"I genuinely saw myself as an average girl from Scotland, living and working in London, who loves running, the outdoors and endurance. My PE teacher told me at school that I’d never be a sprinter so I should stick to the cross country field. Gradually over the years, the distances increased from 5k, to 10k, to half marathon, to marathon, to ultra-marathon, to stage day events."
Until recently, Shona worked for a large Investment Bank in London, spending most of the last ten years juggling running with heading up a large team in the City. Whilst financially rewarding, after meeting so many inspirational and charismatic people, Shona found sitting behind a desk in Canary Wharf somewhat meaningless.
Shona decided to move her career more in the direction of trying to inspire and encourage others to get active, no matter what their goal. Not everyone will want to run, not everyone will want to run a marathon, but even if you just move more, you’ll be rewarded. "I genuinely believe that so many people do not realise how good their body is designed to feel".
Why did you run 7 Marathons on 7 Continents?
People often ask me why I decided to run a marathon on every continent. There are a number of reasons but the simple answer is I love running and I need a challenge. Without something to aim for in life, I tend to get myself into a bit of a negative state. I don’t think I’m different from anyone else. We all need something to drive us forward, and for me, running provides direction, as well as that euphoric “runners high”
I ran my first marathon in New York in 2010, and despite vomiting and a fairly high degree of pain at mile 23, I really enjoyed it. At that time, I thought I would only ever run one marathon.
So you didn't stop there, what was going through your mind?
I thought it would just be something to tick off the life bucket list, but by the middle of 2011, I was suffering from a very bad case of post marathon blues. I was still running but with no real direction and I needed a challenge.
I started to look into other races but nothing was really exciting me. Picking a race is a lot like picking a puppy in my opinion. It chooses you, and not the other way round. For me, Comrades grabbed the laces of my trainers and challenged me to run it. Comrades is a very famous ultra marathon in South Africa. It’s 90k (56 miles) and runs from Pietermaritzburg to Durban. I read an article in Runners World about the race and within a few seconds of reading it, I knew I had to do it.
“Every run is a new adventure, and every race serves only to expose some piece of us. The greater the race distance, the deeper the unpeeling. This makes South Africa’s 55-mile Comrades Marathon a long and probing quest. The distance alone makes the Comrades intimidating. The infamous climbs make it torturous. Midway, the course snakes upward through the Valley of a Thousand Hills, an English appellation as accurate as it is terrifying”.
It sounded brutal but perversely that made me want to do it all the more. In order to run Comrades, I needed to run a qualifying marathon. I did some further research on potential qualifiers. It was at this time that I stumbled across the Antarctic Ice Marathon and the Seven Continents Marathon Club. The club is run by Richard Donovan and in order to be eligible to join it, you have to complete the Antarctic Ice Marathon, the only marathon run on the interior of the Antarctic, as well as a marathon on all the other six continents. This completely resonated with me. There are less than 100 members of the Seven Continents Marathon Club. No Scottish woman had ever done it. I decided that I needed to sort that out for Scotland.
My original plan was to run the remaining six continents in one year. However, the small matter of a full time career in an Investment Bank meant that, with North America already in the bag, it seemed more realistic to run three marathons in 2012 and three in 2013. Comrades was on the list for 2012, as was the Antarctic Ice marathon. The third would be the Comrades qualifier. If I trained properly and kept out the wars, I would run Europe, Africa and Antarctica in 2012, leaving South America, Australia and Asia for 2013. After two years the seven continents were ticked off:
- North America - New York (Nov 2010)
- Europe - London (April 2012)
- Africa - Comrades (June 2012)
- Antarctica - Antarctic (Nov 2012)
- South America - Rio (July 2013)
- Australia - Perth (Aug 2013)
- Asia - Vietnam (Sept 2013)
What were the lowlights?
It’s not been a walk in the park. I haven’t had it easy. I wanted to run Xiamen marathon in China in January 2012 as the Comrades qualifier. However, a foot and thigh strain ended that. It was upsetting pulling out after months of training but you’ve just got to accept it and move on. The lead up to London marathon in April 2012 wasn’t easy either as I didn’t know if I would be able to run it due to injury – if I couldn’t run London, Comrades would be out the question. That was a tough few days.
I’ve had a few cases of nasty shin splints. Of course, as most runners ignore medical advice, I carried on running and put myself on crutches for a month. I’ve had Osgood-schaltters disease and bone bruises and been written off for months. I’ve lost most of my toenails, which is the ultimate running badge of honour. I’ve had nosebleeds on runs. I’ve fainted and vomited yet I still go back for more because it gives me such incredible satisfaction.
What were the highlights?
Running in Antarctica was a very special experience. In fact, there is barely a day that passes that I don’t think about that race, which speaks volumes and is more than I can say about most things in life. The absolute unconditional support and spirit of the supporters on the Comrades route was very moving. Crossing the finish line in Vietnam was a pretty special feeling too. This experience hasn’t just been about running in some amazing places, challenging myself in cold, heat, humidity and altitude. Some of the people I have met along the way have overcome some truly remarkable feats. It has genuinely been an extremely humbling experience. I feel lucky to have been able to run all the places that I have, and very privileged to have met so many interesting and inspiring characters.
Running Mentoring and Inspirational Talks
I have set up a running mentoring school to support others on their running journeys. I am also visiting schools to do motivational talks to pupils, as well as evening lectures to inspire a broader audience. I’ve had my fair share of battles and hardships on my running journeys. Injury, illness, mental fatigue and physical fatigue have all been regular companions on her journey. However, I honestly believes that with the right support and mind set, anyone can achieve what they want to achieve in life, whether it be sporting or otherwise.
I was also greatly honoured to be asked to be a supporter, alongside several internationally renowned Scottish athletes, such as Mark Beaumont, Doctor Andrew Murray and Liz McColgan, for the Scotland 5×50 challenge 2014 aimed inspiring and encouraging Scotland to become more active by doing 5k of activity for 50 days.If you would like to find out more, please visit www.5×50.org/about/supporters
Scottish Adventure Award Short list
I was also hugely honoured to be nominated for the Scottish Adventure Awards in two categories – Adventurer of the Year and Inspiring Others Award. If you would like to find out more, please visit www.scottishadventureawards.com/2014/01/06/shortlist-announced
So What’s next?
In April 2014, I will be running a marathon at the Geographic North Pole. I hope to become the first Scottish woman to join the Seven Marathon Continents Club, as well as race at both poles.
Follow Shona Thomson on twitter to track her adventures or contact her for a proposal on her exciting sponsorship opportunities and get involved in her future adventures.
Image source: https://www.pinterest.co.uk/pin/402157441708850346/