Two Canadians are in Cape Town, South Africa this week on their way to the World Marathon Challenge, which starts in Novo, Antarctica on Thursday, January 31. Antarctica is the first of seven marathons to be run on seven continents in seven days. We spoke to Mark Hamlin of Toronto and Shirley Parry (who currently lives in California but plans to return to Vancouver), to find out what led each of them to embark on this unique challenge.
After Antarctica (where the temperature is currently a surprisingly moderate 2 C), the group will fly back to Cape Town for their next marathon, then Perth (Australia), Dubai (Asia), Madrid (Europe), and Santiago (South America), finishing with Miami (North America) on February 6. The courses, which are measured and certified, are mostly loops. In Antarctica, the race is on the airfield runway, which is why the plane used to ferry runners from continent to continent can be seen in photos of the race.
Hamlin, 50, who works in finance and is raising money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, got into running 10 years ago when his friend Chris Jonns (a veteran marathoner who is also participating in the WMC this year) signed him up for the TCS New York City Marathon without his consent. Luckily Hamlin enjoyed it enough to continue running marathons, as well as Ironman triathlons and ultras. In 2014 he and Jonns completed the Atacama Crossing, a 150-mile (240K) self-supported desert race in Chile. Hamlin is also signed up for The North Face Endurance Challenge at Bear Mountain in New York State in May 2019.
Hamlin’s family will meet him in Miami at the end of the trip (he is married with three boys aged 7, 11 and 13). “I think it’s a good lesson for them,” he says, referring to his sons. “They get to see me challenging myself and doing stuff you kind of have to do based on work and belief.”
We asked Hamlin what aspect of the challenge gives him the most anxiety. “If I get injured and I can’t carry on, that would suck,” he responded. “But outside of being injured, what we discovered during Atacama is that it’s largely willpower once you’re in good enough shape…”
Parry, for her part, is all about self-belief. The 54-year-old homemaker and volunteer, who recently finished a Ph.D. in education and who is raising money for L.A.’s Orthopaedic Institute for Children, got into running in 2011. She says WMC was on her radar back in 2016 (year two). “I didn’t really think about it until I was talking with a friend who knew someone who did it in year three,” Parry says. “He told her he spent a whole year training for it, and he raised a lot of money for his charity. I thought, how great would it be if I could raise some money for OIC.”
Running a marathon on all seven continents always appealed to Parry. “But I thought, it will take so many years to get it done! When I heard about WMC I thought, why not do them all at once?” When Parry expressed doubt about whether she could handle it, her friend encouraged her. “She said to me, my other friend did it, and you can do it.”
Parry has been training with a coach and a nutritionist for the past year. Her biggest fears have to do with potentially very cold weather in Antarctica (though the forecast does not look too forbidding at this point), and the possibility of becoming sick, or reacting to unfamiliar food. She brought vitamins, protein powder, nuts and dried fruit snacks from home to, hopefully, avoid this.
I spent most of today on the #caperedbus randomly I stopped at the @worldofbirds_official World of Birds Sanctuary & was blown away the beautiful animals they are helping. This bird was pushing me around but all good. I made it out alive 😉… #travel #nofilter pic.twitter.com/MaH4tgg4jC
— michael wardian (@mikewardian) January 28, 2019
Meanwhile, Mike Wardian, 44, the 2017 WMC winner from Arlington, Va. who is participating again this year, spent some time communing with nature at Cape Town’s World of Birds Sanctuary. Wardian holds the record for the fastest average time of any WMC finisher (2:45:57). He is fresh from the HURT 100 in Hawaii earlier this month, where he finished 10th.