.
We were greeted at the airport by the ever-friendly Emad and whisked away to the starting line. The race was organised with input from at least four of Cairo’s local running teams and special thanks go to all that made it happen. It evolved and expanded over the weeks before the event and became Marathon Cairo – Cairo’s first marathon. We will always be honoured that we were the catalyst to help with creating such a momentous occasion in Cairo’s running history.
The race took us through several of Cairo’s districts starting in Maadi, taking in the river Nile with a finish on Zamalek island. It was well marshaled by volunteers who also provided water and fruit stations. This was critical for us, without such help, we would never have been able to navigate the madness that was the busy roads, find our way through the city or keep hydrated.
The fact that we are still churning out marathons at a pace similar to how we started is testament to how the human body adapts. However, what we experienced in Cairo was testament to the human spirit and how a community embraced a group of outsiders as if they were their own and made the experience far more than just running a marathon.
There isn’t a member of the team that wasn’t struggling physically at this point. Hardly surprising given it was marathon five and we were 211km in. We all have variations of injuries typically associated with running: ITB, achilles, ankle, blisters, severe chaffing and just general weariness. The prospect of having two of the hottest marathons awaiting us was quite daunting.
It almost didn’t happen.
Our flight from Cairo was delayed, which meant that our already tight changeover in Dubai closed even tighter. There was talk amongst the ranks of doing our Asian marathon there and then in Dubai – It would have been our third in 36 hours! Thankfully we were fairly accustomed to running this week, so we all dropped the hammer to traverse the airport in time. Ben Goodburn took Gold and reached the gate first and gallantly pleaded with the ground crew to hold the gate a few more minutes until we could all make it.
We arrived in Singapore around lunchtime. Stepping out of the air-conditioned airport confirmed the fears that had been accumulating in our minds for the last few months. Singapore is hot and steamy.
Before long, we were huddled together on the start line for the sixth time this week – with Singapore’s skyline behind us. As we set off, the pain and stiffness in our joints, muscles and tendons were eased by the companionship of the guest runners who’d come from far and wide. Our Asian marathon was under way and so was the process of managing fluid loss.
The humidity in Singapore was incredible. We kept moving forwards one step at a time; moving from the city backdrop to the tranquil setting of the East Coast Park and its beachy waterfront.
Repeating the shorter out-and-back course numerous times provided plenty of opportunity to see each other for high fives and encouraging words. As we edged ever closer to the 42.2km mark here, through the sweat, the pain and the exhaustion, you could see the realisation on each others’ faces that soon; oh so soon, we’d only have one more marathon to run.
We’d survived Singapore. The one we’d all feared for months because of the conditions. The final run in Sydney we thought would surely be a happy and enjoyable occasion.
As we touched down on Australian tarmac (our final and 9th flight in 7 days) the captain announced it was 36ºC outside. Being hit by the heat getting into a taxi at the airport was like being punched by a 20 foot tall Mike Tyson. It hurt the whole body. It left you stunned and confused and afraid of what was coming next. This was not going to be the relative walk in the park we’d built up in our minds.
The start line was in Centennial Park in downtown Sydney. Once again the crowds were out but this time there was an unspoken excitement that soon it’d all be over. However, Dan had missed his London marathon due to incapacitating pain from an ankle injury but he was back, with this being his 6th marathon, he intended on running one more the next day to complete his 777 Challenge.
Amongst the supporters was our main sponsor 1Above that’d helped keep us properly hydrated through this mission and the inspirational John McLean, who having lost use of both his legs in an accident 25 years ago, was once again walking and planned to walk the final few hundred meters with us. The set up was perfect we just needed to repeat what we’d done every day for the past six days to successfully complete our adventure- easier said than done!
Small injuries from the week accumulated into debilitating pain. Nobody was going to escape the hardship of Sydney. Time seemed to tick slower than ever before, as did the passing of kilometres run, the hilly sight-seeing journey down to the iconic Opera House and Harbour Bridge was perhaps a little ambitious.
Taking inspiration and motivation from our supporters, from what we’d already achieved and probably most importantly from each other, the picture of the blurry 777 finish line in our minds finally started to become more and more clear.
Tears of joy. Tears of pain. Tears of relief. It was done.
Still well within seven days, Dan ran his final marathon the morning after the rest of the team were done. For the most part, it was a lonely affair. No one to run with. No spectators cheering. The only saving grace was the weather which took a major turn over night.
Going from a humid 37 degrees to an almost chilly 21 degrees with wind and rain was the stroke of luck needed to get through this. And so, 16 hours later, Dan also became part of the “777 Club”.
Monster Marathon Challenge with Rob Bell will broadcast on 17 April at 9pm on Travel Channel, Virgin Media 288, Sky channel 249 and 251 and on Freesat, channel 150