Ron Marinucci March Column
by Ron Marinucci, Mar. 7, 2016
Provided by Ron Marinucci
I’ve written about runners who have completed seven marathons in seven days and runners who have done seven marathons on seven continents. But I don’t remember doing any columns about a runner who ran seven marathons in seven days on seven continents!
During the last week of January, Cal Ramm, along with fourteen others, did just that. He ran seven marathons in seven days in Antarctica, South America, North America, Europe, Africa, Asia, and Australia—the World Marathon Challenge.
Ramm has his running roots right here in Michigan. “I started running,” he recalled, “in middle school, back in 2000, I think. It was a way for me to condition myself for basketball,” adding with a quip, “although I never made the basketball team.”
But he did “stick with running. I really liked track,” he said, especially the sprints. “They were fun events to run…and didn’t take much training.” At Grand Ledge High School, “I was hooked on both cross country and track.” He admits to running cross country “more for the people I got to run and train with. I never truly enjoyed running cross country, but there was no other good way to prepare for track.” Track, he ran “for the competition.”
As luck, bad luck, would have it, “I never got to run track my first two years” at Grand Ledge. A bone tumor on his hip required two surgeries and “quite a bit of recovery.” He wasn’t able to run until his junior and senior years, finally specializing in “the 800 meters and mile. I came back hard and fast and was able to do pretty well.”
Following an appointment to the United States Naval Academy, Ramm was on the running teams there, but acknowledged, “I was never a competitive athlete. I never traveled, only trained.” Attempting to change that, the summer before his junior year at Annapolis he accumulated more than 1,000 miles of training. “It was the first time in my life that I felt I was taking running seriously enough to be a competitor.”
Bad luck lurched again. The day before returning to the Academy, he broke his big toe—playing Frisbee! That again necessitated surgery and a cast that he wore for six months. “I took it pretty hard,” he recalled.
To get over “the mental blow” and motivate himself into training again, Ramm registered for the Marine Corps Marathon, six months away. He finished that, his first marathon, in 2:45. But that’s not the whole story.
His training for that was “to average eight to ten miles a day. Sometimes it was fast or what I thought race pace should be; sometimes nothing more than a jog.” And, the night before the marathon, “I had a military commitment. I got about one hour of sleep.” Not having run a marathon before, “I didn’t think it was a big deal.”
At the Marine Corps, he hit the half in 1:17:36. “It meant nothing to me. I felt good and, not knowing what was in store, continued on at that pace. By mile 22, I didn’t hit the wall; I almost hit the pavement! The last two miles I was barely conscious.” He collapsed at the finish line. “I was probably unconscious for three hours or so after the race. It was awful.” But he added, “I was hooked. All I wanted to do was go faster.”
Due to military (US Marine Corps) commitments, the next four years saw sporadic training, 200 miles some weeks, 50 others. He ran several other marathons, including one in Lansing, but “only improved my PR by about fifteen seconds.” He began to do some swimming and biking, adding some triathlons with high school buddies.
By 2015, he had joined the Marine Corps Running Team, “training competitively” with it. Then, “looking for a race to run in Antarctica, I stumbled across the ‘7 X 7 X 7,’” the World Marathon Challenge. “I couldn’t pass up an opportunity like that. So I signed up in January 2015.”
Doing some thinking, “I realized…this race couldn’t be about me. I couldn’t just run the World Marathon Challenge. My whole life I had been running for myself. I figured it was time to run for someone besides me. I knew it was time to use my passion for running to benefit others.” He chose “an organization that has already given me so much.”
He became one of the Semper Fi Fund’s community athletes, a charity founded to support U.S. Marines. Ramm explained, “Running has always been much more than a hobby for me. It’s been a venue to vent my frustrations, clear my head, and help sort out all of life’s challenges through the miles and miles spent with nothing but the pavement and my thoughts. It’s a natural healing process. The Semper Fi Fund does a great job of capturing that for the service members it supports. Instead of just helping them on one occasion or for a short stretch, it provides individual opportunities to heal daily through sports programs, recovering through athletics. I believe there are few better ways to heal, especially for members of the armed services. The Semper Fi Fund gives service members the opportunities to put sports back in their lives and you can’t put a price on that.”
Ramm trained from February to October, but not specifically for the WMC. As part of the Marine Corps Running Team, the 2015 Marine Corps Marathon was the priority. It was “more important.” Besides, he figured he “couldn’t really train for an event like the World Marathon Challenge.”
Things fell apart again, though. A pinched nerve in his foot caused him to drop out of the Marine Corps Marathon at mile 16. “By mile 10, I knew I was in trouble and I had to back out. I was crushed.”
He took three weeks off to let his foot heal, but the malaise “hung over me. I wasn’t too worried about not being in shape. I figured, with years of training, I could bounce back pretty quick.” That was physically “bounce back.” It was his mental state that gave him pause. “Not finishing my last marathon and knowing I was now going to run seven in a row was daunting.”
“In the end,” though, “it was about the Semper Fi Fund. Whatever happened I could make it across the finish line seven times, even if I had to walk. I knew I couldn’t let them down.”
Healed, he continued his training, “most of my weekly mileage hovering in the 90-mile range, without speed work. I felt good. By the time I was packing my final items for the flight to South America, I was happy with my level of fitness and looking forward to whatever the World Marathon Challenge had in store for me.”
He was pleased to discover “the WMC took care of all the logistics. It did a great job. I never worried about not hitting a deadline or missing a flight. The director, Richard Donovan, had my complete confidence. He and his team did an outstanding job. I only had to really worry about my running.”
A flight to Punta Arenas, Chile led to another to Union Glacier in Antarctica. The whole team spent “just about four days there. It might have been three. The sun never really set, so I have no idea.” Helping with another event, the Antarctica 100K (“It was fun to watch.”), he had “some time to acclimatize.”
The Antarctica Marathon was four laps of a course on Union Glacier. Ramm and a fellow Marine, “who became my running companion for the duration of the trip,” crossed the finish line together. Their 3:31 set a course record. “It was a good way to start.”
Waiting for the rest of the team to finish, within hours it was back to Chile and Punta Arenas. He caught a little bit of sleep and grabbed an ice bath. “I woke up ready to run, [but with] a pretty bad headache.” Hence, he ran “a conservative pace, but by the end my competitive nature took over. I put in a few sub-5:40 miles.” That allowed him to finish in 3:13, “a little faster than I would have liked, but happy overall.”
Not flying out until the next day, the team slept its longest, “ten hours,” and enjoyed pizza and few beers. Miami, Florida was next. The course was four repeats of an out-and-back stretch of the South Beach Boardwalk. There were no major problems and his once-again conservative pace led to a 3:28 finish.
“Fatigue was starting to set in,” he admitted, but there was no time to rest. It was off to Madrid, Spain. Within fourteen hours of finishing in Miami, he started “the ten-lap out-and-back course through a scenic park” in the Spanish capital. “It was “nice, but the hard running surface took its toll.” A sharp pain in his shin appeared at twenty miles. “Some icy hot-like cream helped a bit,” he said, and he came across the finish line in 3:39. “I knew I was probably in trouble.” What he didn’t realize was that the shin pain was the beginning of a stress fracture.
The team had 90 minutes to catch the flight to Morocco, which took another 90 minutes. An hour later, in the dead of night, the marathon in Marrakesh started. The course, “ten laps around a city lot,” wasn’t friendly. “The surface was a mix of asphalt, brick, and tile.” By mile nine, Ramm was hurting, so much that “I took the patella band I was wearing on my knee and wrapped it around the shin, where it hurt.” This helped him finish, in 3:33. “But the damage had been done. I knew I had something other than shin splints.”
“We had a pretty good flight between Morocco and Dubai, but it didn’t really help. Neither did the four or five hours we had after landing.” It did allow him to eat and once again ice his legs. Early in the ten-lap race, the shin pain was joined by a swollen ankle. He applied more ice and compression wraps and too some pain-killers without much effect.
He actually thought of walking the rest of the marathon, thinking he could still finish within the eight-hour limit. But he came upon another option. “I made an odd choice.” He removed his shoes, running barefoot. He doesn’t know why or how, but that worked. “I continued to run…and run.” At mile twenty, he put on his shoes again and tried running with them. He felt good enough to average sub-eight minute miles to the end, leading to a 3:58. He was “happy with my efforts and even happier to have a fourteen-hour flight” to Australia, the last marathon.
The race in Sydney was a thirteen-lap brick course on Manly Beach. After what he called “some crazy thoughts,” he realized that “finishing was all that really mattered.” With the help of some ibuprofen and anti-inflammatories, he just ran the race comfortably. His last marathon’s time was 3:38.
The “crazy thoughts” weren’t over. WMC ended “faster than I anticipated. I was actually more bummed out that the races and experience were over than I was happy to have finished all of those races.”
Thanks again to director Donovan and his team of organizers, flights and other timetables were met without much problem. And, due to the nature of the event, seven marathons in seven days on seven continents, rest and food weren’t problems either, at least not problems in that there wasn’t much time to take care of them. What little sleep came was usually on the planes. Flights ranged from an hour and a half to fourteen hours, with three of them about seven or eight hours. That was pretty much it for sleep time.
And, again due to the time constraints, eating often took place in airports, “any sort of greasy fast food I could get my hands on.” Ramm also admitted, “I had a beer or cocktail or wine at each location, post-race,” quipping, “I couldn’t do the World Marathon Challenge without trying the local spirits!”
Much of his diet included many protein bars and energy gels, along with water, sports drinks, and an occasional energy drink. He said it was “a strange diet, but being a Marine I was pretty used to it. I was never really scrambling for food.”
At the end, Ramm acknowledged, “The reality is I will always be a runner, looking for events to push my limits. But this time it was worth something more than any medal or record could ever be. Those dollars [that he raised through the Semper Fi Fund] meant something to someone. They helped people who did more than I ever did during any of those races.”
Donations to the Semper Fi Fund can still be made at https://fundraising.semperfifund.org/fundraise?fcid=411080.