Belgian enters the record books with 365 marathons in a year
Monday 07 February 2011
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
Latest in Sport
Arsenal players boo chief-executive Ivan Gazidis after being told they would not get bonus for FA Cup triumph
Brendan Rodgers future: Odds shorten on Liverpool manager being sacked, despite Jurgen Klopp announcement
Liverpool close in on James Milner signing but baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
Fifa corruption: Europe plots to stage an 'alternative World Cup' in place of Russia 2018
Betting company 'refuse to pay' after student wins £1,000 from 50p bet on Roger Federer
- 1 Man on naked bike ride gets ejected after becoming aroused
- 2 Fifa corruption: Europe plots to stage an 'alternative World Cup' in place of Russia 2018
- 3 How much sex should I be having?
- 4 Jaden Smith wears gender fluid dress to high school prom with Hunger Games actress
- 5 Betting company 'refuse to pay' after student wins £1,000 from 50p bet on Roger Federer
Migrants in Kos: Photos show real tragedy after Brits abroad complain of 'awkward' holidays
British tourists complain that impoverished boat migrants are making holidays 'awkward' in Kos
Michael Gove determined to scrap the Human Rights Act – even if Scotland retains it
Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination
Threat to scrap Human Rights Act could see UK follow Nazi example, warns UN official
Why this year's general election was the most unfair in Britain's history
£26000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A luxury beauty house with a nu...
£8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This company are currently recruiting new exp...
£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This award winning Property Man...
£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has ari...