Seven Continents Runner: Jeannette McAffer

Posted: January 31, 2016 in Interviews, Travel
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seven continents runner jeannette mcaffer

Jeannette McAffer is a senior Human Resources professional in Vancouver, BC…and one of just 154 women who are members of the 7 Continents Club – having run a marathon on every continent! I have had the pleasure of working with Jeannette for a few years, and I had always wanted to learn more about her running experiences. She is a huge inspiration – and graciously made time for this interview.

This post is the first in a monthly series profiling local Vancouver runners and their accomplishments. Stay tuned for more! The interview has been edited for clarity, and slightly condensed from our engaging conversation!

QUESTION: How did you get into running?

My first recollection (of running) was from high school…and I hated it…

When I was about 20, I was working for a lumber export company…and they had something called the Forestry Industry Run. I decided I was going to run it… my father-in-law at the time was a big runner, and he ran with me – it was my first race – a 10k around the Seawall…

I got out of running, had kids – life gets busy. And then if decided to get back into it. My sister and I joined the (Vancouver) Sun Run clinic. And that was the first of many Sun Runs that I did.

Jeannette McAffer

Jeannette – during internal travel to Japan!

I met my then-future husband at the time, and he was big into running. He had done about a dozen marathons by the time I met him. We started doing 10ks together, and then he suggested we go down to Vegas and do the half marathon. I thought, “Oh I can do a 10k, a half can’t be that bad” – but it’s realizing the difference from one distance to the next. It’s a fairly big step. I was humbled a little bit. I did pretty well…but it just about killed me.

EUROPE

Shortly after that half, which was in February, I ran my first marathon in April…I think we just kept training. We did that in Paris , so you can see the travel theme. I said, “I got sub-2 in my first half, so I’m going to aim for 4 hours.” And my husband said, “No, your goal is to finish – that’s all it is”.

I remember we got to the halfway point, and there’s about 30,000 runners in Paris, the streets are lined. And I was dying. You’re fighting with yourself. And passing me was a guy who looked to me about 80. Super thin, a singlet hanging off of him, short shorts – and he was passing me! And I just started laughing – this is crazy, how can this be? I found it hysterical. When you run, it’s a mental game. I just had to refocus and say, “Suck it up Jeannette, come on!” Eventually, I finished the race, which was the goal. I remember the last 3k, the crowds were amazing and cheered you on, and that’s what kept you going.

Q: Now one of the things that especially interested me in speaking with you is the fact that you’ve done a marathon on every continent. Can you tell me about how it came about and what that experience was like?

We were out for dinner with some runner friends and we’d heard about the 7 Continents Club. We made a pledge that night, over a little too much wine, that we were going to do it. An organization out of Boston called Marathon Tours…they’re the owners of the club. We used them for a number of the runs.

We’d done runs in North America and Europe, and then we had to tackle the next five continents. We always agreed we wanted to finish in Africa. We had to get a ruling on whether New Zealand would qualify as Australia – and it did, as Australasia – because our friend Michael was from New Zealand.

Q: Where did you run in New Zealand?

OCEANIA

We ran on the North Island at 90 Mile Beach (Te Houtaewa Challenge). You ran along the beach the entire time. The beach is a state highway – water on one side, the beach, and then sand dunes on the other side. It became like tunnel vision because the scenery never changed, which was really hard. There was no shade, it was hot – it was February, which is summer.

It was a small race, about 30 of us running the full. We were staying in a small town and had to get bussed out to the start line. But the driver got into soft sand and couldn’t go any further. So he told us we had to get out and walk! Our friends flagged down two girls in a pickup truck – so we all jumped in the back and they shuttled us the 8km to the start line.

The hard part was staying focused because of the sameness and the beating sun. It got to the point where if you saw a bird or a shell it was like, “Look what I get to see!”

Te Houtaewa Challenge

Jeannette completing the 90 Mile Beach Marathon!

Q: So we’ve got North America, Europe, Australasia…?

ASIA

For Asia we decided to do Dubai (Dubai Marathon). They had just started a marathon there. It was big, a race geared toward competitive runners. We’re usually mid-pack, but recreational runners were at the back of the pack. It was a straight shot out and back – at the side of the road, traffic, congestion and pollution – out to the Burj Al Arab hotel and back. It was kind of cool, you could see all the lead men packed tight, and the lead women packed tight – because we were still heading out! It was a different perspective and an interesting country to visit…I rode a camel!

ANTARCTICA

Then we did Antarctica (Antarctica Marathon). We had to sign up far in advance, and then we heard about another race in Ushuaia, which is at the southern end of Patagonia, where we were catching our boat from – that was one week later. So we made the call to do both on the same trip…two marathons in a week.

antarctica

Ushuaia to Antarctica – via expeditionsonline.com

It was an interesting trip – I was scared actually. You have to cross the Drake Passage, and a major storm goes through every 3 days…and it’s a 2 ½ day crossing, so chances are you’re going to hit a storm. We didn’t on the way down, but the seas are 12-14 foot swells, and a lot of people were seasick. I remember waking up the first night – we were in bunks on a Russian Research vessel – and I remember thinking like I was in a washing machine, going in circles…

They anchor just off of King George Island, an area where there are a lot of research stations. You have to take the zodiacs in. There were about 100 or so runners – and basically you run a big figure eight. The organizers go out and mark the course, which includes the mud fields – the mud is quite deep so you have to sprint through – a few people went slow, and the mud sucks your shoe off, and you have to dig it out.

[Tweet “”You’ve got to run your race, never run someone else’s race.” – Jeannette McAffer”]

It was interesting – it was about zero Celsius, and you’re really running on mud, or a kind of a slurry, or rocks, or streams, or ice – those are your options. Everyone was one to two hours longer than their regular time. It was hard mentally – we did the first figure 8 and started on the second, and that third loop was tough – my husband stayed with me and threatened that if I didn’t finish he’d make me come back and do it again! He helped me through it mentally. The last leg, he was struggling, so I helped him…

For the next week we toured around Antarctica and it was spectacular. The next day we went to Wilhelmina Bay. It was so great…ice everywhere, white and blue – the water was like glass, you could see to the bottom. Reflections off everything. As we pulled into the bay, whales came up to the side of the boat – then they’d go down and up the other side. You have all these runners who could barely walk were trying to get from one side of the boat to the other…it was quite funny. We were on the bridge looking down over the deck. It was quite spectacular…we had the most perfect day…the most glorious scenery ever, it was truly amazing…

 

SOUTH AMERICA

We took the boat back to South America. The race was called the End of the World Marathon (Maraton Fin del Mundo). There were only about 150 runners overall. We were in the chute and I had a Canada shirt on, and some local reporters had all these questions about how I liked their town. It’s the one marathon where if you wanted to feel like an Olympian – that was the one. We started running in a state park, and ATVs were filming and broadcasting live on Ushaian TV and following you along…

I remember we were at about the 30k mark and I was struggling, and I turned the corner and all I could see was a road and a hill. I remember saying to my husband, “You go”. I was walking up the hill, thinking I had just 10km left. So I placed myself on the Seawall, trying to understand where I was at. I regrouped and got back in my head. All these people were passing me up the hill, but I passed every single one of them! When you finish it was like you’d just won the Olympics – they put flowers around your neck and people are kissing you on the cheek, TV cameras everywhere!

We toured around for a few days, and my Achilles was still acting up. I remember taking a taxi and my legs were cramping up and I had to stretch out – so we opened the window and I stuck my leg out of the car. Any port in a storm!

AFRICA

The last one we did was Kenya (Safaricom Marathon). It was very special – but also at altitude, about 8,000 feet. We were there a week ahead of time to acclimatize, and did some training runs…

Basically you run through an animal conservancy. The day before, we were out on safari seeing rhinos and cheetahs and hyenas – everything under the sun. And the next day were running through the same place on the tracks made by the jeeps.  It was a big local fundraiser, with a half and a full. There were people running barefoot, one woman in quasi-heels, flip-flops, everything!

You do the loop, come to the finish line where the half marathoners finish, and go on again. We turned the corner, and there was nothing. We were in the savannah on our own. Every 3k you had water and guys with rifles. That morning they buzzed the course, doing low-level flyovers to scare animals away from the race course. It was a little freaky – it was different when there were a lot of people, thinking, “Well, I’d just have to outrun one of these guys!”

We saw some zebras and monkeys, but none of the big animals that we’d seen the day before, which was a good thing!

Kenya

Jeannette and her husband achieving 7 Continent status in Kenya!

Q:  Of all the races you’ve ever done, what has been your favourite?

My favourite run was actually a training run. We had come from the North Shore and run out to Jericho (Beach). We were coming back – it was early on a Sunday morning – and we were running along the water near Kits. We looked over toward downtown and there was a rainbow over the entire downtown area, and it was just spectacular. All the runs have their own qualities, but this run…you’re just glad to be alive. You see the water, the city, the rainbow – it was just beautiful.

Q: What is the best bit of advice you’d give to another runner – particularly someone starting off in their running career?

Learning to run and feeling confident and comfortable and not overdoing it – running’s hard. When you first start, a minute running and you’re out of breath and feel like crap. I really like the run-walk, and when we trained we did the 10-and-1 run-walk, or 20-and-1, depending on what we were training for. That’s a really good way to start.

I’m competitive by nature and I wanted to do well, but I wanted to enjoy it when I was out. It’s OK to push yourself a little bit, but don’t be crazy about it and injure yourself because that doesn’t help. I’ve seen too many people run too hard, too fast, too soon. And then shin splints or plantar fasciitis or something happens, you’ll pull something. Take it easy, enjoy it.

For me, travel is a great motivator. When you book 6 months in advance to run somewhere exotic, it’s really motivating. If you can do it, it’s a great way to see the world. Running is universal – it’s everywhere.

Q: What is the best piece of advice that you’ve received from another runner?

It would be from my husband with my first marathon – your goal is to finish…I hadn’t been running that long, within a year I’d gone from a 10k to a half to a full. It humbled me terribly. By the end, I was just happy I finished it, to get through it, and feel pretty good about it…

This was my motivation in Médoc (Le Marathon du Médoc). People dress up…there’s centipede categories and a whole bunch of different things. You run through the vineyards in the Bordeaux region of France…you go to all these chateaus and they serve you wine and paté and cheese. We ran the first half kind of ‘real’ and then we started to stop.

There was one running group…it was basically a big wagon…with a generator on top and a big inflated cow that would moo. It was 12 feet high, eight feet wide…and they were all pushing it. I was struggling because the day before they had the pasta party…and we got home at 2am…so we were all a little tired and thirsty. And I thought, “I’ve got to beat the damn cow!” So I’d pass the cow…and then the cow would come full steam ahead. So that was my competitive nature…I beat the cow!

Q: If you were to look back at past Jeannette, before you conquered the continents, what advice would you give yourself?

My advice would be…just enjoy it. I was thinking this morning – it’s 2016, and 10 years ago I ran New Zealand…the time has flown. And my husband can’t run anymore, that’s taken that part out of our lives. He’d love to come back…but now we have to do something else. Just enjoy it. And I think I was pretty good about this.

I remember in my early 20s…my mother-in-law at the time was running her first marathon, and I thought, “I could never run a marathon, ever”…but you can if you put your mind to it. Running – there’s a physical element to it, but it’s 75% mental. You’ve got to just stay in your zone. And you’ve got to run your race, never run someone else’s race. It’s your race…that’s how you’ll finish.

Q: Any final thoughts?

You can do it. If you want to do it, you can do it. I didn’t think for years that I could be a distance runner, and I did it. And find opportunities to help those who are just coming into it, to show them the way. It can be intimidating, you have some pretty fast runners out there. But I’ve always said this, “Look at that person. They just did it.” Not that they did it in 3 hours, they did it. And that’s all that matters at the end of the day, is that they did it.

Who is an inspiring runner in your life?

WeeklyWrap

Glad to join HoHo Runs and MissSippiPiddlin for their Weekly Wrap – and share this motivating interview!

Comments
  1. Great interview! Doing something like this is on my dream list. I love hearing about others who accomplished it.
    I also loved that her favorite run during it all wasn’t in a race but in a training run. That just shows her passion and love for the sport.
    Incredible lady, that she is!!! Thanks for sharing! !!!

  2. Love the idea of running on all continents! Someday 🙂
    Wendy @ Wholistic Woman recently posted…Weekly Update: Playing in the KitchenMy Profile

  3. Wow Bradley excellent job on this, she sounds like an amazing woman! She has really ran in some great places. I love the advice she got about having a goal just to finish! I’m there too! Thanks for linking this, so very interesting!
    Tricia@MissSippiPiddlin.com recently posted…Scenes From My RunMy Profile

  4. Karen says:

    What a fabulous post! Very very inspiring. I love it that as hubby and wife they share a passion and have all those great memories together 🙂 it would be so awesome to travel and run. Take it easy and enjoy it, is great advice. Oh, and two in one week! Wow!!

  5. Wow, what an amazing accomplishment! Jeannette is a true inspiration! I really enjoyed reading about her ventures and she offers great advice to runners of all ages and ability levels.
    Debra @HappyRunningSole recently posted…Big Beach Half MarathonMy Profile