Categories: Motivation Training

Running and travel | 7 marathons on 7 continents

July 6, 2016

If ever there was a man born to run, Steve Williams is it. While dabbling in other sports in school – mainly warming benches both in football and lacrosse – it was always the endurance events, like track and cross country, where he excelled. They grabbed his attention and appealed to his spiritual sensibilities.

Now at age 47, after running marathons for more than 7 years, including running events on all 7 continents, he’s still running. Not away, but rather toward life’s next adventure.

The running life

Steve’s professional career has included long stints in the insurance and auto industries. Later in life, he broke away from the corporate world and started working in a professional bicycle shop. One thing led to another, which led to triathlons.

Steve Williams and Ironman

In 2003, Steve entered a Polar-sponsored Twitter competition and found himself winning a race entry. Off he went to Monterey, California, for the Triathlon at Pacific Grove, renowned as one of the most scenic races in the world. It was his first Olympic distance triathlon, his first swim in open water, and his first encounter with Polar.

The running bug had bit.

Marathons, it’s what I do now.

He pulled up stakes and moved to California, throwing himself full throttle into the tri life, even doing the infamous Escape From Alcatraz Triathlon, which includes an icy swim in the choppy waters of San Francisco Bay. But it was the running, always the running, that really made him hum.

In 2009, after moving back to North Carolina, he ran his first full marathon, the Quintiles Wrightsville Beach Marathon. He was hooked.

In 2010, he ran the Beach to Battleship Ironman (now IRONMAN North Carolina). After crossing the finish line, he hung up his swim goggles and racked his bike. It was time to focus on his passion.

Traveling marathon man

The allure of running goes well beyond the endorphin hit every time Steve laces up his shoes.

Some people collect objects to take back from their travels. We collect stamps in our passport.

It’s taken him places, near and far. It’s helped him meet interesting people and introduced him to novel locales, new terrain, and different customs. He and his girlfriend, Anne, decided to up the ante, pushing toward even more epic adventures around the globe. Every marathon destination also became an adventure exploring the local geographic and cultural topography, opening their minds and hearts to different points of view. It was intoxicating.

The voice of experience: tips for travel-related runs

Airline travel brings its own sets of complications. Speaking from experience, Steve says:

  • Always take your racing kit and devices in your carry-on bag. Luggage that doesn’t show up by race day can be a disaster.
  • Bring specialty items with you. Shoes, race belts, and devices can be difficult or impossible to replace in some remote locations. And depending on exchange rates, it can get really expensive to replace items.
  • Don’t change anything before or during your endurance race. Run in a well-tested kit and consume the same nutrition you’re used to training with.

Running by the numbers

Since 2009, Steve has run 8 half marathons, including competing in a World Championship, 16 full marathons, a 50K, and both a 70.3 and a 140.6 Ironman. Just in the past 1.5 years, he’s run a full marathon on each of the 7 continents.

Marathon route in Polar Flow

More people have summited Mount Everest than have completed a marathon on all 7, firmly solidifying him as an adventure athlete.

His recent conquests include:

  • North America (Marine Corps Marathon, Washington D.C., USA)
  • South America (Punta Arenas Marathon, Chile)
  • Europe (Berlin Marathon, Germany)
  • Asia (Petra Desert Marathon, Jordan)
  • Africa (International Marathon de Marrakech, Morocco)
  • Oceania (Jacob’s Creek Barossa Marathon, Tanunda, Australia)
  • Antarctica (White Continent 50K Ultramarathon, King George Island, Antarctica)

Memorable marathoning

Steve says his most memorable marathon was the Petra Desert Marathon in 2014. It is in the heart of the Jordanian desert in a mountainous region, close to the ancient, lost city of Petra. And it features a brutal 5K climb near the finish.

Running at Petra

Traveling and meeting so many diverse people gives me a fresh perspective and a more nuanced understanding of different cultures. It helps expand my awareness and helps me be a better person.

With only 50 runners (split between the half and full marathons), Steve said he’d be out all by himself for long stretches in an eerie landscape almost devoid of color. The ancient city of Petra was carved into the living rock thousands upon thousands of years ago. It was a run back in time, an escape from the distractions of the modern world.

It was beautiful, moving, and scary-but-thrilling as heck.

Tackling the toughest

When we asked Steve about his toughest marathon, he said, “Oh that’s easy. Mount Lemmon in the Santa Catalina Mountains near Tucson, Arizona.”

He ran it in 2011 and says it is not designed for speed. The entire course is uphill, with 6,000 feet (1,800 m) of elevation gain over the course of the run. Ouch. It has been described as one of the most difficult road marathons in the world, and it was last held in 2013.

Mount Lemmon and Steve

Steve said it made him fully understand the Lillooet Vision Quest:

“Push yourself until the pain comes and then go on, until you think you cannot survive. Here the ego will let go. Here you will be purified.”

In search of inspiration

Steve has run the Space Coast Marathon multiple times. It is the oldest 26.2 mile foot race in Florida, and it is a family-oriented, space-themed event, which was weirdly wonderful all in itself.

And each year they bring in celebrated figures from the running world. It gave Steve the opportunity to meet running greats Bart Yasso (Yasso 800s), Jeff Galloway (Run-Walk-Run training) and Kathrine Switzer (1967 Boston Marathon).

Ditching the clock

For Steve, running has never been about the time on the clock. He’s never broken any records or set out with a time goal.

Running and traveling in South America

He figures if he’s the last guy across the finish line, he’s experienced that much more out on the course.  For him, it’s the experience itself that is enthralling. Traveling to new places. Meeting new people and cultures. Gaining fresh perspectives. Testing the limits of his body in all sorts of new ways. Living a healthy lifestyle and being an advocate for cancer awareness.

Running for health

For Steve’s family, cancer is personal.

Many types of cancer are preventable with an active, health-oriented lifestyle.

It took his grandmother and an uncle and also struck both his father and his sister. It prompted him to get involved with the Livestrong Foundation and the American Cancer Society. For many years, he’s been an advocate for cancer-related subjects such as treatment, education, and prevention. As part of the lobbying efforts of One Voice Against Cancer (OVAC), Steve’s had several opportunities to represent his state of North Carolina before the U.S. Congress (both the house and the senate), speaking on the importance of continued funding for the National Cancer Institute, the National Institute of Health, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Cancer prevention is something he is passionate about and mindful of every day, staying committed to be active, on the move, and inspiring others.

Staying active with Polar

For Steve, Polar offers the perfect mix of tools to make exercise more fun and engaging. He’s been an avid Polar Brand Ambassador for many years, sharing his insights with others. “I love showing others how Polar can help them achieve their goals.” Steve’s used many Polar products and will often wear two devices at the same time.

Steve’s Polar devices du jour include:

  • Polar Flow: Steve uses this online Polar service and mobile app to see, track, analyze, and share his training and progress. The Polar Flow app syncs with his Polar products for a comprehensive picture of his activity profile on his phone or laptop as well as linking his data to Strava. And the Polar Flow community helps make exercise fun, social, and motivating.
  • Polar V800: Steve says this is his current go-to device. It helps him stay in touch with his body to ensure he is working at the right pace for his training and race efforts in any given condition. Being able to monitor his heart rate has proven especially important when he’s racing at elevation. His other must-have is GPS. It lets him track his activities to specific geographic locations. Another favorite feature is the daily activity monitor. “It’s too easy to fall into the internet hole,” he says. “The activity monitor is a great prod to remind me to get moving.”

Moving on to the next adventure

Steve’s next adventures include a 100-mile ultramarathon in Colorado, a multistage race in Iceland, and eventually the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc, which takes place in the French Alps. Good luck, Steve and Anne. We admit to being just a wee bit envious.