MADILL —  Throughout history, marathons have been used among athletes to test the mental strength and endurance of the world’s best runners.
Becoming an Olympic sport in 1896, runners from all over the world have trained all their lives to run 26.2 miles as quickly as possible.
Though he didn’t earn any Olympic gold medals for his recent feat, Dan Little, of Madill, just accomplished what some may argue is almost as impressive.
In the First Baptist Church of Madill’s Fellowship room, friends, family and coworkers gathered to hear Little speak of his recent accomplishment.
Little ran seven marathons, in seven days on seven continents from Jan. 31 to Feb. 6. Equally as impressive, Little accomplished this feat at 76 years old.
Originally an avid tennis player, Little used running during the winter break to stay in shape for the upcoming season. After his tennis playing days, running was a way to maintain his health and a great way to workout. For the last 38 years, Little has dedicated his free time to running.
Little has been practicing law at the Little Law Firm in Madill, where he has been since 1968. Even while at work, Little gets the itch to go out and get a quick run in.
“I can run in the morning, at lunch, sometimes after work, but I always workout,” Little said. “A typical day is running six miles. I used to pay attention to the clock but now I just go for the distance.”
At the age of 74, Little started running a marathon a month and later started running a marathon a week. During his time running, Little has logged more than 200 marathons and ultra marathons (50 miles plus).
Little was sent an article by a friend with a link to register for the World Marathon Challenge. Always the teacher, Little used this new challenge as a way to motivate his grandchildren.
“One of the things I try to teach my grandkids is FOF,” Little said. “FOF is an acronym for fear of failure. One thing I always wanted to teach my grandchildren was, never let fear of failure prevent you from trying something. So I looked at this and said, ‘there is no way I can finish this’ but I can demonstrate to my grandchildren that you try and practice failure.”
The journey began on the southern most continent in the world, Antartica. When the race began, the temperature hovered around freezing, but by the time Little was wrapping up the race it was 20 degrees below zero.
“The sun never went down, but it went low,” Little said. “But when it went low it got cold. When I finished, I went into this shipping container and shook for like 30-40 minutes. Was I hypothermic? probably.”
With no time to waste, the group of 41 runners loaded up onto the plane and headed towards Cape Town, South Africa. The southern most tip of the African continent was a stark contrast from the cold of Antartica, as temperatures reached 103 degrees.
After having no time to eat or recharge in between the races of Antartica and South Africa, Little had his most pleasant experience of the trip on the flight from Cape Town to Perth, Australia.
“Thank goodness the flight was 18 hours and, oh my gosh, did we ever need it,” Little said. “ The food was good for airplane food, but it was still airplane food.”
The Perth race began at midnight, and the runners ran along a river in downtown. The faster runners were able to get a bath while runners in Little’s group got to see the sun rise.
Heading to continent number four, the runners landed in Dubai for the Asia portion of the race.
“Everything in Dubai is new and beautiful,” Little said. “There was the tallest building in the world and we ran along the ocean.”
Needing the motivation to continue going, Little turned to music to help him along the way. The two songs of choice were “Ring of Fire” by Johnny Cash and “We are the Champions” from Queen.
“I don’t know, I heard those two songs probably six-hours straight,” Little said. “It helped.”
Up next, Little and company headed ten hours west to Madrid, Spain.
The Madrid course was the newest of all the marathons, located on the Madrid Formula race track. Not knowing that the course would be different than the Texas Motor Speedway he was accustomed to, Madrid ended up being one of the tougher courses on the trip for Little.
A message from back home helped to keep him going forward.
“About the middle of that race was probably the low point,” Little said. “ I was underdressed and it was cold, and then I received an email from back home. It was just a huge uplift to realize that Marshall County is watching me.”
Santiago, Chile was the sixth part of the tour. Running through downtown was fun for Little, but customs made the trip to South America difficult.
“They say the exhaustion is cumulative, but I disagree,” Little said. “The emotional part of it kicked in and you can feel like, I can do this.”
Excited to finish the trip, the runners headed to Miami for the final leg of the tour. Met by friends, family and a former college roommate, Little was able to see the finish line and accomplish his goal.
Seven marathons, seven continents in seven days.
The first thing Little did when returned to southern Oklahoma was to catch up on sleep. Averaging just around 3-4 hours of sleep per night while on the trip, Little said he slept 10-12 hours a day when he first came back due to sleep deprivation.
Though running seven marathons in seven days is quite an undertaking, Little is not done yet. He plans to run another marathon by the end of the month and get back on his marathon per week schedule.
The next goal for Little is to do the World Marathon Challenge again, just not right away. Little wants to take some time off from the challenge so he can enter the next age bracket at 80 years old.
“I am sure it will be a challenge, but I know what to expect now,” Little said. “ I do it because I love it, I used to do it for relief of stress and weight control, but in more recent years I just love doing it. You get all the health benefits but I just love to be able to do it.”