SportsAid fundraiser Susannah Gill has won the women's title at the World Marathon Challenge after completing seven marathons across seven continents in seven days. Susannah, who was one of only two British competitors in the field, completed the 183 miles (295km) in a time of 22 hours, 50 minutes and 42 seconds – setting a new world record in the process. The challenge saw her travel 55,000 miles as she overcame courses in Antarctica, Cape Town, Perth, Dubai, Madrid, Santiago and Miami.
Susannah started and finished the challenge by donning her SportsAid running vest in Antarctica, where temperatures dropped as low as -35C, and Miami. She was burning up to 5,000 calories a day and won six of the seven legs to secure her place on top of the podium. Susannah’s passion for running was fuelled by completing the London Marathon in 2009 and she has since notched up over 45 marathons and a handful of ultras, including 100km, 100 mile and 24-hour races.
"It was a crazy ambition,” she told the BBC. "The challenge seemed absolutely irresistible to me. 10 years ago, I just wanted to get fit and run the London Marathon. Now, marathon running has literally taken me around the world. It's been an extraordinary week. I've loved it but it's been tough. Although none of us have slept in a bed for a week, and we've probably never had more than three hours' sleep at a time in a plane seat, strangely none of us want to go to bed because that means it's all over.”
The challenge, which got underway on Thursday 31 January, has been completed by less than 200 people since Sir Ranulph Fiennes first achieved the feat in 2003. To put this into context, more than 4,000 have climbed Mount Everest throughout the last 65 years. Susannah and her fellow runners landed in Cape Town on Tuesday 29 January before travelling to Antarctica for the first marathon. They went from the extreme cold to searing heat within two days as temperatures hit 35C in Perth.
Antarctica 3 hours, 53 minutes and 55 seconds
Cape Town: 3 hours, 21 minutes and 32 seconds
Perth: 3 hours, 19 minutes and 19 seconds
Dubai: 3 hours, 26 minutes and 23 seconds
Madrid: 3 hours, 11 minutes and 49 seconds
Santiago: 3 hours, 37 minutes and 44 seconds
Miami: 3 hours, 26 minutes and 24 seconds
"I think I've averaged about 3:28 to beat the existing female world record, which was 3:55 [per marathon],” added Susannah. “I never thought I could string those sorts of performances together but I just got into a flow. Races one to four were OK; five, six and seven have been really, really hard. The first four marathons I was eating quite well and getting enough calories in, and then marathons five, six and seven I've actually been waking myself up because I've been so hungry.
"I ended up getting an hour's sleep on one flight because I just had to get up and eat a packet of peanuts, two packets of crisps and a chocolate bar - anything I could get hold of on the plane. That became a challenge, because I was burning four or five thousand calories a day, every day, for a week. The only time reference I've had is what kind of food they've given us on the plane - so breakfast, lunch or dinner - so it's been a very loose concept of time.”
Susannah became a firm supporter of SportsAid - and the support and recognition the charity provides for young talented athletes across Britain - when she was working at Betfair between 2008 and 2014. She decided to raise funds for SportsAid as part of the challenge and the current total stands at close to £6,000. Susannah will now be looking forward to returning to normal life and ‘putting myself back together again’ after her body took the strain throughout the week.
"I've been all right on the blister front because I've done 10 years of marathon running, so they're OK,” she said. “It's just the legs and the hamstrings down the back of the legs because they've done so much of the work; the last two or three marathons, they've been very, very sore. I've had to spend 10 or 15 minutes trying to warm them up for each race and they've got progressively more stubborn and not wanted to do it but they haven't let me down so I can't complain about the body.
“Rather than going for a nice run after work, I've been doing really, really hard training sessions and I've been a bit tired at times. It's been pretty much every weekday after work, and then a standard weekend was either a three-hour run on Saturday and a four-hour run on Sunday, or a three-hour run on Saturday and then go off and race a marathon on Sunday, which doesn't really give you a lot of time to see friends and family very much, so I can be a bit more normal for a while now!”
You can congratulate Susannah on her incredible achievement by making a donation to her fundraising page for SportsAid. Keep a close eye on her Twitter account – @TheIronLadyRuns – to see more reaction in the coming days!