#35) Susannah Gill

Photo credit: Susannah Gill (@TheIronLadyRuns)

What Susannah Gill achieved last week is nothing short of extraordinary.

The British runner not only completed the notorious World Marathon Challenge – also known as ’777’ as it involves running seven marathons on seven continents in seven days – but she did so in a world record time.

In total Gill took just 24 hours, 19 minutes and nine seconds to complete the 295km. She won won six of the seven stages, averaged an astounding time of 3:28 per race and smashed the previous women’s record – set last year by American Becca Pizzi – by more than three hours.

Furthermore she was quicker than all-bar-two of the men who also completed the challenge, as was Kristina Schou Madsen.
Not only that, Gill also had to cope with the huge physical and mental challenges of coping with extreme temperatures, time zone changes, hours upon hours of travelling and a severe lack of sleep.

But while this physical success alone is worthy of the upmost respect, Gill has achieved something arguably even greater.

She has delivered the ultimate kick in the balls to anyone who still believes women aren’t physically capable of being elite athletes.

It can certainly be said that changes have happened and continuously fewer people persist in the myth that women can’t be sporty. But there is still much more that can be done.

BBC Sport’s video with England Rugby stars Mo Hunt and Emily Scarratt, whilst very amusing, is proof that there are still people out there who regard female athletes as little more than second class compared to men.

I even experienced this myself not so long ago where, when making a reference to the Women’s Six Nations, several male friends jokingly said something along the lines of: ‘We only want to hear about the real rugby’ (i.e. referring to the men’s competition).

While I am 100% certain this was meant purely as a joke just to wind me up – I know for a fact these people have the upmost respect for women in sport – it just showed me that this culture of belittling female athletes persists in some areas, even just as ‘banter’.

READ MORE: #16) Julie Creffield

Of course a lot of this is a hangover from the 19th and 20th centuries, where women were told in no uncertain terms they couldn’t partake in sport because it was deemed ‘unfeminine’.

Or because there was no point as they were significantly weaker than men. Or, worse still, because it would damage their maternal organs, meaning they couldn’t succeed in the only thing they were designed to do – give birth.

Just writing this feels preposterous, so to think this was people actually thought (or even still think) is ridiculous.

That’s why what Gill achieved by completing such a gruelling task in Miami just a few days ago is so important.

Here is a women showing that, first and foremost, anyone from any gender can complete even the most arduous of sporting tasks.

For context, the 34-year-old is one of less than 200 people to finish the challenge since Sir Ranulph Fiennes did so back in 2003.

But even more importantly than that, she also showed that – by finishing third overall – women have the potential to complete alongside men in events such as this.

Whether this was her intention or not, we really should be using her achievements as a platform to show other women and young girls that you really can do anything if you put your mind to it.

This is especially the case given Gill isn’t even a runner by trade. A leading executive in the world of horse racing, running is more of an extreme hobby for anything else but one she certainly excels at.

And yet just a decade ago she was only preparing to run her first marathon as a way of getting fit.

To go from that to setting marathon times most avid runners would be delighted with consistently over seven consecutive days in temperatures ranging from -35C to +35C and with often minimal food is almost beyond belief.

Speaking to the BBC, Gill described just how physically demanding this event was for her.

“Races one to four were OK; five, six and seven have been really, really hard. I started to question whether it was such a good idea, but I got through it,” she said.

“The first four marathons I was eating quite well and getting enough calories in, and then marathons five, six and seven I’ve actually been waking myself up because I’ve been so hungry.

“I ended up getting an hour’s sleep on one flight because I just had to get up and eat a packet of peanuts, two packets of crisps and a chocolate bar – anything I could get a hold of on the plane.

“That became a challenge, because I was burning four or five thousand calories a day every day for a week.

“The only time reference I’ve had is what kind of food they’ve given us on the plane – so breakfast, lunch or dinner – so it’s been a very loose concept of time.

“I’ll get back to normal life and put myself back together again because I’m sure I’ll have some aching muscles.”

In a generation full of inspirational female runners – Dame Kelly Holmes, Paula Radcliffe and Laura Muir to name but a few – Gill is yet another proving that women are indeed capable of completing the most arduous of physical feats.

And not just completing them, but leaving many men in their wake.

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