Global Marathon Travels: London

Born one of 15 children to a poor family, living in a small town in Indiana, and working for the same company for 30 years, Floyd Miller saw himself as “just a plain, ordinary guy.” 

He’s no ordinary guy any more. One click on a website changed his life.

Arriving in his office at 4:30 one morning in 2007, Miller poured himself a cup of coffee and turned on his computer. He was early for work and had a few minutes for himself.

As a hobby runner, Miller was browsing a marathon tours website when a link to the Seven Continents Club caught his eye.

“So I clicked on to that, and it gave me the idea of running all 7 continents,” said Miller. “At that moment I said: ‘That’s what I want to do.’”

Within 3 1/2 years, Miller had finished marathons in North America, South America, Europe, Asia, Africa, Oceania and Antarctica.

His adventures included collapsing with dehydration in a marathon along the Great Wall of China and fearing attack from wildlife during a safari-park marathon in Kenya.

Each trip was organized by the Boston-based Marathon Tours & Travel, which set up the Seven Continents Club in 1995 after the inaugural Antarctica Marathon made it possible for marathoners to conquer the distance on all 7 continents.

Miller is one of 238 runners who have finished a marathon on 7 continents and on Sunday at the London Marathon he will pass the halfway point in his latest quest – to complete the so-called World Marathon Majors series.

The World Marathon Majors comprises the 5 biggest hitters in international marathons – Boston, Chicago, New York City, London and Berlin. Miller completed Boston in April 2007 and Chicago in October 2006.

It’s some travel accomplishment – in air miles, sea miles and foot miles – for a man brought up in insular surroundings in Goshen, IN. A man whose idea of travel used to be 5 miles to the local grocery store.

“I was raised in the Amish way, very secluded from the world,” said Miller. “We were a very poor family, lived a very [sheltered] life. It was a simple lifestyle, very laid-back, living off the land. Just before I got married, I broke away from that but, even though I did, my concept of anything outside that world was very small.”

Miller had no idea of the running opportunities overseas. “I didn’t realize they had marathons in places like London and Paris, I didn’t know those things,” he said.

“It was very overwhelming to me to realize that I could someday cross the waters and find a marathon.”

Miller spoke of his running adventures in a downstairs lounge of his hotel, the 4-star Park Plaza Westminster Bridge before we went on a 45-minute run. He mentioned a desire to finish the London Marathon in around 4 hours. For a brief horrific moment, that goal looked in doubt as he crashed to the ground crossing a busy road as he tried to stop abruptly while entering an intersection. Thanks to a gap in traffic, he only banged his knee and avoided serious injury.

Miller’s most memorable running experience was the Antarctica Marathon, reached by refurbished Russian cruise ship in a 46-hour journey from Ushuaia, South America’s southernmost city, across the Drake Passage, through some of world’s roughest waters.

“It was like stepping onto a different planet,” said Miller. “We had glaciers, mud over the ankles, sucking the shoes off some runners, but it was beautiful in the sense of being untouched or unspoiled.”

Scott Guillemette, general manager of Marathon Tours & Travel, says it is the one race that his company organizes and Thom Gilligan, the company founder, is the race director.

“It’s an adventure marathon,” said Guillemette. “One year, in 2001, the captain deemed it unsafe to get people from the ship onto land in the blow-up boats because the water was too rough and we had to run the marathon onboard, 422 laps.”

Miller’s scariest experience was his safari marathon in which the 100 or so runners became scattered.

“You are all by yourself along narrow paths with deep grass, and it was an intimidating feeling that you are out there with no protection,” he said. “The wild animals run free, and you’re on their turf. Rangers and helicopters watch you but, just the day before, we went on a game drive and saw a cheetah go after a gazelle. You could see in a matter of seconds that you could get run down by one of them.”

Gilligan, a keen runner, founded Marathon Tours and Travel in 1979 after he took 6 people to the Honolulu Marathon. They organize trips to 22 marathons and have gathered 310 runners for the London Marathon. Those who conquer 7 continents become certified members, but the Seven Continents Club is open to anybody.

As general manager of a R.V.-manufacturing company, Miller says he earns “very good money” and can afford to continue to travel through running. “You build relationships with people on the other side of the world,” he said. “I can’t put into words how wonderful an experience it is, and focusing on the scenery helps you sometimes to forget the pain.”

At 63, Miller shows no sign of stopping. “I’ve thought about trying to do a marathon in every state, and if I do 5 a year I could do it in 10 years,” he said. “But my wife hopes I will quit after the 5 (Marathon Majors) and that she joked she is going to shoot me in the foot if I don’t.”

Just as long as a cheetah doesn’t get him first.

Devon, England-based writer David Powell is the former athletics writer for the London Times. He has run 11 marathons, including 4 in London, and boasts a personal best time of 2:26.

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