Seven Marathons, 7 Days, 7 Continents

Teacher’s students will be virtual participants as she bounds across world
Cara Nelson, a middle school teacher in East Hampton and a dedicated runner, will put her mental and physical fitness to the test as she attempts to compete in marathons on seven continents in as many days. Debra Carneol

While for many the mere thought of running a marathon can seem exhausting, Cara Nelson, a seventh-grade social studies teacher at the East Hampton Middle School, is about to undertake an almost superhuman feat — running seven marathons in seven days on seven continents. 

Ms. Nelson is one of approximately 55 participants in the 2018 World Marathon Challenge, which begins with a marathon on a glacier in Antarctica on Tuesday morning and continues with running 26.2 miles each day in Africa, Australia, Asia, Europe, and South America, before culminating on the North American leg, seven days later, in Miami. By the end, each participant will have run a whopping 183 miles in 168 hours.

With the use of Google apps for education in her classroom, students will become virtual participants. “I will be posting live blog updates at mile 20.8 of each marathon, corresponding to my classroom, room 208, along with videos before and after each race,” Ms. Nelson said with trademark high-energy enthusiasm. What she hopes is that her charges will receive a firsthand lesson in perseverance, which happens to be the school-wide theme for the year.

“Students will be interviewing my teammates about how they persevered through personal or professional obstacles,” Ms. Nelson said, describing some of her teammates: an amputee who is now an Ironman triathlete, the Boston Marathon race director who was there during the 2013 bombing, and a Parkinson’s disease survivor.  

Since the event’s inception in 2015, it has attracted elite runners, drawn to the physical and logistical challenges. Yet Ms. Nelson is quick to point out that she is far from an elite runner and therein lies the lesson she wishes to impart to her seventh graders, who have been involved in her endeavor since the beginning of the school year. “I told them, you don’t have to be the strongest, fastest, or smartest,” she said. “It’s all about the effort you put in.”

In fact, Ms. Nelson is part of the only team in the event, a 16-person ensemble that is not a tag team because each member runs the full seven marathons in seven days. The team’s name, Hold the Plane, was chosen humorously to acknowledge the possibility that, given the titans of long distance running participating in this year’s challenge, Ms. Nelson and her teammates will be the last to make it back on the plane. Theentry fee per runner, or team, is $35,000, which includes seats on the chartered plane, accommodation when necessary, all meals, and medical and support services.

The first marathon will take place at Novolazarevskaya, a private camp within the Antarctic Circle where the current summertime temperature is around 25 degrees. Ms. Nelson will run there in special shoes lined with Gore-Tex to deal with some of the most extreme weather on earth and the possibility of frostbite. 

Competitors are given eight hours to complete each marathon. Then, with barely enough time to catch their breath, they hop aboard the plane for the next continent, in this case, Africa. Wednesday’s marathon in Cape Town will be followed by an approximately 14-hour flight to Perth, Australia. 

After Perth, on Thursday, it’s a marathon in Dubai on Friday night — perhaps the only sane part of the day to run in desert heat. On Saturday, Feb. 3, the team lands in Lisbon, Portugal, for the European race, and later that day is off to Cartagena, Colombia, for Sunday’s marathon, number six. On Monday, they will be off to Miami, where Ms. Nelson looks forward to the final finish line, as well as the arms of her husband and other family members.  

Ms. Nelson said other teachers at the school have found ways to incorporate the event into the curriculum. “In math classes, students will calculate my pace per mile and the rate of change from marathons one through seven. In science, they’ll learn about cellular respiration and lactic acid. . . . In Spanish classes, they even used my training schedule to learn the days of the week.”

“I am really inspired by all Ms. Nelson has done and accomplished,” Lua Li, a seventh grader, said. “She is a hard-working and enthusiastic teacher, which is great for me and my classmates.” However, Lua also admits that she thinks running all those consecutive marathons is “really crazy.”

A Smithtown native, Ms. Nelson has been a  runner and athlete since the age of 11 when she began running road races with her family. Today, at 31, she somehow finds time to run about 50 miles a week, teach, and coach sports. Last January, she completed her first marathon, the Dopey Challenge at Walt Disney World, which consisted of a 5K, 10K, half-marathon, and full marathon over four consecutive days. 

One of the objectives of the race is to raise money for charity. Hold the Plane has listed 11 organizations and a goal of $2 million. To date, 59 percent of that amount has been raised.

To follow the East Hampton teacher during the world marathon challenge, visit: runmsnelsonrun.com