Ben Wright will do his best not to think about his sore butt, tired legs or the fact that he doesn’t really want to spend another minute in an airplane. Instead, when he’s on, say, his fifth marathon in five days, he’ll think about the point of it.
Yes, there’s a point to running a marathon — seriously — and there’s a larger goal for Wright in running seven in seven days on seven continents.
Wright is the founder and CEO of Velocity Global out of Denver, a company that helps businesses hire and manage workers worldwide. But he’s also an adventure athlete, someone who thinks running a marathon every day on a different continent for a week sounds fun. You might know the type. They tend to describe awful things, like the time he was puking on the side of a road during a 20-mile training run, as “a really good experience.”
“I learned about fueling that day,” he said, “but I also learned how to keep going.”
Wright will do this as a participant of the World Marathon Challenge. The event offers flights and professional, sanctioned marathons, complete with aid stations, across the seven continents on a strict schedule. It kicked off with a 26.2-mile race in Antarctica on Tuesday, followed by marathons in Cape Town, South Africa, on Wednesday; Perth, Australia, on Thursday; and Dubai on Friday. The others are set for Madrid on Saturday; Fortaleza, Brazil, on Sunday; and Miami on Monday.
It’s not cheap — the cost just for the event is close to $45,000 — and Wright went through a pair of shoes a month and trained for two years with Chris Hauth, who specializes in ultra endurance athletes. Wright has done this kind of thing before, as he’s completed 50Ks, at slightly more than 31 miles, and a few years ago, the TransRockies race, a six-day stage race that averages 20 miles a day.
He’s using the event to raise money for First Descents, an organization that takes cancer patients and those with other serious conditions ages 18 to 39 on outdoor adventures. He’s already surpassed his goal of $183,000 — $1,000 for every mile he hopes to run — by a ton: As of Wednesday, the event had raised more than $1 million.
The training involved spending way too much time running, including a simulation of running 6 miles every six hours for 60 hours. He also ran in Denver one morning, flew to Southern California for business and then ran that evening, an experience he hopes will get him ready for the vast differences in temperatures, as Antarctica, for instance, feels different from Miami, Dubai or Cape Town in Africa.
“That reminded me that I prefer to run in the cold,” he said and laughed.
He claims to have enjoyed the training, and his body responded well to it, with nagging injuries lasting only a few weeks. The work culminated in a 16-mile run a couple weeks ago in the snow where he felt like he was floating.
“I learned there is something truly magical in the boring consistency of doing something every day,” Wright said. “There’s days you feel incredible, and there’s days where the very last thing in the world you want to do is strap on those shoes and head out the door. I wish I could explain what that magic is.”
The event could be just another impressive self-esteem booster by an executive who can afford to pay for an extravagant (and admittedly badass) race most of us could only dream about, or perhaps avoid at all costs, but Wright doesn’t want that. In fact he’s not sure an ego trip would help him draw the kind of inspiration he will need when, say, he hits a wall with 20 miles to go on his sixth day.
Rather than his own sense of achievement, Wright will be inspired by the people First Descents serves.
“Every step of the way,” Wright said, “I think of them. Every step is for them.”
A leap of faith
Wright’s company and First Descents were office neighbors at one point in their early days. Velocity Global was not big yet, with 15 employees, but Ray Shedd thought they had better snacks.
“We were a nonprofit,” said Shedd, the vice president of advancement for First Descents. “So we would steal their food from the breakroom.”
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Since then, Wright’s company donated generously and raised money for them with a Ragnar Relay team for the Snowmass trail race, and Wright’s wife, Julie, serves on the board of First Descents, which was founded more than 20 years in Gypsum by kayaker Brad Ludden. Wright also helped fund and develop a pilot program that serves clients with multiple sclerosis in 2018: He got the inspiration for that program from one of his employees who lives with the disease. It’s now one of the organization’s featured services.
But what he’s doing now goes beyond donations and volunteering, Shedd said.
First Descents brings young adults on outdoor adventures such as kayaking, rock climbing and camping in remote places to empower them and develop the kind of courage and self-esteem it can take to beat a terrible disease. The organization’s mantra is “Out Living It.”
“We ask cancer survivors to fly across the country, meet a bunch of strangers and go on an adventure,” Shedd said. “That takes a lot of bravery. That shatters perceived limitations, so then you’re just coping with cancer; it’s just a part of you, it’s not your life.
“With Ben, there are a lot of ways to give, but what he’s doing is so emblematic of the mantra. It’s easy to write a check, but he’s taking a similar leap of faith.”
Wright was inspired many years ago as a first-time volunteer for First Descents watching cancer patients, some of them still on chemo, navigate Class 3 rapids in a kayak by the end of the week.
“The participants come into that feeling like their body has let them down,” Wright said, “and yet they leave that week capable of much more than they thought they were. I can apply that in my own way.”
Wright doesn’t want to say running marathons is the same challenge as the constraints and pain of a life-altering disease, but there are similarities between the two, he said.
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“The mental challenges can be the same,” he said. “I can remember one run in particular, I was having a rough day, things were going wrong, and my body was breaking down, and I told myself you can’t quit this mile. When I reached the next mile, I reopened the argument. OK. You can’t quit this mile. It’s amazing what you can do if you just put one foot in front of the other.”
In fact, Shedd suspects that some of the clients will draw inspiration back from Wright.
“When anyone associated with First Descents is living through it, it feeds this ethos,” Shedd said. “Ben will be inspired by the MS thrivers and cancer survivors, and they too will see what he’s doing. It’s infectious energy, this circle of stoke.”
Shedd plans to send videos from those clients this week to Wright, who admits he will need a little stoke to get it done.
“I suspect I’ll have some tough days,” Wright said, “but I’ll have some great days out there too.”