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Running with the Animals and Beyond

The Triumphs and Trials of Running a Marathon on Every Continent

“Life is Either a Daring Adventure or Nothing at All.” Helen Keller

Traveling to far flung destinations and bucket lists often go hand in hand. My wife, Carol, and I upped the ante when we discovered how we could combine our passions as avid travelers and runners.

I had run many half-marathons, but when I was approaching my 60th milestone birthday, I decided if I was ever going to take on the challenge of running a marathon, that was the year. I went on to run two full marathons and 11 half marathons in 2013. During the second marathon in Paris, I was standing in my corral on the Champs Elysees under the shadow of the Arc de Triomphe when another American I was chatting with told me about this “run a marathon on every continent thing.” That’s when the seed was planted and Carol and I began the quest. She was with me every step of the way as we conquered the continents: North and South America in 2013, Europe and Oceana in 2014 and Antarctica, Africa, and Asia in 2016.

Each race has its own unique story. Getting to the race can prove to be just as challenging as the race itself. In Antarctica, a Zodiac transported us across the water to the start of the race and our welcoming committee was a sole penguin.

A marathon is physically taxing, but it’s the mind that finishes the race.

PULL QUOTE

Each race has its own unique story.

Carol and I overcame physical hurdles while experiencing the people and places on an intimate level that has forever changed us. We were immersed in the running community and saw sites that tourists never see. The feeling of ohana, family, in Maui was real. We picked up our bibs at the race director’s home and were handed popsicles by local high school kids along the route. The challenge here was keeping our eyes on the road as the ocean view expanded before us and hundreds of whale spouts sprayed above the sparkling water.

In Rio de Janeiro, a tear in my foot landed me in the emergency room the day before the race and then a harrowing cab ride included getting lost on the way to the starting line. We booked the Sydney Marathon while we were on the bus on the way to the airport. After running the Big Five Marathon in South Africa, we traveled to Victoria Falls and ran a half marathon the next weekend.

Africa defies description. You can check off your lists–yes, you’ll need your vaccinations, need to pack accordingly, charge up your camera, and be sure to bring extra memory cards and batteries–that’s where the ordinary ends and the extraordinary begins.

The Big Five Marathon takes place on the Entabeni Game Reserve with magnificent animals all about including zebras, giraffes, lions, cheetahs, wildebeests and elephants. The race itself is challenging. The trails are rutted in deep sand and the terrain is extremely hilly, including one very special hill that is a mile up and a mile down at over a 30º angle.

I imagine you’re wondering how one runs a race with cheetahs and lions roaming about. Armed rangers “sit on them” and are stationed every few miles while they monitor the animals’ locations. Of course, they can only “sit” on so many animals at once: a wildebeest stampeded right in front of us!

But the greatest joy was driving through the park to witness the animals up close. It’s a sensory overload that lovingly pounds you out of your normal life–a magical cacophony of sounds, colors and scents. It’s the alchemist turning ordinary substances into the gold of your memory.

Africa will change you–you may sense it happening, but you can’t explain it. It’s not until you look back on your experience to realize you’ve walked through a gate into a soul-expanding dimension. Then it becomes clear: Africa is the first time you’ve fallen in love, like the memory of your first Christmas or a gift you didn’t expect. It becomes a song you love to sing.

From the majestic animals large and small to a sheet of stars lying low overhead, the plains and mountains etched deep in red soil, to a thick, nearly impenetrable jungle, the natural beauty is like none other. It becomes a wonderful memory set deep like a gemstone in the center of your being.

Running a marathon on each continent may be more daunting than most bucket lists, but pursuing it was worth every daring adventure.

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