The World Marathon Challenge may be the greatest running event you’ve never heard of. This January, more than 35 runners will travel via charter plane to knock out 26.2-mile runs in Chile, Miami, Madrid, Marrakesh, Dubai, Australia, and, yes, Antarctica—all in seven consecutive days. “You’re racing against top athletes in harsh conditions, ranging from the tundra to blazing-hot streets,” says first-timer Michael Wardian, 42, a pro ultrarunner who’s completed some of the sport’s toughest events. “It’s awesome.”
The first two iterations of the WMC featured modest fields; just nine men and one woman raced in 2015. That may be because it’s so expensive—the entry fee is nearly $40,000. But the event is gaining traction, pulling in big-name runners like Wardian and Ryan Hall, who holds the American record for the fastest half marathon. (Wardian is paying his own way, but Hall’s sponsors are picking up his tab.)
“I was retired and not even enjoying running very much when I heard about the WMC,” Hall says. “But the concept drew me in. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
While Wardian has a knack for odd challenges like this one (he holds the world record for the fastest 50K on a treadmill), the WMC is completely out of Hall’s comfort zone. “It never even crossed my mind to run back-to-back marathons before,” the 34-year-old Olympian says.
Running 183.4 miles in 168 hours will obviously be difficult, but race director Richard Donovan says all that continent hopping is the true hurdle. Flights between stages range from two hours (Madrid to Marrakesh) to a cramp-inducing 17 (Dubai to Sydney), and runners will have to adjust their recovery patterns as they go.
Competitors spend only 12-to-14 hours on each continent, and that includes the time it takes to clear customs. The WMC kicks off at its most extreme location, Antarctica, where runners must spend 48 hours adjusting to the temperature (average: 16 degrees). After that the group fly to Chile and do it all again, no matter what time they happen to land. (Last year the Marrakesh marathon started at midnight.) You can follow their progress at worldmarathonchallenge.com.
By The Numbers
Fastest total time, set by Dan Cartica in 2016.
Temperature athletes are likely to encounter in Antarctica, the lowest in the event.
Temperature they can expect in Australia and Dubai—the highest.
Number of hours participants have to complete the race.
Total air miles covered during the event.