“Ordinary couple” set to achieve extraordinary goal

Stephen and Eleanor on the Great Wall of China while completing the Great Wall of China Marathon in 2013. The couple have a marathon on six of the seven continents and in November they are off to the Antarctic to tackle the last continents marathon.

The couple who reside in Hilton, have completed multiple Comrades Marathons as well as having run a marathon on six of the seven continents. This November, the husband and wife team are set to embark on the Antarctic Ice Marathon- one of the toughest marathons in the world.
By completing the Antarctic Ice Marathon, the couple will have completed the seven-on-seven challenge, an internationally recognised achievement of completing seven marathons on all of the seven continents.
Although Eleanor’s father is an avid runner, she had never envisioned becoming one herself until her husband Stephen started running with her father and began running the Comrades every year.
After supporting her husband on the side-lines for eight of his ten Comrades Marathons, she finally decided that she might as well join him on the race.  In 2004 and 2005, she ran her first two Comrades Marathons alongside Stephen, who ran his 9th and 10th.
2009 saw the start of the couples’ international marathon adventures, when Eleanor’s father who resides in England wanted to get his family together to run the London Marathon.
From then on they were bitten by the bug, and slowly but surely they started to tick more world marathons off their list.
“Once we did the London Marathon, I wanted to try the New York marathon. You meet people at the races that have done other marathons in other countries and they start telling you about them and recommending other races to you,” Eleanor said, adding that they both love travelling so they saw these marathons as a way to experience running in different environments and see other parts of the world at the same time.
After completing the London Marathon in 2009, the couple went on to run the New York Marathon in 2011, the Great Wall of China Marathon in 2013, the Sydney Marathon in 2014 and the Rio de Janeiro Marathon last year.
The couple, who have been married for 22 years in November, said that they have formed “amazing friendships with fellow runners from all over the world who they have met at races, and even bumped into again at other marathons years later.
“Every race has been a blessing, and a completely different experience from the last,” the couple expressed.
They have covered six of the seven continents including Europe, North America, South America, Asia, Australia and of course their home continent Africa. The only continent left to cover is the Antarctic, which they will be doing on the November 24th when they take part in the Antarctic Ice Marathon.
Rated one of the toughest marathons in the world and situated on the largest, windiest and coldest, driest and largest continent on the planet, they have undoubtedly saved the toughest for last. With average temperatures of -10 to -30 degrees and climatic conditions that are too cold for even wildlife to survive in, Stephen and Eleanor have had to take serious consideration of the environmental factors whilst training and preparing for the trip.
Stephen explained that training in itself comes with a number of challenges as it’s not just about being fit.
“In our training for the race, we have had to consider that we will be running 42 kilometres on thick snow means in expected temperatures of below -30 degrees,” Stephen explained.
The best way to prepare for the underfoot conditions in the Antarctic is to train on beach sand and so the couple have been frequenting the beach every second weekend for four to five hours.

To get their bodies adjusted to running in the cold climate, another aspect of their training includes training inside an industrial freezer which they will be starting shortly. “Training in the freezer will be a test to see how we can cope with the climatic conditions,” Stephen explained. We also need to try out all the layers that are required to be worn to stay warm in the Antarctic. No part of your skin can be exposed due to the risk of frostbite.

He said that while the flu has set them back with their freezer training, they are due to start making use of the industrial freezer within the next few weeks.

“Knowing how tough this marathon is going to be, we are training intensively to ensure that we can tackle whatever is thrown at us during the race,” he said, adding they feel that the past fifteen years of training for all the other marathons have definitely built them up for this last one.

“Our mind-set change towards our training came in April this year. Since then we have been training with the specific focus of the Antarctic conditions in mind,” he explained.

While they are anxious of the unknown, they are “super excited” because it will be a first, and in some ways a last, as this marathon will mark their completion of the seven-on-seven world challenge.

“We feel very privileged and blessed to have been given the opportunity to experience so many different places. I’ve had some terrific accidents in the past and have been told by doctors that I would not be able to run again, but yet, here I am, I’m a walking testimony to the fact that if the mind is willing, you can fulfil every dream,” Stephen expressed.

Eleanor said that the message they are trying to convey to everyone out there is that they are just two “ordinary people” working towards achieving their extraordinary dream.

“We’re just two ordinary people, Mr and Mrs Average. We’re not super fit exercise freaks, and we’re not front runners, we may lag at the back, but what matters most is that we are working towards reaching our dreams because we can! We are also doing it for all those individuals who can’t run, due to injuries or illness,” explained Eleanor, who said that although she is not naturally athletic, she has always run to stay fit and healthy.

Following the completion of the Antarctic Ice Marathon and their seven-on-seven challenge, the couple plan to use their journey to raise funds for charities close to their heart including Save the Rhino and Hospice by putting together a presentation that they can share with organisations, businesses and schools in an attempt to raise funds for charity.

The couple at the finish of the Sydney Marathon in

The couple at the finish of the Sydney Marathon in 2014.

The couple completing the Rio de Janeiro Marathon in

The couple completing the Rio de Janeiro Marathon last year.

Eleanor and Stephen Pienaar with their medals at the completion of the New York Marathon in

. Eleanor and Stephen Pienaar with their medals at the completion of the New York Marathon in 2011.

  AUTHOR
Jade le Roux
Journalist

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