By crazy, Jamieson is referring to unusually physically taxing endurance challenges that most humans couldn’t even fathom: running back-to-back marathons around the globe, powering through ultramarathons, swimming long distances in rough, open waters, and so on.
What’s not so crazy is that Jamieson completes these strenuous athletic events to contribute to a cause very dear to her heart: finding a cure for Alzheimer’s Disease. In tandem with every athletic event tackles, she raises money for Alzheimer’s Disease charities. Through it all, she also hopes to bring more attention to the devastating illness – and the need for related medical progress.
In the early hours of Feb. 7, she officially completed her most demanding athletic feat to date: the World Marathon Challenge. This is running seven marathons – each on a different continent – in just seven days (translation: 168 hours).
Jill Jamieson with all the medals.
“It’s the most taxing thing I’ve ever done and I imagine one of the most taxing things I ever will do,” Jamieson said. “Doing seven marathons in seven days is not something I think the body is meant to do… especially since this challenge involved being in the air, flying on an airplane for 68 hours, waiting in immigration queues, and eating lots of airport food.”
She took part in The World Marathon Challenge in support of the Alzheimer’s Association, for which she is still fundraising. Her goal is to turn over $26,200 to the Alzheimer’s Association by mid-April.
“I still have some work to do with the fundraising,” Jamieson said, explaining that her goal amounts to $1,000 for every mile that makes up the marathon distance. “We are about halfway there. For a while I was busy training and not outreaching, but now I’ll be able to really focus on reaching my donation goal.”
Jamieson considers it one of her greatest purposes to contribute to finding a cure for Alzheimer’s Disease. She knows firsthand how devastating Alzheimer’s is not only for people with the disease, but also for the people who love them.
“My dad was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and ultimately died from it, and he is what continues to motivate me,” she said. “I will continue to do these challenges and fundraise for the Alzheimer’s Association and other organizations until there is a cure. Nothing of material value has come through so far – and Alzheimer’s and dementia will impact one out of every three seniors. That means it is probably going to impact you somehow, whether it’s you who gets it, someone in your family, or someone else you know. This is a call to arms; I’m committed to helping find a cure for this thing.”
She began this journey nearly 20 years ago, when she began running long distances to cope with her father’s diagnosis.
“It was really soon after my dad was diagnosed that I started running for therapy,” Jamieson said. “I would just run until I couldn’t anymore. It was kind of Forrest Gump-ish. It was a really good way to manage the emotions and give me time to think about things. There’s no way you can prepare for one of your parents to get Alzheimer’s. They lose their memory of you so caregivers and family members really suffer. Running was a healthy way to deal with emotions and anxiety of it all.”
She was logging so many miles that she knew she could run a marathon, and in 2005, she ran her first – the Chicago Marathon. As she took on training, her father helped her create the Memory Joggers – a social running and adventure group that to this day raises money for Alzheimer’s organizations.
“Ever since the Chicago Marathon, we’ve taken the threat of Alzheimer’s as a call to action and hope to inspire others to do the same,” Jamieson said. “We also create epic memories in the process.”
Since 2005, Jamieson has run more than 40 marathons – both alongside members of the Memory Joggers and on her own. The World Marathon Challenge is something she did with 46 other participants from around the world – but was on her own in terms of running for Alzheimer’s Disease.
“Many of the other runners were fundraising for other causes – all great causes,” Jamieson said. “They were all very similar to me, trying to do what’s best for the world. When you do something this big, you can draw a lot of attention to your cause. We figure we have collectively fundraised more than a million dollars for various great causes. I am still fundraising, as are others.”
Organized by Global Running Adventures, the World Marathon Challenge first started in 2015 to bring runners together to complete seven sanctioned marathons in seven days. Marathon locations are in Cape Town, South Africa; Nova, Antarctica; Perth, Australia; Dubai, United Arab Emirates; Madrid, Spain; Fortaleza, Brazil; and, South Beach, Miami, Florida.
“The coordinator of this race, Richard Donovan, has been doing this for ten years or so,” Jamieson said. “He takes care of all the logistics and works with local race authorities to make sure that all these marathons are sanctioned. Our role as runners is to basically run. Fifteen to twenty of the runners ran shorter races, and the rest of us did the marathons. There was amazing camaraderie between all of us.”
The group met in Cape Town, then flew to run their first course in Antarctica on a special aircraft designed for landing on an ice field. Then it was back to Cape Town, where they ran their second marathon. After that, a chartered plane took the runners to the other marathon locations.
This year’s World Marathon Challenge was an overall success, with each of the marathoners finishing their seven races within the 168 hour time requirement. However, there were logistical issues and other unplanned situations that pushed the runners to their limits.
“The first problem we had is that the South African Civil Aviation authority was slow to give our charter plane the appropriate authorization to land,” Jamieson said. “This delayed us eight hours. That and other flight delays meant that there were increasingly tight time limits to finish each marathon. In Brazil, some runners literally had to finish their mileage by doing laps around baggage carousels. It was a bit insane, but we were racing to get this done in seven days.”
The marathon itself can be unforgiving, and illness among this group of 47 runners made running seven of them in a row all the more challenging for the group.
“I got a nightmarish stomach flu in Cape Town just before the World Marathon Challenge began,” Jamieson said. “That was the biggest challenge for me, because I could not keep down food or water for the first five marathons. I consumed zero calories and was fueled solely by sheer will power and the desire not to fail.”
The most difficult marathon for Jamieson was in Madrid, where she took a hard fall on the unpaved roads of a difficult course. On the flip side, her favorite was the seventh and final marathon that took place in Miami.
“I loved that marathon for personal reasons,” she said. “I officially finished the race on my father’s birthday – in the wee hours of Feb. 7. It was on South Beach, right on the ocean, on a beautiful night for a run. I felt like he was with me the whole time.”
After she crossed the finish line in Miami – with her father in spirit – her name went on a list that the overwhelming majority of people in the world – including long-distance runners – could only dream of being a part of.
According to The World Marathon Challenge’s official website, “successful participants are recognized by the Intercontinental Marathon Club, which provides the definitive list of people who have run seven marathons on seven continents within seven days.”
Jamieson said her average finish time for each of the seven marathons was around five hours.
“I wasn’t running for time,” she said. “It was definitely for the experience. There was banter along the way on the courses, and I would frequently stop and take selfies. The most important part of it for me, besides raising money and awareness for Alzheimer’s, is that everyone on this ride with me became brothers in arms. We share something special.”
If you were assuming Jamieson is done running long distances for a while, you’d be wrong.
Next up for her is the North Pole Marathon, which will take place on April 10th. With this polar run, she will conclude her fundraising associated with The World Marathon Challenge. Also after completing it, she will be admitted to another coveted running club: the Marathon Grand Slam Club.
“The Marathon Grand Slam is for runners who have completed a marathon distance of 42.195 km (26.2 miles) or longer on each of the seven continents and on the Arctic Ocean, specifically at the North Pole Marathon,” Jamieson explained.
To date, only 33 other women have completed this challenge, according to the North Pole Marathon’s official website.
Still, none of these “crazy” accomplishments are about the medals or the lists or the club memberships for Jamieson.
“Recognizing my family’s strong predisposition to Alzheimer’s, I embrace epic challenges to promote health and wellness, to contribute to a really important cause, and also to create memories so indelible that they might withstand the ravages of Alzheimer’s, should I ever get it,” she said. “In some ways, through endurance sports and extreme adventures, I am trying to Alzheimer's-proof my brain; in others, I am just living my very best life.”
To contribute to Jill Jamieson’s fundraising associated with The World Marathon Challenge, please visit http://act.alz.org/goto/Memory_Joggers