An elite runner describes a grueling 7-day marathon challenge where racers battled food poisoning, vomiting, and pooped on 7 continents
- A runner debriefed her World Marathon Challenge experience on the "Ali on the Run Show."
- Participants had to overcome flight delays, extreme weather, little sleep, and digestive issues.
After Deirdre Keane signed up for the World Marathon Challenge — a grueling logistical and physical feat involving running seven marathons on seven continents in seven days — she focused on training her body, packing minimally for all weather and terrains, and readying her mind.
But there was only so much Keane and the other participants could do to prepare. Keane, a pediatric nurse-turned-healthcare consultant in New York, described her experience to podcast host and runner Ali Feller on the Ali on the Run show podcast in February.
Over the course of a week in January 2023, the runners confronted extreme weather (-25 degrees in Antarctica to 95 degrees in Australia), flight snafus, last-minute course changes, injuries, and a diet and sleep schedule dictated by what the planes served and whether or not their seats reclined.
Then, there were the digestive issues and bathroom setups (or lack thereof) to conquer.
Before their first race in Antarctica even began, about half of the participants got food poisoning in Cape Town, South Africa, Keane said on the podcast. One woman in particular, Keane said "puked-slash-had-diarrhea on all seven continents."
"People started counting, like, 'I went nine times,'" Keane said. "People weren't able to eat. That's inspirational."
Then, the cargo plane that took them from South Africa to Antarctica had makeshift bathrooms that were "bolted down," she said.
In Antarctica itself, a continent where you can leave no waste, bathrooms were limited to little shelters, some for liquids and some for solids. "You're just thankful that the wind's not trying to blow you over while you're going," Keane said.
And in Miami, where the race started close to midnight, the bathrooms were closed. "Thankfully I didn't have to go, but I know a lot of people went into the bushes," said Keane, who ran the challenge to raise money for Vibrant Emotional Health.
Digestive distress during long races is common
Keane, who won the women's division with an average marathon time of 3:49:23, has previously talked to Insider about her own digestive issues on the run. Thanks to a hurried race-day breakfast before the Philadelphia marathon in 2014, she stopped at every port-a-potty during the first 16 miles — but still achieved a personal record.
"My strategy became to sprint as fast as I could, mile to mile, to make it to the port-a-potty before the next explosion," she said.
Tamara Duker Freuman, a New York City dietitian who works in a gastroenterology practice, told Insider at the time that long-distance running can trigger the bowels simply because of the mechanics of the sport. It can also lead to temporary incontinence since your blood is shuttled away from the digestive tract and toward your legs, she said.
What and when you consume before and during a race matters too, but sometimes, the race-day runs — or, in the case of the World Marathon Challenge, race-week runs — just happen.
"That's the reality of running," Keane said on the podcast. "It's not always pretty, you just gotta accept the circumstances."
Listen to the Keane's whole experience on Ali on the Run>>
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