Stephanie Madsen runs the Seven Continents


Stephanie Madsen

Up & Running SuperstarsHey team, it’s Julia here. Today I’ve got a conversation for you that I had with a coaching client of mine who is on a mission to run a marathon on each of the seven continents in one year. Meet Stephanie Madsen, an American living in Treviso, Italy!

What inspired you to run the seven continents?

The idea came to me during some Sunday long runs. I’d heard about the seven continents club and thought it would be pretty cool to run on every continent. Then I thought it would be an amazing adventure to do it all in a year.

One of my life goals had been to run a marathon before turning forty and I thought all seven continents would be a good goal for my 44th year. Both my children would be in college and I’d be free to run.

Tell me a little about how you got into running…

Six summers ago I was in Lincoln Park with my Mom and children when we ran into my grammar school principal. He told us that I still held the 1600 meter record for our school district. It hadn’t been beat since 1985! I think he was just being nice, but my mom insisted it must be true.

In my freshman year I ran cross country. We had a great team and it was lots of fun. In the spring I ran track. 3200 meters was my race but Coach Hopkins made me run relay as well as the 400 meters and 800 meters. In one race I ran seven laps on the right side of my adversary. I just couldn’t pass her until we got to the last 200 meter stretch and I remember thinking “I’m faster than you!”. I kicked it up to win.

My coach was furious. “If you had all that energy left you should’ve used it to pass her from halfway!” I think I finished 4th in the City championships and went on to Illinois state finals that year. To this day I cannot run on the right side of anyone.

As an adult I ran periodically, nothing serious, a couple miles here and there. That continued until I added the marathon to my “Before 40” plan. My father bought me The Marathon Method, a 16 week marathon training book by Tom Holland and my mom gave me a Garmin  and that was the beginning of my marathon dream. During my training I’d get so excited every time the runs got a little longer. I was amazed that my feet could get me from one point to another and then back home again!

What prompted you to find a running coach?

I knew that running seven marathons in one year was a challenging goal, but by then I’d also heard of some crazier people who participated in Ironmans! I knew I’d outgrown the book and needed a personalised program. My nephew suggested we meet – I guess he thought we’d have lots in common: tall, blonde, American female runners!

Antarctica marathon

Which has been the most interesting marathon/continent so far?

Each race has been special for different reasons. My mother grew up in San Francisco so that race was challenging and very emotional. She had passed the year before and it was the first time I’d been back to the city. I had my brother and son as my support team and it was an unforgettable weekend. Although, I have to say I saw some runners with shirts from the year before and I remember thinking, “Why would they do this twice?!” The downhill was rough.

My second marathon was Venice, right in my back yard. The Thursday before I hosted a pasta party to raise funds for AIRC (about 3000€!) and on Sunday I had the support of numerous friends. As I ran over the Grand Canal I thought “how lucky am I?”. Actually, that runs through my mind at the beginning of every race.

Next was Queenstown, New Zealand. Whilst in San Francisco I met up with my aunt and uncle who told me that their oldest daughter, Andrea, had moved to Christchurch a few years ago to raise goats. I was able to spend time with her and her family before and after the race. With a degree from Stanford she must be the most educated goat farmer on the South Island.

I drove all over the island and fell in love with the rugged beauty of the land. I’d never seen such changing landscape and met such friendly people.

The marathon was tough; the course was mostly trail running and one hill was positively massive. It gave me a moment to catch my breath and admire the beauty of the sailboats on the lake below me. As I crossed the finish line, the speaker called out my name and thanked me for choosing Queenstown as my Oceania destination in my quest to run the seven continents. I celebrated with my usual: beer and a Big Mac. Sorry, it’s in my DNA.

A week later at 4:30am I was on the bus with my friends Martina and Rossana bound for the starting line of the Bagan Temple marathon.

Watching the sun rising as we ran next to the remains of over 2200 temples from the 11th to 13th century was awesome in itself. Hot air balloons floatied overhead. Once again I thought, “how lucky am I?”.

At 21K I congratulated myself with being halfway to completing my goal. Happiness. I had more happiness as I reached the last 500m – I was the third female runner! I floated to the finish line. Three marathons in thirty-three days….

On January 31 in Marrakech I reached another goal: I finished a marathon in under four hours (3:55:41). I’ve always believed that the time doesn’t matter, participating and finishing are what is really important. Each race is a challenge and my first goal is to finish. In Marrakech I had the help of my own personal pacer, a friend who ran the last kilometres with me so I wouldn’t slow down. He kept me right on schedule, encouraging me every stride.

You didn’t give me much time to revel in my success,. The Antarctic marathon was less than six weeks away and it was time to start training. Antarctica was definitely the most adventurous marathon. Traveling over a thousand kilometres on a Russian ice breaker, passing through the Drake Passage with huge waves was already an adventure.

Then there was the gearing up with waterproof jacket, pants and wellingtons to venture out for a twenty minute zodiac ride to reach the starting line. We had Antarctic weather conditions for sure, ever changing! It had snowed the night before so there was snow on the ground, and a light drizzle had started at breakfast which turned into rain at the starting line.

At about the six mile mark the sun came out for about five minutes. But that was followed by a dark blue sky and the start of wind here and there. By about 30km the wind was up to 50 knots and the icy sleet slicing into our eyes made vision near impossible. I ran through mud and icy puddles with soaking wet and frozen feet. I didn’t care, I just wanted to get back to the ship. I finished in second place in 4:19:00, thirty-eight minutes behind the Australian champion and Sydney marathon winner. I felt great!

How have you found the training load and exercises?

I love it! The hardest part was understanding the different speeds required during training. In the beginning I also had to remember how many minutes at this pace and how many kilometres at that pace. Let’s just say that my brain got a mini workout too!

I really enjoy looking at my schedule for the week. I like the variations you give me for each workout. Having a personalised training program has helped me become a stronger, more confident runner. We’ve also discussed nutrition, pre and during race, which was a game changer. I like running with a fuel belt and the gels and amounts you suggested was fantastic.

After you conquer South America at the Lima Marathon in Perù and complete your huge endeavour, what do you see as your next adventure?

Wow! Well, eventually I’d like to start ultras, but I feel as though I can get faster so my immediate goal is to shave off those 41 seconds from my time to qualify for Boston. Then who knows, every European country? I’m not sure, but I know I’ll think of something!