British runner Susannah Gill has landed a world record after completing the World Marathon Challenge in February in the fastest time by a woman athlete. The Challenge consists of running seven marathons across seven continents in seven days, and Susannah completed the course – a total of 183 miles – in 24 hours, 29 minutes and 9 seconds.
The marathons took place in Antarctica, Cape Town, Perth, Dubai, Madrid, Santiago and Miami, with the participants being ferried between locations on a chartered plane. Susannah faced tough challenges every step of the way. “I didn’t enjoy running on the snow [in Antarctica],” she says, when we spoke to her an hour after she landed back in the UK. “And Cape Town was pretty boiling, Perth was in the dark, and so was Dubai. I had to do a sprint finish in Madrid that nearly killed me, Santiago was a really twisty course and I was getting tired by then, and in Miami I was running on fumes…” So which of them was the least awful, then? Susannah laughs: “Oh no, I enjoyed all of them!”
Running marathons over the course of a week with a group of 40 similarly-minded runners was an unforgettable experience. “We were all ages and abilities, but everyone had a similar outlook to me. We all get a buzz out of running! Sometimes the plane [that ferried the runners between countries] looked like a war zone, with people asleep, others with legs propped up against the walls, others frantically foam rolling, but we were all laughing about it!”
Did she think she was going to do well before she started? “I had no idea I could do it,” she says. “I didn’t know I could string all these performances together – you don’t even know you can do a Parkrun until you give it a go. Some people might look at me and think wow, but I look at Jasmin Paris and say wow – I mean, she’s amazing.”
Her enthusiasm for the Challenge, and for running itself, is infectious. “I love running – I could talk about running all day!” Susannah ran on behalf of Sportsaid, and is passionate about the ethos of the charity in supporting young athletes. “I think it’s fundamentally unfair that economic circumstances might prevent people from taking part in sport. Sportsaid is there to support children to do what they can do – they’ve supported so many of our sporting stars.”
She’s also passionate about women running. “Just two generations ago, I wouldn’t have been allowed to run this race. But women are just as tough as men – just look at what nature throws at women, and what women have to go through. Races like this are the ultimate level playing field.”
Next up for Susannah are the London and Manchester marathons in April. Two marathons, three weeks apart. “It’s funny how your outlook changes – I would never have considered doing it this time last year, but now I think, ‘three weeks apart? That’s easy!’”