Let Us Now Praise Crazy Mofos

Running Seven Marathons in Seven Days on Seven Continents

Sir Ranulph Fiennes & Dr. Michael Stroud: Marathon Madmen
ON JUNE 7, 2003, famed British explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes, 59, suffered a heart attack so severe that he underwent immediate double-bypass surgery and didn't come to for three days. And yet on October 21, 2003, with only two and a half months of training under his belt—and post-op wires still in place to keep his chest cavity shut—Fiennes and his longtime comrade-in-extremes, Dr. Michael Stroud, 48, stashed a defibrillator in a duffel, flew to Chilean Patagonia, and set out to complete seven marathons on seven continents in seven days.

"Originally, I'd rung Mike up to see if he might have any interest in climbing Everest," says Fiennes, a gallant gent who insists you call him "Ran." "But when he learned you can't do it in under three months, he proposed the marathons instead, to keep it short and sweet."

Short and sweet? Only for a pair who in 1993 spent 95 days dragging 500-pound sleds across Antarctica. On the marathon trip, air transport alone would have crushed most mortals: 11 flights, 45,000 miles, and 75 hours in the sky.

British Airways helped by comping the men with first-class seats, but Fiennes and Stroud still had to make their flights if they were going to stay on track. Twice, they had only six hours to land, get through customs, run a marathon, and catch their next plane. Their itinerary took them on an east-north-west horseshoe, from Tierra del Fuego, in Chile, out and back to the Falkland Islands (a last-minute substitute for Antarctica's South Shetland Islands, where a storm had halted flights), then on to Sydney, Singapore, London, Cairo, and, finally, New York, for the only formal, everyone-else-is-doing-it marathon of the lot. They ran their first marathon in 3:45; they crossed the finish line in Central Park in 5:25. Both men nearly quit after the heat and humidity of Singapore, where Stroud started passing "brown muck" in his urine.

"Myoglobin," he recalls. "My muscle-tissue destruction had reached 500 times the normal rate." A gastroenterologist, Stroud is one of the world's leading experts on physical responses to extreme conditions. He says he and Ran made fine guinea pigs for his research, which, he points out, suggests that some runners may not require extended periods of recovery.

"The day after we returned, I went straight back to work," he says. "Not a problem."

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