The Marathon Grand Slam Club? What in the world is that? If you asked me this question in 2015, that would be my answer. In 2016, things changed drastically after I drank the Kool-Aid at a cool place: the North Pole!
The Marathon Grand Slam Club is comprised of runners who have completed a marathon on each of the Seven Continents and on the Arctic Ocean at the North Pole Marathon. Thanks to the friends I met from the 2016 North Pole Marathon who have completed the Marathon Grand Slam, this immediately became my bucket list item.
As a typical Type A person, I approached this goal with a timeline. First thing first, the deadline. I like to get things done quick, and figured that at a "moderate" pace of running one marathon per quarter, I can finish this thing at the Antarctica Ice Marathon in Nov 2017. The second marathon race happened by total good luck: there is a marathon in Cairns on my way back from the Kokoda Track in Papua New Guinea. That saves a separate trans-pacific trip to check Australia out.
After the Cairns Marathon in July 2016, simple math told me that I had 5 more continents to cover before the Antarctica Ice Marathon. I started to slice the tasks by lining up the races on my calendar. North America would be easy since I live in California and there are plenty of races to choose from locally or with a short plane ride. That leaves four continents which would involve traveling abroad: Europe, Asia, South America and Africa. Africa and South America are the hardest to schedule since both offer limited number of races and travel arrangement itself would be a challenge. With kids in school and both of us working, it would be unrealistic for the entire family to go to all the races with me. After searching the internet for hours, I lined up two more races in 2016: Athens Classic Marathon on November 13, 2016 for Europe and Chiangmai Marathon on December 18, 2016 for Asia. Athens Classic Marathon was chosen among a wide choices of other races in Europe since it will be on my birthday - what better way to celebrate than to reward (or punish) myself with running 42.195 km like Pheidippides did in 490 BC? Chiangmai Marathon takes place during the winter break and the whole family could enjoy a vacation in Southeast Asia.
Deciding on the remaining two races in Africa and South America was tricky. There is not a lot to choose from and a lot of the races are too close to other races I have signed up. Plus I am trying to schedule at least one of races during the summer break. Ideally, if I could run one of the two continents in spring and the other one during the summer, that would perfect. So I was evaluating several possible combinations for a while and could not make a decision even after I finished Athens Authentic Marathon.
Then the Eureka moment came. XiBei Li (CHN), one of my North Pole Marathon friends, posted his 2017 race schedule on Facebook and the most significant one is the legendary Marathon Des Sables in April 2017. I knew that Zacharias Daniilakis (GRE) was training for it when I met him in Athens. That means two of the NPM fellows will be there. After chatting with XiBei, I was pleasantly surprised to know that two other North Pole Marathoners, Lise (NOR) and Archie(IND), have signed up too. If I go, that would be a reunion of 5! Once that thought came into my mind, it never left and before I even had time to thoroughly evaluate the difficulty level of MDS, I completed the registration online. Again, Type A personality!
Now that the MDS will take place in spring 2017, the choice for the South America marathon with a family adventure in summer narrowed down to one race easily: the Ince Trail Marathon. An interesting fact is that MDS is named "The Toughest Foot Race on Earth" while the Inca Trail Marathon is called the "The Hardest marathon in the World." Guess 2017 is my lucky year! Let us see which one will make me or break me first.
Once all the international races are lined up, I was notified by the Chicago Marathon organizer that I got in the lottery. It will be in Oct 2017, one month before the grand finale of my Marathon Grand Slam pursuit in Antarctica. Perfect timing! From not knowing what the Marathon Grand Slam is to having a solid schedule to run one continent after another, I feel that half of the work has been done. All there is left is the run!