Sleep deprivation, massive temperature swings, dehydration and a side order of pain are all in Pushpa Chandra’s 60th birthday plans.
The Vancouver naturopath and grandmother officially reaches her sixth decade on Feb. 15, but the party begins in earnest on Jan. 30, when Chandra begins the gruelling, cross-continental exercise in endurance known as the 2018 World Marathon Challenge.
Covering seven continents in seven days, the undertaking begins in Antarctica before criss-crossing through South Africa, Australia, Dubai, Portugal, Colombia and Florida.
Chandra and 50 others will run a full marathon — 42 kilometres — each day over that week-long span, and the variables at play border on misery: 50-plus hours in the air, temperatures fluctuating between -20 and 50 C, and, if she’s lucky, roughly five hours of sleep a night.
“It’s eat, fly, run — there is no recovery time,” Chandra said. “You will be constantly jetlagged, you will be constantly stiff, you will be constantly fatigued from the marathon and also from sleep deprivation.”
Chandra’s pre-trip regimen consists of anywhere from one to six hours of cardio training per day. She’s also upping her intake of supplements to combat jetlag. Tangible training efforts aside, Chandra can lean on considerable hindsight to get her through. Her past marathon exploits have taken her to Mount Everest and the Sahara and Gobi deserts. She spent her 50th birthday running around the North Pole and last year took part in Morocco’s Marathon Des Sables, a 250-kilometre trek that has killed past participants.
As if those terrains weren’t bad enough, consider the flora and fauna along the way: waterways infested with crocodiles, poisonous snakes in sand dunes and sleeping near lions in the desert.
All of which begs the question: why?
“I feel that it’s not even about running anymore,” Chandra said. “It feels like I’ve gone through an experience in my mind. It really has nothing to do with cardiovascular endurance. It really is about discipline for my mind.”
Chandra visualizes racing similar to climbing steps: climb one, climb the next, repeat. She also relies on personal mantras that she recites when the going gets particularly tough:
“I’m a very fiercely determined woman.”
“I have the power within me.”
“I am a machine.”
Chandra’s selfless approach to running extends beyond mountaintops and glaciers. As part of her current fitness foray, she’s attempting to raise $30,000 for impoverished school kids in Mumbia, India. Plan International’s School on Wheels program funds a mobile classroom that reaches India’s most isolated children living in poverty. Raising $30,000 will get 60 kids into the program for one year.
“I hope my story becomes empowering for any woman out there, that if I can do this at 60 someone else can do it at 30,” she said.
Those looking to donate to Chandra’s efforts can do so online at shiftworkershealth.com/schools-on-wheels.