Capts. Daniel Cartica and Cal Ramm were strangers when the World Marathon Challenge kicked off on Union Glacier in Antarctica; the paths and purposes that led there were quite different.
One trained for nearly a year, the other for a couple of months. One sought to bring attention to wounded Marines, one wanted to quietly honor the servicemen killed in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
Despite these differences, the Marines formed a unique bond as they ran seven marathons on seven continents in seven days from Jan. 23-29.
They persevered through stress fractures, hamstring injuries, lack of sleep and lack of nutrition as the grueling pace took a physical and mental toll on both runners. Motivated by each other, and inspired by the fallen Marines for whom they were running, the captains crossed the final finish line together. In doing so, they claimed the top two spots, and Cartica set a world record.
Marine Corps Times caught up with the two captains when they returned to the U.S. to learn more about their journey.
Q. What motivated you to enter the World Marathon Challenge?
Ramm: I was looking to run a race in Antarctica, and saw that I could not only run a race in Antarctica but run a marathon on six more continents. I figured this is a once-in-a-lifetime thing so I might as well do the whole thing.
I ran on behalf of the Semper Fi Fund and raised close to $25,000. The fund helps injured and seriously ill Marines recover; to be able to represent something like that was just as important to me as finishing the race.
Cartica: I saw a documentary [on the challenge] in July. There I am always seeking a way to challenge myself physically and mentally, I was not convinced this was something I wanted to pursue. Seven to 10 days later we had the incident in Chattanooga, Tennessee, where four Marines and one sailor were unfortunately killed. In today's society, too often and too soon we seem to forget. I do not want the sacrifices, the memories, the selfless service those five brave individuals did for this country to be forgotten. Ultimately I decided to pursue this endeavor to honor, in a very small way, those service members.
Q. How did you prepare for the challenge?
Ramm: I have run the Marine Corps Marathon a few times, a few marathons in my home state of Michigan, and a few others. I've been running about 15 years. My goal was to do all the races under four hours. I'm normally a well-under three-hour marathoner. I figured for seven of them, to shoot for under four hours was a pretty good goal.
Cartica: I didn't start training for this event until Oct. 10. I had upper jaw surgery and four wisdom teeth removed in September. For three weeks I was on a strict liquid diet, my entire face was swollen, and I lost 10 pounds. My main concern was to come into this event healthy.
I don't consider myself an avid runner at all. When I was training for this endeavor, I only ran three days a week. I've done three full marathons and two 100K ultramarathons, which is 62.5 miles. I believe in a well-rounded, holistic approach to fitness. I don't believe in running 100 miles a week. My body would just break down because I can't handle the constant pounding on the pavement. I incorporated a lot of distance swimming, interval training in the pool, and did CrossFit about three days a week to prepare for the event.
Q. Did you know each other prior to the event?
Ramm: Not at all. I think at first, the thought process was "what is this guy going to do?" Both of us are very competitive by nature, but at the end it was more of a friendship. It was two Marines who decided to get to this thing together. And that is how we crossed the line.
Cartica: We both saw that we are on an equal playing field with similar abilities, and it just made sense to do as much as we could together. There were times in the races where I would take off, or he would take off, and it was up to the other one to step it up. There were several times we were running a 5:30/mile pace for a nine-mile stretch. The last mile in the Miami marathon, we ran a 5:10/mile pace, which is absolutely flying.
In the last race at Sydney, Ramm had taken off to make up some time from Dubai. But he was dealing with a possible stress fracture, and we ultimately decided we started this thing together, why don't we just run the last half marathon and finish it together? That's what we decided to do, and it really added to the experience to cross the finish line with another active-duty Marine.
Photo Credit: tk
Q. Describe the different climates you faced, and what it took to get there in such a tight window.
Ramm: You get an eight-hour window to run each race. You wait for everyone to finish, move to an airplane, jump on the airplane, and fly to the next location. It was a 4½-hour flight from Antarctica to Punta Arenas, Chile. We had 13 hours to recover. Participants started the third marathon less than 90 minutes after landing in Miami. We had a 12-hour flight to Madrid, Spain. That race started an hour after landing. The plane was wheels-up one hour after the last runner crossed the finish line. Less than an hour after landing in Morocco we started the next marathon. We got two or three hours to sleep and recover and then flew into Dubai. We had about six hours after we landed until the race. Two hours to drive to the next airport, then a 16-hour flight to Sydney.
Except for the flight out of Antarctica, and the short flight from Spain to Morocco, we were in business class. Not always fully reclined seats but we were able to get as close as possible to horizontal to sleep and stretch our legs out.
Cartica: In Chile we ran on the waterfront at the Strait of Magellan. The Miami boardwalk was nice. Madrid wasn't anything too special, and the course in Morocco was brutal. Dubai was along the windy waterfront but the weather was ideal, and Sydney was the icing on the cake. We started the race at 2300 and it was just gorgeous. I decided to stay until every single competitor had finished because I wanted to see the expression and reaction on their faces.
Capts. Daniel Cartica and Cal Ramm run in Miami, the third marathon of the seven-marathon event.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Richard Donovan
Q. What did you do to keep your body fueled?
Ramm: Nutrition got difficult at times. We finished the race at some pretty weird hours and food was not always available. Some of the locations we were able to get into the airport lounges and eat the food there. I did the typical Marine Corps power bar and energy drink to get me through. It wasn't always the best nutrition, but if you've been doing it for long enough you can get by. But I don't think I will be eating Cliff Builder bars for a while, that's for sure.
It was a mental thing. Obviously the body is going to feel it and suffer. But as with anything, you must master the mind and not let it affect you. Being a Marine, you are used to not getting good food and being short on sleep. That just left the running part and dramatic temperature changes. You tell yourself you're not going to let it bother you and just go out there and run.
Cartica: One of the biggest concerns I had going into this event was nutrition. I'm so used to stuffing my face with whatever I can find while working out. That was definitely not the case here. There was no robust meal to supplement and give myself an adequate amount of calories. I relied on gels, salt tablets, salty foods — gummy bears, Swedish fish, whatever the race organizers on that continent had available. One of the things I also used pretty religiously was pickle juice. I had never used pickle juice before, but I had read a few articles that it helps with cramps and fatigue. Between mile 17 and 18 of every marathon I would drink 2.5 ounces of pickle juice. Whether it actually did anything I don't know. Maybe it was more of a mental thing.
Capt. Daniel Cartica gets some physical attention as he preps for one of seven marathons in the World Marathon Challenge
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Daniel Cartica
Q. What was the biggest challenge you had to overcome?
Ramm: I ended up getting a stress fracture in Spain, pushing through it in Morocco, but it caught up with me in Dubai. I did that one in 3:58. A lot of that was me changing out the dressing I had on my shin and trying to get the swelling to go down so I could finish the race. I ran 10 miles of that one barefoot so I could relieve some of the pain. I was pretty swollen where the stress fracture had formed. I took my shoe off to allow the blood to flow a little easier and not put extra pressure on the shin. It didn't completely get rid of the pain, but it allowed me to run a little bit easier.
I knew that no matter what I was going to finish. I had a lot of thoughts going into Australia, but at the end of the day it was just "go out there, run the race, and finish it." I was able to finish that one with a good stride. At the end of the day, that's what mattered to me.
Cartica: I am not one who can sleep on a plane. I only slept a total of 15 to 18 hours that week.
Morocco was a brick surface, and uneven terrain that just tortured and throttled your legs. So Dubai was the one race where everyone was dealing with some sort of nagging pain or injury. Around mile 10, my right hamstring locked up. It felt like a knife pricking me. I struggled to finish. There was a point where I thought about my motivation for doing this, I thought back to the five servicemen in Chattanooga. Those guys would have overcome any type of obstacle to get to their finish line, whatever their finish line was. That got the fire back in my mindset and assisted me with completing the race.
Capt. Cal Ramm runs barefoot in Dubai to ease the pain of a stress fracture he suffered during the World Marathon Challenge
Photo Credit: courtesy of Richard Donovan,
Q. What was the most memorable moment for you?
Ramm: Antarctica was cool. The first day we got down there, some of the other runners and I went out on a running trail just to pause and listen to the sound of silence. We were hundreds of miles from civilization. It was nice to appreciate something so simple before a challenge like this.
And I wore the same pair of shoes in each race. That was a goal: to have a pair of shoes that ran a race on each continent.
Cartica: Antarctica was a surreal scene — 24-hour daylight, and surrounded by glaciers. To run a marathon there's certainly something I will never forget.
Capts. Daniel Cartica and Cal Ramm cross the finish line together in Antartica, the first of seven marathons in the World Marathon Challenge. They would go on to finish first and second in the event.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Daniel Cartica
Q. How did you feel the moment you crossed the final finish line?
Ramm: I thought crossing the line in Australia would be like "man, look what we just accomplished." It was more like "I wish this wasn't over." It was such a cool event and there were so many great people doing great things for great causes. I didn't want to leave this family that we had created over the past seven days.
Cartica: I wanted to do this event covertly rather than seeking any notoriety or attention. The first thing that I thought about when I crossed that finish line was if these families of these five fallen serviceman happened to stumble across an article or a media clip and they see an individual by the name of Daniel Cartica, maybe for a second they will be appreciative this guy wanted to do something good to honor that husband, son, brother. If those few moments help them, then I'm happy I had the opportunity to do this in their honor.
Q. What are you doing now that you have accomplished this unique and challenging feat, and what is next for you?
Ramm: I did a lot of resting and keeping off the feet, but I have already started running again. It's a disease. I would definitely do the challenge again if I can find someone to sponsor me. There are a lot of other cool races out there and I wouldn't mind giving them a try.
Cartica: I was definitely hurting for a few days with that right hamstring. I feel pretty good right now. I have some minor symptoms, but nothing to keep me from working out. I'm getting myself back into a normal routine. I don't plan on running for a bit, but I am swimming and doing CrossFit.
I want to do 50 Ironmans in 50 states in 50 days to raise awareness for first responders and military veterans. There's a lot of preparation, sponsorship and scheduling that goes into all that, but it's in the back of my mind.
Q. What advice would you give to any Marine who might consider taking this challenge?
Ramm: Enjoy it. It goes by quick and there will be times when you want it to end, but it is one of those life-changing experiences. Take some leave, do some cool things and experience the world.
Cartica: Life is short and goes by too quickly. Find something that's going to get you out of your comfort zone. And when you feel like you are at your limit, you need to find a way to push through the pain and the fatigue. Whatever the endeavor you are trying to achieve, if you dig deep enough and you have that person who can pick you up and encourage you when things are going tough, there is nothing out there you can't achieve.
Lance M. Bacon is senior reporter for Marine Corps Times. He covers Marine Corps Combat Development Command, Marine Corps Forces Command, personnel/career issues, Marine Corps Logistics Command, II MEF, and Marine Forces North. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.