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Seven Marathons, Seven Months, Seventieth Birthday

By Hal Higdon

7 marathons in 7 months to celebrate my 70th birthday and help raise $700,000 for 7 separate charities

In celebration of my 70th birthday last summer, I decided to run 7 marathons in 7 months and help raise a total of $700,000 for 7 separate charities and organization. That task is now complete, and I am happy to state that $916,000 was contributed to 7-7-70 as of February 1, 2002.

First of the "7" in 7-7-70 was Grandma's Marathon in Duluth, Minnesota, one day before my 70th birthday on June 17, 2001. The 7th and final was the Disney World Marathon in Orlando, Florida on January 6, 2002. In between, I ran in Australia, Chicago, Indianapolis, Honolulu and Columbia, Missouri. The charities I chose included mainstream charities such as the American Heart Association and the Alzheimer's Association, but also on the list were the National Cartoonists Society, Carleton College (my alma mater) and Opportunity Enterprises, an organization in Valparaiso, Indiana that provides services for people with disabilities.

Money per mile

Using marathons to raise money for charity has become very popular in the last half dozen years. Indeed, it has helped fuel the current running boom. The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society has been particularly successful, raising tens of millions of dollars each year through its Team in Training. Other charities have followed suit. Prevent Blindness America named me National Spokesperson for its Team 20-20, which also was part of my motivation in doing 7-7-70.

The way it works is that the marathoner writes his or her friends and asks them to pledge so much per mile for the marathon run. Once the marathon (or, in my case, marathons) is run, the final sum is collected. For several marathons I helped train other charity runners, whose efforts multiplied mine. I should add that I used none of the funds collected for my own expenses; I covered those out of my own pocket.

Certainly, the challenge of training for and finishing all 7 marathons as well as raising that much for charity motivated me through the year. In pushing myself to maintain a high level of fitness, I've often sought different challenges. Earlier in my career, it was to win world and national titles, but all of my goals have not been linked to competition. One year, I ran the length of the state of Indiana, 350 miles in 10 days. Another year, my wife Rose and I participated in RAGBRAI, the (Des Moines) Register's Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa: 450 miles in 7 days. To celebrate my 60th birthday, I ran 6 marathons in 6 weeks.

Facing the challenge

But what to do for my 70th birthday? Doing 6-6-60 a decade ago had proved almost too great a challenge. Running one a month seemed more doable. When I began planning 7-7-70, it was mainly for the self-centered goal of proving I could run that many marathons within a certain period of time. The idea to dedicate the marathons to 7 different charities came after a friend of mine, Bill Fitzgerald, ran 50 miles in the fall of 2000 to raise $15,000 for Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago. When I learned of Bill's achievement, a light bulb went off over my head. I made 7-7-70 my New Year's resolution for 2001.

I delayed telling too many people until I was certain I could successfully complete the first marathon, Grandma's in June. I started training in February, using the Novice program from my Web site. As the miles began to build, my confidence in my commitment built with them.

Having finished the task, I admit that it was not easy. If anything, it proved much tougher than 6-6-60 had a decade earlier. If you want to learn more about each marathon in 7-7-70, click on the links in the chart below. There are also links to each charity. Although we've shut down the online donation service, you can still donate to each charity on your own. Please check out How To Donate.

I've already begun to look past 7-7-70 to a decade from now. To celebrate my 80th birthday, I plan to do 8-8-80: 8 marathons in 8 years. I haven't figured out my 90th birthday yet. Or my 100th.

Hal Higdon's 7-7-70 Schedule

To celebrate his 70th birthday on June 17, 2001, Hal Higdon ran 7 marathons in 7 months and helped raise $916,000 for 7 separate charities plus an 8th charity added after September 11. Here is his schedule and stories about each of his marathon races.

Date Marathon Charity Time
June 16 Grandma's Marathon Carleton College 5:58:30
July 4 World Veteran's Championship Alzheimer's Association 5:44:54
September 3 Heart of America Marathon American Heart Association 6:22:05
October 7 LaSalle Bank Chicago Marathon Opportunity Enterprises 5:29:13
October 20 Indianapolis Marathon Courage for Cancer 5:29:35
December 9 Honolulu Marathon Prevent Blindness America 5:49:18
January 6 Disney World Marathon National Cartoonists Society 6:32:44

Added Charity: The New York City Fire Department Widows and Children's Fund