A St. Petersburg woman just accomplished one of the most impressive physical feats of any who have called the Sunshine City home. KellyAnn Jenkins ran seven marathons on seven continents in seven days, an achievement she completed this month after years of planning and preparation.
For seven straight days, the marathoner traversed all seven continents, doing little more than run, eat, travel, and sleep when possible. By the end of it, in the late-night dark of downtown Miami, KellyAnn had completed more than 180 miles of running and thousands more of transportation in planes, buses, cabs and cars, all in only seven days time.
She ran marathons at midnight and midday; she ran in the oppressive heat of the Australian summer and up and down the hills of Spain; she ran on a balmy Brazilian morning and on a beautiful evening in Dubai. However, the most challenging – and perhaps most memorable – isn’t hard to imagine as one works down the list of the Earth’s seven continents.
Snow on the ground, a -25 air temperature, and wind gusts up to 50 miles per hour – the morning of January 31 was day one of running, with a course starting out of a research base and lined with flags because visibility was often too low to even see the next person in front of or behind you.
“It was Antarctica,” KellyAnn said, when asked what part was most challenging, “and it was maybe 10 miles in. The weather – I just was not prepared for how terrible the weather was. We definitely got a show. At the time it was so difficult and so challenging.”
A storm flared up almost immediately upon starting the race, though KellyAnn was prepared for the cold. What took her by surprise was the result of that preparation. Before long, she discovered she had too many layers on. She was actually sweating as she ran through an Antarctic snowstorm. The problem with that was the sweat began to freeze on her thanks to the below-zero winds. Then, on the turnaround, she was running into the storm, pushing against gusty headwinds full of icy temps.
Of course, she persevered, completing a marathon atop the snows of Antarctica, only to fly to Africa immediately after and run six more marathons across the world before the week was through. And at times throughout the experience, she was able to look back on day one for some inspiration. If she could make it through the snows of Antarctica, then a warm summer day in Cape Town was practically a cake walk, right?
A marathon of marathons completed in one week
KellyAnn’s journey has been in the works since 2020, and the trek itself was through the World Marathon Challenge, a group that facilitates and coordinates the entire mad dash of traveling and running. She was one of 52 who ran in the marathon challenge, including an 80-year-old man who became a group favorite for his constant encouragement of others.
The idea first entered KellyAnn’s mind back in 2017 when a friend heard about the run on a podcast and mentioned it to her as “the kind of crazy thing you’d be into.” Things then got serious in 2020 when, during the covid lockdown, KellyAnn took a page from the Forrest Gump school of exercise and just started running.
“I was stuck at home during lockdown and had extra free time,” she explained. “I felt like I needed to do something productive with my life, so I started running more.”
And then she just kept on running. Then she applied for the World Marathon Challenge, which got rescheduled four different times before she was finally able to participate. And now, she’s on the other side of an experience few could even imagine, let alone accomplish.
Around 4:30 am eastern time on February 7, KellyAnn completed the seventh marathon in Miami as friends ran and cheered alongside her, watching her epic feat come to a conclusion right there in her home state. Surrounded by them all as she crossed the finish line of a race that had started just before midnight, she didn’t collapse in exhaustion like one might expect; instead she was exultant with victory and the thrill of accomplishment.
“The emotions are really overwhelming because you’re on such an adrenaline high at that point,” she explained. “There was no pain. It was just, we’re here, we’re doing this.
“It was a life-changing experience, and I’ve been on a high since I came back. Now I’m trying to figure out what’s next. I don’t know anything that can top it.”
Runs raised funds for those battling MS
Whatever comes next, the most important thing isn’t (and wasn’t) just the running, or the fact that she completed it. In 2020, the same year KellyAnn decided to run the race, her sister Christine was diagnosed with MS. In the years since, every mile of training and every continental marathon run has served as a way to raise funds and provide resources to both individuals and families who are battling the effects of multiple sclerosis.
KellyAnn started the MS Happens Foundation after talks with several doctors, patients, and families of those living with MS. She discovered a largely unmet need for direct assistance, and now, funds raised by MS Happens go straight to patients and their families to help cover excess medical bills, transportation services, and even just the little things that are needed around the house.
Learn more about the foundation at mshappens.org, and follow more of KellyAnn’s journey on her Instagram page. In the meantime, we look forward to seeing what she comes up with next.