Seven marathons. Seven continents. Seven days. That’s the monumental task facing Susannah Gill as she looks to overcome the World Marathon Challenge. She will run 295km (183 miles) in 168 hours, travelling 55,000 miles across the world, while raising money to support the next generation of athletes with SportsAid. Susannah is just one of two British runners seeking to conquer Antarctica, Cape Town, Perth, Dubai, Madrid, Santiago and Miami during this year’s event.
The Challenge, which gets underway on Thursday 31 January, has been completed by less than 200 people after Sir Ranulph Fiennes first achieved it in 2003. To put this into context, more than four thousand have climbed Mount Everest throughout the last 65 years. Susannah ran the London Marathon in 2009 and has since notched up over 45 marathons and a handful of ultras, including 100km, 100 mile and 24-hour races. The World Marathon Challenge is her biggest test yet.
What made you decide to take on the World Marathon Challenge?
“From the moment I heard about 777 (World Marathon Challenge) it had a beautiful symmetry to me – the fact there are seven continents and seven days in the week, coupled with our ability to get to them all in 168 hours, it seemed like the most perfectly constructed challenge to me. I just never thought I would take it on!”
Which leg of 777 are you looking forward to the most and why?
“All of them! The first race in Antarctica will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience and while I have run marathons in Cape Town and Dubai before, Perth, Madrid, Santiago and Miami will all be new to me. The Madrid marathon, which will be number five, is being held at the F1 circuit which sounds cool, but the camber of the track will make it hard work. I am looking forward to them all but I think Madrid will be the toughest one.”
What different conditions can you expect to face? How have you adapted your training for this?
“I will be going from c. -15 degrees in Antarctica through to the warmer climates in Perth and Dubai - all within 96 hours - so I am packing lots of layers so I can be ready for everything. I have run in heat before in Egypt, and last year’s London Marathon was surprisingly warm, so I hope I should cope with it all. We’ll also be running at all hours of the day and night so one of my prep races was a marathon in the dark to practice running with a head torch and having to be more careful with where I placed my feet.”
Have you had a set training plan you’ve followed in preparation?
“For the first time I have followed a training plan which has been a wonderful new experience and made be a much better runner. This programme has been written for me by Mike Antoniades who founded the Running School. He and his team helped put me back together after knee surgery in 2016 and have significantly improved my running technique. Over the last few months Mike has had me doing some seriously tough training – especially sprint sessions to build heart and lung capacity and before Christmas I ran six marathons in nine days and was still in one piece at the end. I would never have been brave enough to take this challenge on without his advice and support.”
You’re one of just 40 runners taking on 777 this year. Are you looking forward to meeting the other participants?
“I am one of only two British runners with others coming from all over the globe. I love talking to fellow marathoners as we have all experienced the extreme highs and lows of long distance running so no one is ever a know-it-all given we’re all still learning. I suspect we’ll all be competing with ourselves much more than we will with each other.”
How will the logistics work between races?
“The team at World Marathon Challenge have arranged all the logistics. Our job is just to run the 295km (183 miles) and then try and rest, mainly on the plane, as we fly over 55,000 miles in 168 hours. Previous competitors have told me the crucial thing is to wash and get warm clothes on as soon as you can after each marathon so you can rest and start to recover. Food is provided for us but I’m still packing plenty of Toffee Crisps as they are my favourite post-race treat – I have eaten a lot of them in recent months!”
What has fuelled your love of running since taking on the London Marathon back in 2009?
“As a runner I love running but I don’t necessarily love every run. Sometimes when I’m out in the cold and it’s dark and I’m tired I wonder why I do it. But the endorphins always kick in at some point and I get a great sense of satisfaction from training and competing as you really do get out of running what you put it – it’s a microcosm for life and has made me a much more focused and determined person.”
What made you decide to fundraise for SportsAid?
“I was lucky enough to work with the team at SportsAid when I was at Betfair between 2008 and 2014 so I’ve been aware of the charity’s great work for many years. We all get such a thrill from watching GB’s superstars but without SportsAid so many of them probably wouldn’t get the chance to fulfil their potential which means we’d all lose out. To be able to support the next generation of British athletes seemed such an obvious fit for the 777 challenge!”