Belgian enters the record books with 365 marathons in a year

Stefaan Engels adds new meaning to the word "globetrotter". The 49-year-old Belgian athlete, known as Marathon Man, has completed 365 races in a year, speeding through seven countries at the staggering rate of one 42km marathon a day.

At the weekend, he set a Guinness world record for consecutive marathons as he crossed the finish line in the Spanish city of Barcelona. He set out on 5 February last year from his hometown of Ghent and emerged more than 15,000km later at Saturday's Carretera de les Aigües race, pumping his fit, tanned arms and flashing a toothy smile beneath a shock of silver hair.

"It's been a very, very long year," he told the Spanish news agency Efe after the final stretch. Along the way, the former designer and sports promoter lost 15kg (33lb), destroyed 25 pairs of trainers and drew thousands of supportive runners to his side. His average time: four hours per marathon at the "slow" pace of 10km per hour. His best finish was 2 hours and 56 minutes. Exhausted just thinking about it? It wasn't so hard after all, he says.

"I don't regard my marathon year as torture. It's more like a regular job," he says on his website, which displays photos of the taut middle-aged man jogging along the beach in the Costa del Sol resort of Malaga. "I am running just as Joe Average goes to work on Monday morning, whether or not he feels like it. I don't always feel like running, but when I am done, I take a shower, have some physiotherapy for an hour, and that wraps up my day."

Engel ended his tour with races through 11 Spanish cities, from Madrid to Majorca. His itinerary included stops in the US, England, Portugal, Canada and Mexico, where he suffered from altitude adjustment and indigestion. "I was at 2,000ft above sea level and after two days, I couldn't eat," he recalled. "After surviving Mexico, nothing could touch me."

For energy, he feasted on pasta – or paella when in Spain – meat, fish and a little wine. "At first the doctors said you have to take vitamin supplements and follow a certain diet, but I just ate whatever I wanted," he told The Independent. He also slept up to 12 hours a night; his sole medicine: a daily aspirin.

Engels attributes his endurance to a quick recovery rate and a slow heart beat. "Many people get more stressed talking to their boss than I do running," he said. His 25 years of training also helped. In 2008, he set a world record for triathlons with 20 Iron Man races in 12 months. The key was determination. "It is more a mental story," he said. "The problem was thinking about running a marathon every day. I just told myself to run that day and did not think about the next day or next week."

Engels embarked on his quest to encourage others to achieve seemingly unattainable goals. "I also wanted to inspire people by showing that if I could run a marathon a day for an entire year, that anyone could run or bike a little each day or do something about their weight problem," he said.

Marathon Man began running in defiance of doctors' orders: he was told to avoid sports as a child because he suffers from asthma. When he is not panting past the orange groves in Murcia, he gives inspirational lectures. His book, MarathonMan365, is to be published in April in time for his 50th birthday. He will probably rest until then. "I don't think I'll take more risks with my body," he said. "It's tired."

Lighter on your feet

* As a way to lose weight, it is unbeatable. Stefaan Engels' 15kg weight loss, achieved despite the vast quantities of calories he will have been consuming each day, is testimony to that. A study of competitors in the 2009 TransEurope Foot Race, which followed a 2,800-mile course from Italy to Norway, found they lost 40 per cent of their body fat, most of it during the first half of the race. Despite the daily exercise, the athletes' leg muscles degenerated because of the immense energy consumption.

The most persistent criticism of running is that it damages the joints. In fact, although it is a high-impact exercise, people who run regularly have less pain and less arthritis than non-runners when they get older. However, the benefit is greatest for moderate runners – up to 20 miles a week. Engels may find his successive marathons leave a legacy he will feel for decades to come. JEREMY LAURANCE, HEALTH EDITOR

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

The Green Recruitment Company: Operations Manager - Anaerobic Digestion / Biogas

£40000 - £45000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Operation...

Recruitment Genius: Account Director - OTE £60,000

£40000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Inbound Sales Executive

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Inbound Sales Executive is required t...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE 40/45k + INCENTIVES + BENEFITS: SThree: The su...

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent