An Irish ultra distance runner today became the first athlete to crack the world’s ultimate endurance race – seven marathons on seven continents in seven days.
Richard Donovan began the epic challenge at minus 20C (-4F) in Antarctica on January 31 before battling snowstorms in London and the searing heat of Dubai and Chile to run 183 miles (295km) and fly 26,719 miles (43,000km).
The ambitious 42-year-old, who today completed the unique round-the-world race to raise awareness of the war-torn Darfur region of Sudan, is already thinking of his next challenge and the final frontier in ultra-running.
“I’ve no certain plans, but always had the idea of running across the continent of Antarctica rather than just small sections of it in races,” the Galway man said.
“It would take a big sponsor though, which probably isn’t realistic in today’s economic climate.
“I’ve run at both poles, and in deserts, mountains, jungle and various other terrain and climatic conditions. I think the Antarctic challenge is the last frontier.”
Donovan used the endurance race to promote Irish charity Goal’s repeated calls for international peacekeepers to be sent in to Darfur.
“Richard has done something truly remarkable,” Goal’s John O’Shea said.
“Not only has he set a record that will not be easily beaten but he has also brought much needed attention to the ongoing tragedy in Darfur.
“Everyone in Goal thanks him for his efforts to raise awareness of this humanitarian catastrophe and congratulates him on his new record.”
Donovan began in Antarctica in temperatures as low as minus 20C (minus 4F) on January 31 before flying through a snowstorm to Cape Town, on to the searing heat of Dubai, the snow in London and Toronto, before battling 32C (90F) in Santiago in Chile and a similar heatwave in Sydney.
He completed it in five days, 10 hours and eight minutes.
The biggest worry came on the first day as conditions closed in on the Russian Novo air base, sparking fears that his plane would be grounded.
“It would have meant I would have had to run the marathon again the following day in order to do everything in under seven days,” Donovan said.
“That marathon was not something I’d want to run again.”
The entire race was tracked on GPS with Donovan monitored at every location to verify the 26.2 miles (42.2km) distance was completed each time.
Donovan, who is well used to extreme endurance running, suffered badly as temperatures soared and plummeted within hours. The difference between Antarctica and Cape Town was 43 degrees.
“By the time I got off the plane in Dubai – and into another hot environment - I was suffering a bit and got sick during the marathon,” he said.
“I then had to rush to London and run through the snowstorm after midnight. It was tough... and then the plane was lucky to get away to Toronto.”
In 2002, Donovan became the first athlete in the world to run a marathon at both the North and South Poles. He has also won the Inca Trail Marathon, the Everest Challenge Marathon and the Himalayan 100-Mile Stage Race.