Irish ultra runner Richard Donovan starts his epic quest in the extremes of Antarctica, running the first 26-mile leg in -20C at the Russian Novo science base next Wednesday.
The 45-year-old is doing the endurance challenge on a shoestring budget out of his own pocket to raise awareness of the humanitarian crisis in the Horn of Africa. His record stands at five days, 10 hours and eight minutes (130hrs 8mins).
“It’s been very hard to figure a way of knocking off the half day,” he said. “I’m going against all the rules, no special diet, flying economy by myself, bringing whatever I can fit in one bag. I’ll sleep where I can.”
Donovan, who was inspired to first attempt the challenge in 2009 after the failed bid by British explorer Ranulph Fiennes, will set the countdown clock ticking from 120 hours.
The first run begins on February 1 when pilots of the Russian cargo plane on which he will be travelling are given a take-off slot.
Donovan, from Galway, said sleep deprivation and massive temperature fluctuations will be the biggest challenge. Despite this he has received no specific medical advice and has not seen a doctor in years.
“I found doing this challenge remarkably hard on the body in a way I did not expect — the temperatures really hit me. I go from -20C to 30C in the space of a few hours,” he said.
“The flying itself is hard. I was falling asleep in airports afraid I would miss flights. On the plane I could not sleep but coming into land I was falling asleep and was tired starting the run.”
Donovan has ruled out using energy gels or drinks for fear of sickness and will only pack salt tablets.
“The chances are that my stomach will fall ill so I’m going to eat as simply as I can. Even by the third marathon there will be a lot of fatigue,” he said. “I threw up on four continents the last time — the huge effort and airline food as a staple will do that.”
He will have about nine hours in each location to disembark, run the course and fly back out.
“The experience the last time was a lot more debilitating — it’s a unique thing to fly around the world in that time as it is, not to mention seven marathons.”