On January 30, 2016, Becca Pizzi’s name broke across the news as the first American woman to complete the World Marathon Challenge: 7 marathons on 7 continents in only 7 days.
In only its second year running, the World Marathon Challenge spans the globe with marathons in Union Glacier, Antarctica; Punta Arenas, Chile; Miami, USA; Madrid, Spain; Marrakech, Morocco; Dubai, United Arab Emirates; and Sydney, Australia. Becca made history as the first American woman to complete the race, and she did it while smashing last year’s female winner, Marianna Zaikova’s record of 40 hours, 25 minutes by almost 13 hours.
Becca’s final collective time for the World Marathon Challenge was 27 hours, 26 minutes, and 15 seconds with an average marathon time of 3 hours, 55 minutes, 11 seconds. An even more astonishing feat when considering that Becca accomplished this in back-to-back runs while being shuttled by plane with 14 other runners nearly 23,000 miles across the world.
Her record breaking finish is naturally why people want to hear her story, but it’s Becca’s down-to-earth “every runner” attitude, boundless energy, and day jobs as a daycare owner/operator, ice cream store manager, and single mom to an energetic 8 year old that made her stand out as a real and relatable athlete.
And the media couldn’t seem to get enough of her. Even before the World Marathon Challenge started on January 23rd, Becca was featured in national publications such as People Magazine, The Wall Street Journal, and Runner’s World for simply entering the race. And following her record-breaking finish, she was featured in countless newspapers, Runner’s World and People Magazine did follow up articles, and even CBS This Morning came calling for an interview.
But none of this affected Becca’s down-to-earth attitude. A notable and beloved athlete in her hometown of Belmont, Massachusetts, the 35 year old’s running resume boasted 45 marathon finishes with 15 of those being at the Boston Marathon even before the World Marathon Challenge. Her 3:31:55 finish in April at the 2016 Boston Marathon now makes 16 finish line crossings.
Many articles covered the World Marathon Challenge and shared her running stats, but I wanted to find out more about the real Becca (her favorite dessert is ice cream), and what made her and her entry into the World Marathon Challenge unique. Here she shares some tidbits from her life and the race.
1. How did you fit in all your training while running a day care, managing an ice cream shop, and being a mom?
All of my training was done very early in the morning at 5 a.m. or when my daughter, Taylor, went to sleep at 8 o’clock at night. I didn’t want this [the training] to take away from her. I showed her the promo video from last year’s event, and asked her what do you think about this? She was like “Yeah, Mommy, you can do this!” She was on board, but I didn’t want her to wake up in the morning and me be gone, so I was very careful with when I was training. And that meant getting up very early or doing it at night.
2. How did you get sponsors to help with the World Marathon entry fee of 36,000 euro?
What I actually did was write to the race director of the Boston Marathon, Dave McGillivray, for advice. He said to forget the big companies, and instead think about the small companies that you can work with. First, I wrote to the electrolyte company that I was using, Ultima Replenisher. They were my first yes. I had also been using Dr Kool compression wraps, and I wrote to them and they were like absolutely yes, we would like to help. And then Lyon-Waugh Autogroup actually wrote to me (my boyfriend works for their company) saying we’d love to sponsor you. I was really careful with my sponsors because I knew that we would have to have great relationships, and I didn’t want more than three. And I couldn’t have been happier than with the three sponsors that I had.
3. Were there any moments of fear before the World Marathon Challenge?
No. I don’t know a lot of things, but I know running. I knew that I would be okay with the running. My biggest fear was actually being 16 days without my daughter. It was very, very hard. Luckily we were able to skype. Her school was so on board as well. Before the race I went into her class to talk about the continents. Then, the day I finished the race, she got to go over the loudspeaker and say “My name is Taylor, I’m in Ms. MacBride’s class, and my mommy finished strong today!”
4. You ran the marathon in Morocco at 11 p.m. How hard was that?
There was exactly 12 hours between the time I crossed the finish line in Madrid and the start of the race in Morocco. It was very important to me that I got a shower in between marathons because I never wanted to start one marathon without getting a shower. I just felt that I would be mentally thrown off.
So, I got my shower, and I told myself that I’m not racing these. These are like my long runs. Before the race, I had done so many doubles - running twice in one day - that it wasn’t foreign to me. It actually went smoothly. And I had my friend Janet there with me. She rode the bike and talked to me while I ran so that broke the run up.
5. Any funny things happen on the trip?
The funniest things were just so silly. Going through customs you’re kind delirious. The customs officers would ask where have you been in the last x number of days? And you rattle off “Antarctica, Chile, Miami, Dubai…” and they’re like…step aside. They asked, “Have you been to this place in Morocco?” And we’re like “I don’t know…have we?”
[Laughs] You’re so tired you just can’t think.
We also had dance parties in Antarctica out of pure boredom. We would get up and dance our hearts out. We went mountain biking in Antarctica. That was cool. It was just so fun and different. And we ate so much food in Antarctica and on the plane. I ate my heart out in desserts. We actually nicknamed the trip 7 marathons, 7 continents, 7 days, 7 pounds.
6. What was the best place you raced?
Antarctica. It absolutely was my favorite marathon. We ran on a glacier….which was so cool. I really enjoyed and loved it. It was beautiful with the mountains, but it was still very cold at - 4 degrees, and I don’t like the cold. But since the sun is out 24 hours a day, that felt nice in the cold.
7. You’ve referred to yourself as an “every runner.” What do you mean by that?
I love to run with anybody. I coach a recovery runners’ group, the Boston Bulldogs. I started a track club at Belmont High School. I run with some of my daughter’s friends’ moms in the morning on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. I have a Saturday training partner, a Sunday training partner…..so I’ll run with anybody anytime. Runners are so fun, and upbeat, and unique. That’s what I love about running.
8. Based on all the marathon notches that you have on your race belt, I’m assuming that 26.2 miles is your favorite distance for a race. Why marathons?
It’s the perfect distance for me! I was never a sprinter. I can’t run fast for a short period of time. But I have the endurance part of me because I like to run as long as I can. I always signed up for the two longest distances in high school and in college. I used to like to run the mile or the 2 mile in track. I couldn’t run the 800 to save my life, and I wasn’t interested in the 400.
9. What are your running gear brands?
Lululemon, all the way. I’m an ambassador for them. I reached out to them because I was wearing their products. I love their products. I feel like superwoman in Lululemon clothes. They’re comfortable, they’re the right compression, and they fit perfectly with the compression on the legs. Those are my pants and my shorts.
One of my sponsors, Dr. Cool has a company called CoolCore. And the shirts keep body temperature down by 30%. So, I was in their tank tops and shirts the entire time. Trained in them and raced in them. Great, great products. And they’re somewhat new in the market. Going forward I will always be in in those two, Lululemon and Coolcore.
I’m also a huge fan of Swiftwick socks for compression. I wore them the entire time flying, running, eating, and I never had a calf problem.
10. Before the World Marathon Challenge what was the most interesting or exotic race that you competed in?
For really being out there and different….the Midnight Sun Marathon in Anchorage, Alaska in 2015. They gave this if you see a bear tutorial at the start and I was like uh oh, I’m not going out like that. I remember thinking that this is very different from the Boston Marathon. But I didn’t see a bear during the marathon. It was light out 24 hours a day, and it was just so cool. Right now, I’m also doing the 50 states marathons. A marathon in every state. The beauty of it is that you get to travel to these really cool places. I saw Mt. Rushmore, and it was amazing!
And I would have never gone to see it if it were not for running a marathon there. But I always make the most of the trip, and I hit the ground running. I try and see as much as I can because I’ll probably never go back. That was a lot like the World Marathon Challenge. I was looking around and trying to make the most of each city because we averaged 10 hours per continent.
11. How do you think women can draw inspiration from your accomplishment?
It’s a goal of mine to inspire people. It’s my favorite compliment when people say that you inspired me. I’m living proof that you can do anything. It sounds like what I did is absolutely impossible. But you figure it out. When you put your mind to it, you can do it. I put my mind to it from the second I committed, and there was no turning back.
12. It’s going to be a challenge to “one up” your finish at the World Marathon Challenge. So, what’s next for you?
Going into this I knew there would be no way to top it. And there’s absolutely no way to top it unless I do it again and try to beat my own record. I asked the race director would you ever consider changing the courses and he said he would consider it. My rule is that I won’t run the same marathon twice (except for Boston) because the world is way too big. So, I won’t do the World Marathon Challenge again if it’s the same course.
But I thought it would be pretty cool to have a “next thing.” The race director puts on this great race, the Volcano Marathon, in Chile. I would love to run that. That’s not till November. I also want to finish out the 50 States. And I’d like to do an Ironman. I feel like I have a really good base from the last year of training. So, I would definitely like to do an Ironman within a year. Lake Placid is probably the one that I’m going to do.
It’s been such a fun year. And there was no looking back. When I first read about it [the World Marathon Challenge] I knew it was going to be epic. And everything just exceeded my expectations.
Nicole Smith is a professional by day, writer by night, and adventure junkie by weekend. A wandering nomad since birth (military family), Nicole currently calls Honolulu, HI, home. Surfing her standup paddleboard, exploring the islands, devising new schemes to visit far flung places, and planning adventures like alligator wrestling occupy most of her free time.