As he prepares for a busy week of flying worldwide as a passenger, Mike Allsop hopes his day job as an Air New Zealand pilot will bring some benefits.
"I am going to ask some of the flight attendants to massage my legs," he grins.
The 43-year-old father-of-three is embarking on an attempt to become the first New Zealander to run seven marathons on seven continents in seven days.
Right now, Allsop is waiting to start running in the bleak Falkland Islands, 500km from the southern tip of Argentina, where there's just one inwards flight a week.
But once he laces up his trainers, he's on a tight schedule to finish running inside seven days and 20 hours, and arrive at the finish line on Auckland's waterfront before 9pm on February 24. Again, his 27 years' flying experience has helped: he has tracked different airlines' punctuality records and packed his running gear in hand luggage so lost bags won't hold him up.
No stranger to adventure, Allsop has climbed Mt Everest several times. "This has a similar feeling to Everest - because when I decided to climb Everest, I had never climbed a mountain," he explains - a year ago he'd never run a marathon. "Luckily, I fell in love with climbing along the way and turned into quite a good mountaineer."
The record attempt is nine months late after Allsop suffered a back stress fracture in final training - running a marathon in the Himalayas, then trekking 100km with his then 7-year-old daughter Maia.
The crunch point comes in Los Angeles, marathon number three. Allsop's plane from Santiago lands at 7.15am, his departing flight to London leaves at 3pm. An Air NZ rep will hustle him through Customs. "Then as soon as I get a satellite signal [for his GPS], I'm gone," he says. He wants to run along the city's beaches - but if time gets tight, the backup plan is to jog circuits of the terminal before boarding.
In London, there's another swift start to beat the winter gloom as he runs along the Thames River, while in Casablanca, Morocco, another waterfront track awaits, taking Allsop past the city's Great Mosque. Hong Kong is a relatively relaxed affair: he has an overnight stop and 22 hours in which to complete his 42.2km.
Then finally Auckland, where Allsop will run from the airport, being joined by his mentor, veteran ultra-runner Lisa Tamati (for 30km), his wife Wendy (10km) and a stack of friends and family in the final few kilometres down to waterfront restaurant Jack Tar for the after-party. Allsop hopes he will raise $50,000 for children's charity KidsCan; without even advertising his cause he's clocked $13,500, including $10,000 from his supplements sponsor, Usana. Air NZ and Vodafone have covered all his travel costs.
He thinks he will be the sixth runner to complete the challenge and the first Kiwi - British explorer Ranulph Fiennes was first in 2003, Scottish doctor Andrew Murray the most recent, last December.
He's confident about the first two marathons and looking forward to the third in LA, so the fourth and fifth may be toughest. "If you say it [will be hard], it goes into your subconscious mind... so I'm picking England and Casablanca are going to be my best marathons," Allsop laughs. "There are no bad days on this event, but there are going to be a few character-building days."
Allsop, whose next challenge is to set a world record for the highest marathon with Tamati in the Himalayas in October, may have to draw on some of his teachings as a corporate speaker, where he talks about "taking big unachievable goals, breaking them down and believing in yourself".
"My favourite saying is ‘you don't know how strong you are until strong is the only option'," he says. "On Everest it's very true: when you're taking one step, five breaths, it's 9pm at night and you've got to go all night to get to the top, there's no option not to be strong."
- Follow Mike Allsop's progress and donate to his cause at www.777project.co.nz. And for an interactive graphic about his journey, click on the blue box below.
- Sunday Star Times
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