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Seven Continents. Seven Massages

Every runner needs an achievable goal

by Hal Higdon

Sailing the Southern Ocean, lying lazily on a massage table, rocking in rhythm to the pounding waves common to the Drake Passage, a therapist's soothing hands massaging my muscles sore from two strenuous weeks exploring Antarctica, I considered my next challenge as an athlete.

No, I wasn't returning from running a marathon on that continent. Many runners choose as their challenge completing a marathon in all fifty states, or on all seven continents. Thom Gilligan, who takes runners to Antarctica through his organization Marathon Tours, estimates that 112 men and 35 women have completed their seven-continent quest and another 40 runners will achieve that goal in the next two years. Although I have run marathons in 23 states and on five continents, I have no immediate plans to add to those numbers.

My next challenge seems more doable--and certainly more pleasurable. I want to have a massage on all seven continents.

My recent trip to Antarctica allowed me to bag two of those continents, all on the same sea voyage. Rather than going to Antarctica to run a marathon, I traveled as part of a Carleton College Alumni Adventure. Although our group did some strenuous hiking over rocks, snow, ice and penguin poop, neither I nor anyone else attempted anywhere near a 26-mile run. But I did get massages while crossing the Drake Passage between South America and Antarctica, both coming and going.

One cruise, two massages

That's the trick. It's where I got those massages that counted. The geophysical border between those two continents is at the Antarctic Convergence, where the chilly waters circulating counter-clockwise around Antarctica brush against warmer sub-Antarctic currents to the North flowing in an opposite direction. Within a few miles, the temperatures of both air and water can drop by ten or more degrees.

Since my massage en route to Antarctica occurred above the Convergence and my massage returning occurred below, I collected massages on two continents on one voyage. I might add that unless you have had a massage on board a ship rising and falling in rhythm to 20-foot waves, you haven't achieved the ultimate spa experience. I'm not sure how Sheila, my massage therapist, maintained her balance, but her hands never missed a stroke.

With massages on two continents now part of my resume, seemingly that leaves five continents to go. Well, not quite. As part of my fitness regimen, I regularly get massages in Indiana and Florida, my two residences. North America is continent number three. On two trips to Australia, I've gotten massages to combat jet lag in Melbourne and Sydney respectively. That's continent number four.

How many continents more?

Europe should be continent number five, except my memory fails me. Given the fact that I have raced frequently in Europe, including several marathons, I must have gotten at least one massage. Unfortunately, I can't remember when or where. I probably need to check old training diaries to see where and how I can claim credit.

If I can confirm Europe, that still leaves Africa and Asia as continents for future massages. Despite running marathons on both continents, I may have skipped the massage table, a definite oversight on my part.

That's the bad news, the good news being that it gives me excuses to return to both continents to complete my quest. And maybe if my training diaries fail to reveal a European massage, I'll be forced to return to that continent too. Paris might be a good destination for my seventh massage on seven continents. Does anybody have the name of a good masseuse on the Champs d'Elysees?

We all need goals, especially broken-down runners.

Hal Higdon, a Contributing Editor for Runner's World, has run 111 marathons, but missed a few states and continents along the way.

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