Stefaan Engels, who is running the Tel Aviv marathon on Friday, has a bit of a
Every day from February 2010 to February 2011, the
50-year-old Belgian ran a marathon.
For 365 days. Without taking a
“People have no excuse to say ‘I’m too old or I’m too overweight,’
because if I can do a marathon every day, no one has an excuse to say ‘Five
kilometers is too far,’” Engels told the Post by phone, just before boarding the
flight to Tel Aviv near his home of Ghent, Belgium.
Though he’ll only be
in Israel for the weekend, Engels said he is excited to run in the third annual
Tel Aviv marathon, which is expected to draw over 18,000 runners on the
different courses and 65,000 spectators.
“It will give me a chance to see
a part of the world that I’ve never seen,” said Engels.
athlete is running in honor of “Linshom” (to breathe), an Israeli charity for
As a young child, Engels was diagnosed with asthma, and
doctors warned him to stay inside and to avoid physical activity.
all my friends playing kickball outside, but my mother said, ‘The doctor said
it’s better if you stay home,’” said Engels.
In the 40 years since Engels
was diagnosed, doctors have changed their stance and now encourage asthmatic
children to exercise.
Engels had been searching for a real physical
challenge for the past decade.
Many of his childhood heroes were
endurance triathletes and marathon runners, so he settled on trying to break the
Guinness Book of World Record for most Ironman-length triathlons in one year.
That’s swimming for 3.8 km, biking for 180 km and running for 42 km. Engels did
20 in a year, almost two per month. The prior record was 14.
hey, I can see it’s possible to do something great with my body and my mind,
I’ve finished triathlons, now what’s next?” Engels recalled. “I can start a
normal life or do one more challenge. So I said ‘Ok, I’ll do the marathons. It’s
for myself, to see if it’s possible, physically and mentally, to do this in a
The mental stamina was even more important than the physical strain,
said Engels, who added that almost three quarters of the effort was
mental. “It was a really long year, it felt like I was doing this for
five years,” he said. “Every day you wake up and say, ‘Today a marathon,
tomorrow a marathon, and next week also a marathon.…’ It was like never
ending. It was good, but never in my life will I do this again, not for a
During the year, Engels traveled to marathons in
Mexico, Montreal, New York, and dozens of European cities. But he ran 260
of the marathons around his home in Ghent.
He ran eight laps on a five km
track, plus an extra 2.2 km at the end.
He was joined on his local runs
by anywhere between two and 200 people – running enthusiasts who didn’t know
Engels but wanted to support him on his quest.
To keep his mind off the
monotony of running around the same track, Engels lost himself in conversations
with new running partners and music.
Engel had to eat about 6,000
calories a day during his year of marathons, three times the recommended daily
diet for the average adult male.
Each day he ate at least five energy
gels, five bananas and bowl after bowl of pasta, in addition to drinking six
liters of water.
He tried to sleep between ten to 12 hours a night when
possible. He also destroyed 25 pairs of sneakers, about one every two
“In the beginning of my project, I was really tired every day, my
legs were so tired,” said Engels. “But after three or four months, my body
accepted that I was running a marathon every day. It was like going to my
“I say to myself, ‘It’s like going to work, but it’s not more than
To recover, Engels would take a shower and go out to meet
friends at restaurants, where he would talk about everything except
Because of his asthma, Engels said the endurance sports are the
best fit, because he can run “easy and long.”
He finished each marathon
in an average of four hours, though his fastest was 3:23, during the first-ever
Ghent marathon, which he initiated.
The hardest marathon was in Mexico
City, where pollution and an altitude of 2,000 meters weren’t the only
challenges for an asthmatic: Engels got a terrible stomach bug from the local
food and was sick for days.
The best marathon, he says, was New York,
because of the sheer size of the crowd. And Barcelona, because it was the last
one, on February 5, 2011.
On Thursday, which also happened to be Engels’s
50th birthday, his book, “Marathon Man,” was released in Dutch.
English version, which was written with a journalist who accompanied Engels over
the year, is due out in June.
But this weekend, Engels is looking forward
to sleeping in as well.
“I feel so free that I can say to myself every
day, ‘You can stay home, you don’t have to run,” he said. “I like running, I’m
looking forward to running [in Tel Aviv]. But one marathon a month is more than