Amazing Races

Two local men have run seven marathons across seven continents, and they’re not done yet.
Bill Foudray and Mark Lowder.

A large framed world map stretches across a wall in Bill Foudray’s office. The map hangs several feet directly across from his chair, perched behind two large computers on his desk.

By raising his eyes, Foudray can contemplate the map’s detailed expanse. “I love maps and traveling to different places and having new experiences,” says Foudray, who also uses it for his work as co-owner of Vantage Financial, an equipment leasing company in Excelsior.

 But Foudray’s travel ambitions take him far off the beaten path of your average tourist. He is a globetrotter in the most literal sense, crossing the finish line last year on an ambitious objective—running seven, 26.2-mile marathons on all seven continents.

 Foudray, 46, of Victoria, completed his first U.S. marathon shortly after he started running in 1999 at age 29 to “burn off some energy.” Over eight years, he completed marathons on the other six continents—Europe (France), Asia (Japan), Australia/Oceania (New Zealand), South America (Argentina), Africa (South Africa) and, finally, Antarctica in 2016. “Seeing things that most people don’t see is amazing,” says Foudray, who has run about 50 marathons. “It’s [doing] the next big thing. What can I do to push myself to a new limit?”

While training to conquer the seven continents, Foudray was unaware that another runner living near him was doing the same. Foudray often runs on a trail between Lake Susan and Mark Lowder’s Chanhassen house. Lowder, who turns 56 this month, runs the local trails, too, and likely crossed paths with Foudray along the way. But it took an epic voyage of more than 7,600 miles for the two men to meet. “It’s a small world,” Lowder says. Both men were en route to Antarctica on an expedition last year to attempt their goal-clinching marathons. At a reception in Buenos Aires, Foudray noticed Lowder’s hometown listed on the passenger list. “We had a lot of time on ship,” Foudray says. “We became instant friends.”

Lowder, vice president of international sales for Octane Fitness, realized 10 years ago he needed to run four more continents—Australia, South America, Africa and Antarctica—to reach seven. Two of his other goals—running 50 marathons by the time he was 50 and running each of the World Marathon Majors in cities across the globe—helped him get the first three. “So I thought, ‘Why not go for the seven continents?’” he says.

Antarctica isn’t exactly a hotspot for tourists, being the most remote continent on the planet, but it is a popular destination for adventurous runners. So popular, in fact, there is a waiting list to participate in the Antarctic Marathon and Half-Marathon, which are run each March on King George Island, off the Antarctic Peninsula.

Foudray and Lowder were on that list for three years. “It was an adventure to get there, which was part of the fun,” Lowder says. The journey lasts 14 days, with 10 of those days spent on one of two Russian research ships, carrying 100 passengers each from Ushuaia, Argentina to Antarctica and back again. Ships meander through the Drake Passage, and under the southern tip of Argentina, where the southwestern part of the Atlantic Ocean and the southeastern section of the Pacific Ocean meet. The waters are considered by some to be the roughest waters in the world.

One benefit of the long trip—time to savor Antarctica’s icy beauty and solitude. Glaciers hover over a desolate landscape inhabited by hordes of penguins and seals. “The first landfall we made, you just took a gazillion photos of penguins,” Lowder says. “By the seventh or eighth day, ‘Ah, it’s just another penguin.’ But they’re so cute, social and friendly.”

Restrictions allow only 100 people ashore for the marathon at any given time to ease damage to the environment. Undulating gravel roads, connecting the scientific research bases of Uruguay, Chile, China and Russia, are used for the marathon. "Everything in Antarctica is well protected, and there are very strict rules about no garbage,” Foudray says.

Those on the other ship ran first, in frigid but favorable conditions. The next day, it started out looking like more of the same for Foudray and Lowder’s run. Midway through the race, though, a blizzard pounded runners with 60 mph winds. “There were straight-line winds, and you couldn’t see,” Foudray says. “I should have worn goggles. I had to look down while running.”

Lowder says the marathon route consisted of a back-and-forth loop, which meant “half the time you would go right against the wind with sleet that felt like snow bullets.” Both finished before the race was cut short due to weather. Some racers weren’t so lucky, including Lowder’s roommate on the boat. Foudray finished at 4:10:55, while Lowder came in at 4:36:55, both slower than their normal times.

“I was okay when I finished,” Lowder says. "But I couldn’t have gone much longer without getting hypothermia.” Foudray sustained “a bit of” frostbite on his fingertips and mild hypothermia—nothing serious enough for medical attention. “There was nothing that was going to stop me, but I wanted to be done,” he says. Was it worth it? “Oh yeah,” says Foudray, calling it a once-in-a-lifetime experience. “It’s one of those things that’s not joyful, but it brings you satisfaction.”

Foudray and Lowder had their names added to the Seven Continents Club, established by Marathon Tours & Travel, the Boston-based race and expedition organizer. Both received a finisher certificate and a medal. As of last year’s race, 564 people have earned their way into the club. A separate club was established for half-marathoners.
 
So, how do you eclipse running Antarctica? How about traveling to the foothills of Mt. Everest to race in the highest marathon in the world? Foudray, Lowder and about 20 of their fellow Antarctica marathoners will attempt to conquer the Tenzing-Hillary Everest Marathon in May. The annual race marks the anniversary of the first conquest of Mt. Everest by Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary on May 29, 1953.

Racers begin at Everest Base Camp, at an elevation of 17,598 feet. They run mostly downhill along rugged trails to the Sherpa capital of Namche Bazaar, 11,286 feet in elevation. The actual race lasts hours, but their entire trip will take 17 days, with about 14 days of acclimatization to the high altitude. “I’ve skied out West in Colorado and Utah, but that’s 9,000-to-11,000 feet of elevation,” Lowder says. “That hasn’t bothered me, but when we’re going to 18,000 feet, that’s a whole different world.”  “The challenge for me is not the marathon, even though it’s a hard marathon,” Foudray adds. “It's how do you get your body climatized to that altitude? You live at sea level."

If all goes well, what’s next? Both have pondered the possibilities. Since they will run the highest marathon in the world, how about the lowest? Since they’ve run Antarctica, how about the North Pole? “You could come up with all these challenges,” Foudray says.

Foudray, who has four children (Tien, 14; Kael, 12; Everett, 12; and Elias, 10) enjoys running, but he admits he’s burned out on regularly doing full marathons. Antarctica was his last one; Tenzing-Hillary Everest Marathon will be his next, but will it be his last full one? He prefers half-marathons. It’s easier on his body. He came in first place in the Saint Paul Urban Trail Half-Marathon last year. “I always say it’s my last one,” he says. “That’s the way I get through it.” Foudray’s wife, Kris, is skeptical. “She doesn’t believe me,” he jokes.

Lowder has run 59 marathons and counting. Number 60 will be the Boston Marathon this month, and number 61 will be Mt. Everest. He wants to do the Tokyo Marathon; it was added in 2012 to the World Marathon Majors. His goal is to run one for each year of his age. “I have a few in the bank in case I’m injured and can’t run for a period,” he says. “One-hundred [marathons] is an outside goal. The more I talk about it, the more I talk myself into it.”  
   
What does his family think? "They’ve given up on me,” he says. "Like I tell my wife [Jill], I could have worse bad habits than running and marathons.”