Clearwater Bay resident and local vet David Gething took up the World Marathon Challenge and won. Here’s how he did it
Australian expat and long-term Hong Kong resident David Gething took home the World Marathon Trophy last month (January 2016) with a cumulative time of 25 hours, 36 minutes and three seconds. That’s all it took for him to run seven full marathons, on seven different continents, in the space of seven days. It works out at an eye-watering three-and-a-half hours per marathon.
“It was pretty overwhelming and a bit of a blur,” Gething admits when I call in for a chat at his Sheung Sze Wan home a few days after his return. “I remember crossing the finish line in Sydney, being handed the trophy, passing it to my dad – and then I just collapsed.”
Eleven competitors from all over the world began the challenge on January 17 in Antarctica and finished on January 24 under Sydney Harbour Bridge. Battling injuries, driving winds, freezing temperatures, fatigue, extreme heat and seven days of ‘plane food, the challenge pushed competitors to their limits. But despite suffering frostbite in Antarctica and a stress fracture in Morocco, Gething never considered throwing in the towel.
“I had so much support from family both in Hong Kong and overseas,” he says. “A group of running buddies in Sai Kung even attempted seven marathons in seven days locally to empathise, so I couldn’t let them down.”
Gething started running relatively recently, spurred on by his wife Trilby who thought the Creature Comforts vet was gaining weight.
“So I put my name down for the (250km) Gobi March as something to work towards and then got into a bit of triathlon training locally. It’s only been over the last year or so that I’ve started to feel comfortable,” he admits.
He broke three hours at the Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon in February last year and also completed the Boston Marathon (“my favourite”). For the World Marathon Challenge, he put in six months of serious training, getting up at 4.30am and running for about ten hours a week.
The challenge started in Antartica. He met the other competitors in Chile before sharing a Russian military plane to a private base on Union Glacier. Because of changeable weather conditions which can prevent a plane from landing or taking off, the race could not be started until the return flight had taken off from Chile and was cleared to land safely in Antarctica.
“We were woken at 3am and told to start running,” he recalls.
Australian-born Gething had never experienced a snowfall, which added to the drama. In subzero temperatures, he ran in a fleece and undershirt, long pants, a wind-cheater, double socks and special waterproof shoes designed for snow running.
“The trick was not to overheat,” he says. “Sweat freezes, creating a plate of ice against your body and you end up hyperthermic.” At one checkpoint Gething’s frozen beanie was removed by race officials. He suffered frostbite on the tips of two toes and lost a nail, but he swears he enjoyed the run.
“It was the most amazing experience, majestically beautiful and so quiet. I was in my own snowy world and very excited to have started the competition. I ran a good race and looking back, this was probably my favourite sector.”
Then it was straight onto the plane to Punta Arenas, Chile, and just two hours after landing the group was straight into its second marathon.
“We were running along the oceanfront into driving winds. It was cold, hard work and I was very sore. I ended up finishing at the same time as eventual runner-up Douglas Wilson.”
A specialist sports company with experience of moving sporting teams around the world ensured the runners’ flight schedules ran as smoothly as possible. A section of each plane was blocked off for the group – usually in business class – and the runners spent almost 62 hours in total in the air, sleeping and eating.
As well as an easily digested meal three hours before each run, Gething survived on protein shakes, gels, power bars and pastries. He drank water during the run, with Coke for a sugar fix near the end.
The North American leg started on Ocean Drive in Miami. “It was warmer and we were running along the ocean, soaking up all the typical Miami scenes – girls on roller blades, body builders working out on the beach,” Gething says. “Everyone had calmed down a bit and there was more of a feeling of camaraderie rather than combat. We ran slower, but together. It was a friendly run.”
The European race, however, was less memorable. “It was an uninspiring route doing laps of a park in Madrid in the freezing cold.”
From Spain, it was a quick hop across the Mediterranean to North Africa and, after a mere hour of sleep, the Marrakesh marathon. “We landed and started running immediately. It was eight degrees, dark and very tough. We ran 12km loops overnight around a city block, which mentally was very challenging.”
Worse, Gething tripped on a curb and fractured his ankle. “I’d say this was the point when emotionally I hit rock bottom,” he remembers. Tellingly, he ran his slowest time (four hours, 20 minutes and 55 seconds). It was also at this stage that his young daughter back in Hong Kong was enjoying her first day at school.
“Looking at the pictures Trilby had emailed made it even harder,” he admits.
In Dubai, however, things started looking up. “We were met at the airport by world marathon champion Haile Gebrselassie, which was amazing. He wished us luck and we started the oceanfront marathon in the sunshine, warmth and daylight.”
His spirits were lifted again in Sydney when Trilby flew in from Hong Kong and his Australia-based family turned up to cheer him along a route marked with glo-sticks.
“And thank goodness they did turn up.” Gething says. “Wilson, by now my closest competitor, ran the race of his life. Trilby hired a bike to accompany us along the route, and without her updates keeping track of exactly how far ahead he was, I would have been ready to give up.”
Trilby admits to being shocked by her husband’s gaunt appearance at the start of the run. “He was a shell, but there was nothing I could do to make things any better for him.”
Gething literally fell over the line, finishing after Wilson but winning the overall challenge. “Apparently I managed to give some sort of interview to the Reuters guy. There might have been a few expletives,” he smiles wryly. “I was exhausted. My legs were puffed up due to water retention from muscle damage. I had fractured an ankle. A toenail was missing. I was sore all over.”
Not a man to rest on his laurels, Gething is planning to run the Pyongyang marathon in North Korea next month and compete in the Ironman World Championships in Hawaii in October. But for now he’s enjoying a well-earned rest. “Although I think I’m starting to put on weight,” he says, eyes drifting to the road outside.
David Gething has since published a book detailing his experiences. ‘Relentless’ is available from Kidnapped Bookshop, Sai Kung, or bookdepository.com