Ultramarathoner Richard Donovan, 45, recently ran 7 marathons on 7 continents in 5 days to complete the first World Marathon Challenge. In this exclusive interview he talks to Men’s Fitness about the chaos, the challenges and the one drink he could keep down during his last race.
MF: First, the obvious: Where did you run your seven marathons to complete the World Marathon Challenge?
RD: I ran the first marathon in Antarctica, then Cape Town in South Africa, Sao Paulo in South America, Orlando in North America, London in Europe, Hong Kong in Asia and Sydney, Australia.
MF: How did you pick those cities?
RD: Once I decided to do the challenge, I just sat down one night and went through all the flight combinations that would work. I didn’t suffer from paralysis by analysis. I knew that there could be some problems and delays, but theoretically, I knew I could do it. I contacted some local officials to help me measure out the courses in those cities and see if they’d help me in some way.
MF: Did you have a big entourage traveling with you?
RD: No. I travelled economy by myself. I had people help me once I got to each location, but I was on my own getting from place to place. I had one carry-on bag with my running gear. It was no frills. I was totally by myself. I ate airplane food. I just did it.
MF: Your website that tracked your progress stated that you spent 55 hours and 45 minutes in the air, 10 hours in the airport waiting for flights and 18 hours getting to the location of the marathons. Which was worse, actually running the races or travelling between them?
RD: The marathons themselves weren’t at break neck speeds, but I started to get a little bit sick from the sleep deprivation, the climate changes and the poor diet once I got to Orlando. I’m one of these people who can’t sleep on planes, which made things worse. I got to London and I knew it was only going to continue.
MF: You were sick in London? That meant you still had two marathons left. How did you feel when you got to Hong Kong?
RD: When I got to Hong Kong, I felt quite a bit sick. By the time I got to Australia, I was running on empty. I couldn’t even keep water down. I was just tossing up whatever water I tried to drink.
MF: But you needed energy. We heard you had a bit of a brainstorm as you ran…
RD: Yeah. I got it in my head that I should try a beer, and it was the only thing that stayed down. I think lots of people look for a beer fairly quickly after they run a marathon, so I thought I’d have mine during it.
MF: So tell us, what was your mid-race beer of choice?
MF: Ahh, a decent stand-in for Gatorade, rich with electrolytes. So with sickness and dehydration, how long did it take you to recover after your last race?
RD: Since I was flying so much, I really hadn’t been able to lie down during the challenge. Once I got to lie down I felt better. Within 48 hours I was feeling okay.
MF: What kind of training did you do to get ready for this?
RD: I did about 10 weeks of 100 miles of running a week, with one marathon included each week.
MF: How did you keep yourself mentally strong as your body broke down?
RD: I know it’s a cliché, but I focused on moving one step at a time to keep moving forward. You do that and concentrate on pain management. When you have experience with challenging yourself, you learn to control your emotions. You learn to be patient. And most importantly, you learn to block out any kind of negative thoughts that come into your head.
Richard Donovan completed the World Marathon challenge in 4 days, 22 hours and 3 minutes. He did the challenge to raise money and awareness for GOAL, an international humanitarian organization.