A Milngavie runner has become the first Scottish woman to run a marathon on all seven continents – and one of only 20 women in the world to have done it.
Shona Thomson, who is now living in London, ticked off the last continent – Asia – in September after competing in the Da Nang Vietnam Marathon.
Prior to this, the City Group banker completed the Perth Marathon in August and Rio, South America, in July.
The former High School of Glasgow pupil’s first marathon was in New York in November 2010, and she decided to set herself the goal of doing the remaining six over the following two years.
Shona said: “I don’t think what I’ve done is terribly special. Lots of people run marathons raising millions for charities and in much quicker times. Many people have overcome significant hardships in life and gone on to accomplish amazing feats. In fact, one of the most humbling parts of this journey, has been meeting some truly inspirational and remarkable characters.”
After competing in New York, Shona ran the London Marathon in April last year, then the ultra 56-mile Comrades Marathon in South Africa that June, followed by Antarctica in November.
The three she did this year were: Rio, South America (July 2013), Perth, Australia (August 2013) finishing with Vietnam.
The runner is often asked why she decided to undertake such a feat, and she replied: “I suppose there are a number of reasons, but the simple answer is I love a challenge. Without a goal in life, I get bored. I don’t think I’m different from everyone else. We all need something to drive us forward, and for me, running provides direction, as well as that euphoric ‘runners high.”
The endurance seed was sown very early on. Her parents took Shona and her brother for long walks as kids and just before her seventh birthday.
She said: “We walked the West Highland Way apparently in a bid to try to tire us out. I started running at school, the usual cross-country, which has a notorious reputation, but I rather enjoyed it.
“I stopped at university and started again about eight years ago, just after I moved from Scotland to London. At first, it was the usual 5k and 10k distances. Then I thought, I would try upping it a bit. Before I knew it, running for two hours was easy. It was then I thought that it might be fun to give a marathon a go.”
Asked which of the marathons was the most memorable, Shona said it was hard to pick any one because they were all so different – however Antarctica was ‘pretty special.’
She explained: “Running in Antarctica is an experience that is hard to put into words. Not fazed by the pre-race briefing of warnings of frost bite, lost fingers, hypothermia, snow blindness and crevasses, we were piled onto a Soviet war plane, complete with paratrooper ropes, to fly from Punta Arenas in Southern most Chile to Union Glacier Camp.
“There were only 60 runners and we stayed in tents. It was 24-hour daylight and unbelievably cold at night, falling to minus 40 degrees.
“We had five days there and spent much of the time waiting for the perfect running conditions. We were lucky and got to run only one day later than planned. We also got out safely, unlike runners in a previous year who were still there at Christmas!”
The most brutal marathon, Shona reckoned, was her last one in Vietnam. She said the 36 degrees and over 80 per cent humidity was incredibly energy-sapping.
She said: “I knew it was going to be hot and humid, but nothing could have prepared me. I’ve been to lots of Asian countries before, so knew what I was letting myself in for – the difference was on previous occasions, I hadn’t tried to run a marathon.
“The race started at 5am to avoid the heat of the afternoon. At that time, it was already over 27 degrees and very muggy. I knew this was going to be brutal but stopping was not up for discussion. I would crawl round before I quit.
“Acutely aware of the risks of heatstroke and heat exhaustion, my plan was to take it really steadily and take fluid on board at every water station. I wasn’t going to be precious about the time – the goal was to complete it and complete the last continent. “There was no way I was getting on the plane back home without that seventh medal. After a gruesome five hours I crossed the finish line. The seven continents were ticked off.”
In all only around 100 people have done this. She said the experience hasn’t just been about running in some amazing places and challenging herself in cold, heat, humidity and altitude.
Many of the people she met along the way have inspired her.
She said: “Some have overcome some truly remarkable feats. It has genuinely been an extremely humbling experience.
“I feel lucky to have been able to run all the races I wanted, and privileged to have met so many interesting characters, and I’ve been lucky to have the amazing support of my family and friends.”
As for Shona’s next adventure, she is planning to run the North Pole marathon next April.