British Columbia

7 marathons in 7 days on 7 continents: B.C. woman completes World Marathon Challenge

Vancouver's Pushpa Chandra attempted the World Marathon Challenge to celebrate her 60th birthday but also raise money for international development.

Pushpa Chandra ran World Marathon Challenge to celebrate 60th birthday, raise funds for education in India

Pushpa Chandra runs during the final leg of the 2018 World Marathon Challenge in Miami. (World Marathon Challenge/Facebook)

If your legs were a bit tender after your latest run, think about how Pushpa Chandra's must feel.

The 60-year-old Vancouver woman is recovering this week after running seven marathons (42.195 km each), in seven days on each of the seven continents.

It was all part of an event called the World Marathon Challenge, where participants pay close to $56,000 to be flown around the globe to run the marathons.

Survival response

"There is really no way anyone could prepare themselves for such a race with so many various challenges," she said in an email about running in –20 C temperatures one day, then in 30 C heat the next.

"I am fascinated by our body's adaptability to so many critical physiological responses for survival."

The 2018 edition of the marathon began in Antarctica on Jan. 30 and then moved on to: Cape Town, South Africa; Perth, Australia; Dubai, U.A.E.; Lisbon, Portugal; and Cartagena, Colombia, before finishing in Miami.

52 participants started the 2018 World Marathon Challenge in Antarctica on Jan. 30, 2018. (World Marathon Challenge/Facebook)

Chandra, who practises naturopathic medicine in Vancouver, signed up for the race to celebrate her 60th birthday, but also to raise $30,000 for a charity that provides education for children in Mumbai, India.

"I am very grateful for this experience that my body and mind has gifted me with," she said after arriving back in Vancouver.

Marathon grand slam

For her 50th birthday Chandra completed what is known as the marathon grand slam. That event requires participants to run a marathon or longer course on seven continents, plus on the Arctic Ocean at the North Pole.

Pushpa said running at the North Pole was like being in space, with no sense of direction and 24 hours of sunlight.

"It doesn't matter what direction you run [the sun is] always facing you," she said.

Pushpa said she was constantly worried about breaking through the sea ice as it was only between two and four metres deep and constantly shifting.

The grand slam took her an entire year to complete, with some of the running distances 100 kilometres in length.

Average marathon time: 6:30

The World Marathon Challenge was shorter in distance overall (295.4 kilometres) but compressed into a much shorter time period.

Of the 52 people who started the race, 47 completed it

Their total combined running times ranged from around 23 hours for the winners to 55 hours for the final finisher. The total time participants spent flying between locations was more than 50 hours.

A chartered plane used to transport participants in the 2018 World Marathon Challenge between seven continents in seven days. (World Marathon Challenge/Facebook)

Chandra, who completed the entire event in just under 46 hours, says she suffered a loss of focus during the Lisbon leg of the race on the fifth day.

It took her more than seven hours to complete the distance there. Her average time for the seven races was around 6½ hours.

"I realized for the first time in my race history, I had lost the most critical component of mental strength ... my laser sharp mental focus," she said.

Fundraising goal still unmet

Race organizers provided medical assistance as part of the race. As well, the chartered flights included seats that allowed participants to lie down.

As a result, Chandra was able to recover after the Lisbon race in time for the event the next day in Cartagena, where she shaved an hour off her Lisbon finishing time. Her final leg in Miami was her fastest at 5:46:14.

"It's always about the whole experience of not knowing what to expect," she said, adding that she often replayed childhood memories in her mind as she ran.

"Childhood challenges that reveal so many weakness but provide opportunities and platforms to rise above them," she explained.

Puspha Chandra said running on hard, uneven surfaces, such as cobblestones for much of the World Marathon Challenge was its toughest obstacle. (World Marathon Challenge/Facebook)

With the running done, Chandra still has a ways to go to meet her fundraising target.

So far, she has raised $3,640 of her desired $30,000 goal. She plans to raise the balance by holding running events at elementary schools along with silent auctions.

She says she is not discouraged by still having to raise so much.

​"I believe in the journey and [the] destination will come," she said.