Completes seven marathons on seven continents in seven days

If anyone had wondered why Dave McGillivray had been a bit of sourpuss the last few months, there was a reason. He was, admittedly, scared.

The challenge of challenges, at least in his book, the World Marathon Challenge, was hovering over him — seven marathons, on seven continents, in seven days.

McGillivray, with clanging medals to prove it, did it.

He ran 26.2 miles in consecutive days in Novo, Antarctica; Cape Town, South Africa; Perth, Australia; Dubai, United Arab Emirates; Lisbon, Portugal; Cartagena, Colombia; and Miami in the United States.

“In fact, it was really seven marathons, in seven continents, in six and half days. We finished it a lot earlier than we were supposed to,” said McGillivray, who acknowledges that his mood had changed as he faced these races.

“I’d been a different person,” he said. “I was in a shell, protective and quiet about this. I didn’t let a lot of people know. There was pressure enough. I didn’t want to impose added pressure on myself.”

This coming from a man who has run across America (averaging 50 miles per day); run the length of the East Coast; completed 24-hour runs, bike races and swimming events; who has run the Boston Marathon for 45 consecutive years; and who, since he turned 12, has celebrated his birthday by running a mile for every one of his years.

The World Marathon Challenge — which, in its fourth year, involved 51 runners including McGillivray — presented a new kind of barrier for the veteran endurance athlete.

Despite the enormous amount of training, his concerns were many. There was his age (63), his health (heart disease), his lingering injuries (back, knee), weather, meals, sleep deprivation, and much more.

All of that came into play, he said, as well as sleep deprivation. (He averaged about three hours per day.)

McGillivray said his nerves got the best of him, even in the days before the start, while the group was still planning in Cape Town.

“There were tours set up to see (Nelson) Mandela’s prison cell, the penguins, etc.” he said. “I went on them but my mind was on challenge. When we got back from one of the tours, I couldn’t find my cell phone.

“I ran outside the hotel looking for the bus,” he said. “The bus had already left. It was in some garage a few blocks away. I was yelling and screaming, thinking I’ve lost all contact with the world.

“Then, I get to my room, and my phone is there.”

Ironically, McGillivray’s best race, from start to finish, was the first one, in Antarctica.

Potentially frightening conditions never emerged, other than some chilly winds late in the run.

“It was the highlight of the trip,” he said. “Why would I ever go to Antarctica? Yet, here I was at the end of the earth, running a marathon. It hit me there how special this event was.”

While McGillivray believed he was prepared physically, the mental part was the bigger challenge. He focused not on winning, or running for a respectable time, but on a steady effort.

“Normally, you run for today, leave it all on the line and then recover,” he said. “But this is different. I was always running for tomorrow. If I’m out running and somebody passes me, I usually try to catch them. Here, I didn’t do that. I just said to myself, ‘I’ll get him tomorrow.’”

The races weren’t like typical marathons, run over a long course around a city. These were done in shorter loops, sometimes back and forth.

Most were run in places where the natives went about their days unaware of the “challenge” taking place around them.

“That was the funny part,” said McGillivray. “We would run, running around people on sidewalks. They had no idea we were on this huge personal challenge.”

They got the opposite reception at the Miami International Airport. The runners’ families and friends met them with balloons and flowers.

“It was like we were coming home from a war. It was strange,” he said. “The only problem was we weren’t done yet. I didn’t want to be a party-pooper, but we had one more marathon left.”

McGillivray was met by his wife, Katie, who has been a big supporter of his in this “conquest,” and two partners in his business, Dave McGillivray Sports Enterprises. In fact, Katie ran a lap with him in Miami, with about seven or eight miles to go.

“I owe her so much for her support,” said McGillivray. “If she wasn’t behind me, allowing the massive amount of training needed, I couldn’t have done this.”

Unlike most people who accomplish a huge physically and mentally challenging event, McGillivray said he doesn’t get emotional. He is simply satisfied.

“I made a commitment to do something that is very difficult, and I was lucky enough to get it done,” he said.

McGillivray said this was not a life-changing event, though he had a lot of time to do some soul searching.

“I think I’m going to slow down a bit and try smelling the roses more,” he said. “I’ve been doing these kinds of things my entire life — and I’m glad I’ve done them. Even though it is who I am, filling a void, it got me thinking that I’m missing out on some other things. That’s where I am right now.”

So, McGillivray will probably run his 46th consecutive Boston Marathon in April, but he probably won’t be searching for the next mountain to climb.

“I hope I don’t get amnesia about these thoughts,” said McGillivray. “I’m glad I did it. But more importantly, I’m glad it’s over. I can smile now.”

Seven marathons

Dave McGillivray, of North Andover, breaks down each of the seven races he completed as part of the World Marathon Challenge, from Jan. 30 through Feb. 5.

Novo, Antarctica

It was the highlight of entire trip. The temperature was about 15 degrees and the windchill probably was about 10 degrees. Here I was running at the end of earth, running on desert. It’s almost the same feeling I had running (a marathon) at Fenway Park, with those many laps. There was some slipping and sliding. The traction wasn’t great, like packed sand at the beach.

Cape Town, South Africa

It wasn’t the best venue. It was near the ocean. The loop course was pretty boring without much scenery. My biggest fear was going from a “freezer” in Antarctica to the “furnace” in South Africa. But it wasn’t that bad at night, when we ran.There was a little, 10-by-10-foot popup tent with snacks and water. Like a lot of our courses, the natives had no idea what we were doing.

Perth, Australia

We got off the plane and the course was almost right there. It was about 10:30 p.m., their time, when we started. Toughest part of this was it took a few hours to set up. We waited a few hours. It was the most normal conditions of all. I felt good running. It was my best time of all the races. It was a watershed race for me when I finished because I felt strong after the race.

Dubai, U.A.E.

This was an eye-opener. We pulled into the international section of the airport and you could see there was a lot of money in this country. They picked us up in a nice bus. We got real food. It was the second night run we had, starting about 9 p.m., which was two hours later than scheduled, near the ocean. We ran by a lot of party-goers, music, drinking, etc. We were all finished there around 3 a.m.

Lisbon, Portugal

Another night race, this was interesting. It rained a little bit, which made the streets very slippery. It was the most unconventional course of trip, with streets having cobblestones, brick, wood boardwalk and pavement. It was hard getting used to all of the multiple surfaces. For me it was the toughest race because my quadriceps started feeling rock hard. I was more shuffling at the end instead of running.

Cartagena, Colombia

It was Super Bowl Sunday, so I wore my Patriots hat while running. This was the most unorganized of the races. It was another night start. And it started a few hours late, which was fine with me because it was 93 degrees in the afternoon. We started in the Old City, which was walled off from other parts of the city. Several runners got lost because the course wasn’t well-marked. Honestly, it was a little scary in the city, not feeling 100 percent safe. It was the one race we’d run in groups. I ended up stopping to figure out how far I had run. I ended up running a few extra miles, we figured.

Miami, Florida

My shin bothered me in Cartagena, so about halfway into the race, which was five loops of 5.2 miles. I stopped for the doctor and he recommended I take an anti-inflammatory drug. I did. And it helped my shin but killed my stomach. I was in a lot of pain. I struggled for most of the race. My wife, Katie, who met me in Miami, ran a few miles with me. I apologized because I was running so slow. But then, for some reason, the last loop I was the strongest I had ever been for all the races. I ran a sub-9-minutes (per mile) over the last five miles. It was an incredible feeling, to finish strong. I was really proud of myself there.