Traveling the world 26.2 miles at a time
Local marathoner Ed Sylvester has featured in The Union in past years for his trips around the world to compete in and finish a total of 20 marathons on all seven continents.
Now, Sylvester, at age 68, has added what is billed as “the toughest marathon in the world” to his running resume.
On July 5 this year, he ran the fifth annual Nanuvet Midnight Sun Marathon in the Arctic.
Sixteen hard-core marathoners, with a total of roughly 630 marathons completed between them, braved the Arctic weather (windy and below freezing) and terrain, with only 12 finishing the hilly and barren course, with Sylvester in sixth place.
When the comment was made that photos of the race course seemed like the surface of the moon, Sylvester laughingly replied, “It was, absolutely! The biggest plant I saw was a poppy about four inches tall. The ground was frozen, with winds from 20 to 30 miles an hour. The highest temperature they expect on the hottest day this coming summer is 41 degrees. There were no hotels or restaurants in the area.”
He remembers the last six miles as being brutal, and he was so happy and relieved to finish, after which he was rewarded with the unique experience of having a bowl of caribou stew.
Sylvester started running in 1982, when he was 46, thanks to running friends who talked him into participating in the Bay to Breakers race in San Francisco.
“We spent about a month getting ready for the race,” he remembered. “It was a unique experience with all the thousands of people. There was so much energy and it was infectious. I really liked it.”
After breaking a leg in junior high school, Sylvester had avoided contact sports and never got into running in school. He kept running after his first race, though, competing in a 10k, and then running the 1983 San Francisco marathon.
“I had a tough time,” he recalls. “I didn’t realize that, after breaking my leg, one leg was over half an inch shorter, so it was tough completing that race.”
After getting orthotics (custom-made arch and foot supports) to take care of that problem, he read in “Runner’s World” in 1984, about Marathon Tours & Travel putting together a trip to Athens to run a marathon on the original route from the town of Marathon to Athens.
At that time, Sylvester hadn’t traveled much, and had never been to Europe.
He decided to go to Greece, and was thrilled to finish his second marathon in the Olympic stadium in Athens.
That experience opened up a new world of travel and races around the world for Sylvester, who made a goal for himself to run marathons on all seven continents, which he completed in 2000.
“I was the fourteenth person to ever do that,” Sylvester stated matter of factly. “I kid my wife, Bernadette, and tell her I run because it gives her a new place to shop.”
A partial list of his marathon accomplishments, with his fastest being 3 hours, 54 minutes, include one in Antarctica in 1995, the 100th Boston Marathon in 1996, along with races in Paris, Venice, Berlin, Jerusalem (complete with guards equipped with Uzis), Kenya, Easter Island, Turkey and New Zealand.
What’s next for Sylvester – who calls himself an “adventure runner” – who just wants to finish his marathons and enjoy the experience?
“I want to keep running,” he said. “It’s really important to just keep going, and having at least one marathon per year gives me a great carrot, since we love to travel. The next one I’d like to do is next February in Katmandu, in Nepal, since I’ve never been there.”
Has he ever been worried about his safety running in foreign countries?
“I figure, who’s going to bother a guy running through the streets in his underwear?” he said, laughing.
Sylvester, only a couple of years away from hitting the seven decade mark, is still going strong, running three or four times a week, with a long run of about 10 miles every weekend and three to five miles on the other runs. He also tries to hit the gym twice a week to work on weights.
“I look around at my contemporaries, who aren’t runners and am grateful for all the vitality and energy running gives me,” he said.
And regarding the camaraderie among runners, he added, “When you travel around the world, whether you speak the language or not, it doesn’t matter, when runners pass each other, they wave and acknowledge each other.”
Sylvester just came back from a trip to the Amazon in Peru, and seeing the children with so little to wear, came back and sent a care package.
“I came back and boxed up about 100 of my race T-shirts and sent them to Peru, asking the tour people I knew to give them to the kids in that village,” he said. “I’d love to have a picture of those 100 kids running around in my race T-shirts!”
Sylvester’s fantasy goal is to keep running long enough so that technology will advance to the point where there can be a marathon on the moon, where lower gravity will allow him to eclipse his own personal best time.
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