We left Cape Town on a chartered Airbus 320 that would essentially become our flying “home” for the remaining 5 days of the World Marathon Challenge. Richard Donovan, WMC Race Director, had the plane customized with WMC logos on the welcome mats leading up the stairs to the plane, on the outside of the plane, on the head rests, on the walls, on the drink coasters, everywhere. It was a nice touch.
Richard had told us we needed to think of the Challenge in two parts–the hectic go, go, go of the first two races in Antarctica and Cape Town run in less than 24 hours, and the rest of the trip. As you will see, I’m not sure anything really changed when we left Cape Town, other than knowing we would be always coming back to the same plane and same seats for the next 5 days of travel. It was always go, go go. And wait. And go. And wait. And go. That’s how it is when you’re trying to herd 50+ athletes from continent to continent. That’s probably why Richard told us during that Sunday night pre-race briefing in Cape Town that we all needed to be patient and the schedule would be “fluid.” Remember that. Fluuuuuuuid.
Aided by some significant tailwinds, we spent about 9½ hours in the air from Cape Town to Perth, Australia. You might think to yourself that meant we had 9½ hours to catch up on sleep. Here’s the reality. You board the plane, you take-off and you eat dinner. That takes about 1½ hours. On the back-end, you get woke up with about 1½ hours left in the flight so you can eat breakfast and prepare for landing. So right off the top, you’re down to about 6½ hours of sleep. You’ve got some adrenaline still pumping through your veins due to all of the excitement. Even taking a bottle of Dream Water still meant it was going to take 30-45 minutes to settle down and fall asleep. I slept for about 2½ hours. Woke up and used the facilities because I was trying to stay hydrated, and I’m 47 and that’s what 47 year-old guys do. It took me another 30 minutes to fall back to sleep. I may have gotten another 2½ hours sleep prior to being woken up for breakfast. So let’s say that in a best case scenario I got 5 hours of sleep. Add that to the 2 hours of restless sleep from Antarctica to Cape Town and now I’m tracking to about 7 total hours of sleep in the previous 50 hours while also running 2 marathons, traveling through multiple time zones on 2 different planes and being in the air for 13 hours, on buses for at least 4 hours and in airport terminals for probably another 4 hours.
Ahh… so THIS is what the World Marathon Challenge is all about! How to run 7 consecutive marathons on 7 continents in 7 days while riding endless hours on planes and buses and suffering from extreme sleep deprivation. Okay. I’m in.
Seriously, I’m always up for a challenge. I prefer to understand generally what the challenge is prior to starting it, but I was game. I really was. And so was Andrew. We can roll with just about anything, but when Richard Donovan said, “the schedule will be fluid,” I don’t think either of us knew what that really meant. Over the next few days, I’ll attempt to share with you what Richard’s definition of “fluid” was, and ultimately, what I think defines the true essence of the World Marathon Challenge–a race that requires you to not only run 7 marathons in 7 days on 7 continents, but to succumb to the reality that you have control over absolutely nothing other than the time you’re actually running those 7 marathons! Well done, Richard. Well done.
For those of you that are runners, a few race-related facts for Marathons #3 in Perth:
Course: 3.28-mile “loop” along the Swan River on paved paths (8 loops)
Conditions: Clear night. 70+ degrees, humid, no significant wind.
Aid stations: One central aid station at the Start/Finish line. This was probably the most organized aid station of the entire event. We actually had a designated spot across 4 tables with our name and race number for placing our nutrition and hydration. Now that’s the way you do it!
As for gear, I used the following:
- Altra Torin 3.0 shoes
- Swiftwick Aspire socks
- North Face Flight Series shorts
- North Face Flight Series t-shirt
- North Face Flight Series cap
- Squirrel’s Nut Butter (in all the right places)
Nutrition for this (and every race):
- GU Roctane gels
- GU chews
- GU Roctane Summit Tea
- Nuun Electrolytes
- The Ginger People Gin Gins hard candies
- Coke and potato chips during the last half of the race
For those of you that missed my photo with all of my gear laid out prior to leaving on this trip, I’m reposting it here so you can see how I put my gear and nutrition in a ziplock bag for each day. I’ve done this for previous multi-day races, but I could have never imagined how important it was for this race. I didn’t have the time, energy or mental faculties to even think about what I was going to wear, eat and drink, so the ability to just grab a ziplock and mindlessly get dressed was a huge benefit.
That said, Andrew and I had a checklist we would go through before we left for each race. Here it is (from head to toe):
- Hat. Check.
- Headlamp (if required). Check.
- Band-aids for nipples (good times). Check.
- Garmin watch synch’d to regional satellite. Check.
- Bib for correct continent. Check.
- Timing chip around left ankle. Check.
- Nutrition. Check.
- Hydration. Check.
- Sunscreen (if required). Check.
- Lube in all the right places (again, good times). Check.
We got pretty good shouting out each step prior to bolting out to meet everyone. Okay, I’m sure that sounds ridiculous and it probably was, but it worked. In Perth, we had our first hotel room in nearly 3 days, so the pre-race process was a bit less manic than getting ready with everyone else in a single, cavernous conference room in Cape Town or with 15 other guys in our 10×30 in can in Antarctica. Of course we only had about and hour and a half to “relax” and then go through the process of getting geared up and ready for marathon #3, so the luxury of actually having a hotel room didn’t last long.
We came down to the lobby of the Crown to meet everyone and it was absolutely buzzing with local, inebriated cricket fans that were sad about that evening’s loss, but obviously still in the spirit to celebrate and drink. Some fans walking through the lobby and into an adjacent casino wore Kentucky Fried Chicken buckets as hats. One of the competitors, Scott Coey, a displaced Australian now living in London explained to us how KFC was running a promotion at different cricket matches and how the fans started to take the big KFC buckets and put them on their heads to root for their teams. I actually did a little research and there really is an entire “Buckethead Army” campaign that has swept across Australia. Side note. I’ve traveled all over the world and KFC is literally everywhere. I think the strangest place I ever saw a KFC was on the downtown streets of Saint Petersburg, Russia, but I digress. Did you know that KFC is #2 in the world for international restaurants with 11,798? McDonald’s is #1 with 18,710, but is that really that surprising? KFC is #2 and they now have Australians in Perth wearing their fried chicken buckets on their heads during cricket matches! Brilliant. Okay. I’m done.
Okay. Back to the actual run. This was another hot one. Fortunately, it was run completely at night as we had to wait for the completion of the aforementioned local cricket match to start our race. This course took us along the Swan River, giving us views of the downtown Perth skyline, which was a beautiful backdrop for a 26.2 mile run in the dark. Telethon Community Cinemas in Burwood Park was also doing an outdoor screening of Star Wars: Episode VIII The Last Jedi. Seeing 15-30 seconds of the movie every 30-40 minutes probably isn’t going to ruin it for me (I haven’t seen it yet), but I’ll certainly never forget the first time I ran a race and got to view part of an outdoor movie. File that away under running firsts (and probably lasts). The Embargo Bar in McCallum Park was still open when we made our first turnaround at the southeastern end of the course. Drunk bar patrons cheered us on as we ran by and offered to have beers for us when we came around for our last lap. I couldn’t have been more thrilled about having a frosty cold beer with a group of drunk Australians at 2 in the morning, but alas, the bar was closed by the fourth lap around. The north side of the loop was far less entertaining, but we did run in the shadows of the newly opened Optus Stadium, which was an impressive architectural structure and the scene of the local cricket club losing their first significant championship match earlier that evening. Other than that, the whirring of the train to and from the newly operational Perth Stadium Train Station provided an interesting distraction as it got more quiet as the hours passed through 11pm, midnight, 1am and then 2am. The north side of the course also provided the most spectacular views of the Swan River and the downtown Perth skyline. This video provided by the World Marathon Challenge provides a good perspective of the race and the surroundings including downtown Perth and Optus Stadium. The drunks at Embargo didn’t make the final cut. Enjoy.
As for our actual running, Andrew and I had a plan for this race and it was executed just as we had hoped. Recognizing we had 2 marathons down and 5 to go, we wanted to run a consistent race where we weren’t going out too hot and we weren’t really pushing it at the end. The result was a consistent 26.2 miles where we clocked 9:30 splits +/- 15 seconds for every mile, not including aid station “stops.” We also minimized our total aid station time to just over 5 minutes. The result was a smooth, and relatively uneventful, 4:19 marathon. (See Strava screenshot below for the details). This was also the first night we ran any significant amount of time with another runner, so it was enjoyable to run several miles with Renee DeMarsh, a physical education teacher at Carver Elementary School in Carver, Massachusetts. She was running the World Marathon Challenge to raise money and awareness for Big Brother Big Sisters of Cape Cod and the Carver Education Foundation. She ran her fastest marathon of the 7 that night, 4:22, so maybe the friendly banter between the three of us helped her. It certainly contributed to us having a great run that evening.
I want to end today’s blog with a final thought on how this 7-day race completely and utterly destroyed all sense of routine and control. For someone like me, that was a big deal. I can definitely roll with uncertainty, but I really do like my routines. I blogged before about my pre-race routine and post-race recovery steps. I’ve also discussed how that routine was blown up starting with the first marathon in Antarctica. That certainly persisted through Perth (and would continue the rest of the trip). There was never enough time to go through a normal pre-race routine and never enough energy or time to go through an optimal post-race recovery routine, either.
Beyond race and training-related routines, I have a morning routine that I follow pretty religiously. Here’s what a typical morning looks like for me:
- 6am – Wake-up
- 6:15am – Make tea for me and tea or coffee for my girlfriend (she makes that call each morning)
- 6:30am – Make lunches for my three girls (if they are with me that week) and/or help with getting my girlfriend’s son up and ready to go (he’s 22 months old and is hilarious in the morning)
- 7am – Enjoy my tea, drink 9 oz of water with a Nuun electrolyte tablet, eat a toasted bagel with peanut butter and make breakfast for the girls depending on the day and their mood
- 7:30am – Take girls to school
- 8:15am – Return home and spend 15 minutes prioritizing my day
- 8:30am – Meditate for 15 minutes
- 8:45am – Stretch for 15 minutes
- 9:00am – Work-out (usually a combination of riding Peloton bike, running on treadmill, lifting weights and/or going out for a run)
- 11:00am – Shower, go through recovery process (see previous Blog) and get mentally prepared for whatever needs to be done that day
That’s my normal routine. You can make fun of my routine. You can question what the heck I’m doing that allows me to engage in a routine that consumes 3 hours of my morning, but that is the routine that works for me–it drives maximum happiness and maximum productivity for me. There’s a little flex in the routine depending on if I have my girl’s that week or not (I have them every other week). If I don’t have my girls, I usually write from 7-8am. If do have my girls and I’m in the middle of a specific project (e.g., writing a blog post or some other form of writing), I may push everything back an hour after I return home from dropping them off at school and write for an hour before going through my meditation, stretching and workout routine, so I can get some good ideas on paper and get the creative juices flowing before I workout. That usually provides a great foundation for thinking through things while working out and having a good place to pick up once I’m done with my workout.
It has taken me about 2 years to refine and settle into this routine. It’s not overly complicated, but it works for me. So when I’m NOT in that routine, my entire world is a bit off its axis. So imagine what was going on with my body and mind as I was embarking on this 7-day adventure around the world? Sure. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to go through my normal routine while tackling this challenge. Could you imagine: “Hey, Richard. I know we’re trying to finish these 7 marathons within the 7 day cut-off, but I really need to squeeze in some time to drink my tea, meditate, write a little and ease myself into the day before we get out there and run these races. Do you think we can accommodate that?” Ridiculous, right? Of course it is. But I honestly didn’t realize how big of an impact not going through my normal day-to-day routine for 12 straight days was going to have on me (5 days of travel prior to starting the race + 7 days for the actual challenge).
So one of the side benefits of running the World Marathon Challenge was becoming even more appreciative, and protective, of my morning routine. I’ve been slowly “re-entering” the world over the last week (more on that later) and being back in my regular morning routine has truly helped me transition into being a normal human again. Candidly, I’m more appreciative of a lot of things post-WMC, but I don’t want to get ahead of myself as I’m just 3 days into sharing everything about this 7-day sufferfest. Three marathons down and four to go! Off to Dubai for #4. Now Dubai, that was an interesting experience…