Determined Woman Runs 7 Marathons in 7 Days to Fight Cancer

Marathoner Eva Casale. Photo: Courtesy Team in Training/Eva Casale
Marathoner Eva Casale. Photo: Courtesy Team in Training/Eva Casale

It’s the rare person who runs and completes a marathon — just .17 percent of the U.S. population, according to 2013 statistics. But someone who runs seven marathons in seven consecutive days? Practically unheard of.

“It is crazy,” admitted Eva Casale, a 49-year-old credit-union vice president from Glen Cove, N.Y., who completed the arduous task on Sunday afternoon. She spoke to Yahoo Shine on Frdiay just minutes before beginning the fifth marathon, sounding unfazed and downright chipper. “Running is my passion,” she said. “It’s a way of life for me.”

It’s also her way of giving back: The undertaking was a fundraising effort for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society's Team in Training, an organization that allows volunteers to exchange their training and coaching time for monetary donations toward blood-cancer research. By completing the 183.4 miles, Casale is on her way to raising $49,000 in pledges. (Those who want to donate can do so on her Go Team Eva page.) And it’s that lofty goal that keeps her going, she explained.

“Every day I run either in memory or in honor of a different person who had blood cancer, so I think about the people and what they went through,” she said, explaining that anyone is invited to join her for the last seven miles of each run, which further boosts her resolve. “I just dig deep and know the pain I feel is temporary — if my legs hurt, if I’m feeling tired, it’s nothing compared to what people are going through if they have cancer.”

This is not Casale’s first time making a serious sacrifice to better the lives of others: In 2006, she donated a kidney to a stranger after hearing about the need on a local radio show, and the experience was life-altering. “I realized, this doesn’t have to be it,” she recalls. “I can keep helping people.” Shortly thereafter, she received a flier in the mail from Team in Training, and it spoke to her.

A runner since her teen years, Casale ran her first marathon in New York City in 1983 and, since then she's completed 50 more marathons and 32 ultra-marathons — the term used to describe either extra-long (typically 31 to 100 miles) or multi-day races. Other runners have undertaken similar goals: Mike Allsop of New Zealand ran seven marathons in seven days on seven continents in 2013, for example, as did Andrew Murray of Scotland in 2012. And in Florida, there’s an annual group-run event called the Savage Seven, in which runners complete seven marathons during the last week of the year, with a final race on New Year's Day. Endurance athlete Dean Karnazes, meanwhile, ran an unbelievable 50 marathons in 50 days, a feat that led him to become the subject of a documentary.

For Casale, the seven-day challenge has been her most extreme so far — one that’s had stunned many people in her life, who've also questioned her judgment. “I’ve heard a lot of people ask me in the last few weeks, ‘Is it healthy? Do you have a doctor traveling with you?’” Though she always has a support van following her (one that’s driven by her boyfriend, also a marathoner), there’s no medic on hand. But Casale insists that she takes every precaution — such as stopping to rest and rehydrate on hot days — particularly in an effort to watch out for those who have joined her along the route. And that could make all the difference, safety-wise, according to Paul D. Thompson, MD, chief of cardiology at Hartford Hospital in Connecticut and member of the American College of Cardiology’s Sports and Exercise Cardiology Council.

“Yes, one can do these sorts of things,” Thompson tells Yahoo Shine. But while running back-to-back marathons certainly causes “cumulative fatigue,” the amount of stress it places on one’s system can depend on “how intensely one runs the race,” says Thompson, a running expert and longtime marathoner himself until recently breaking his hip in a bike accident. Still, he says, “I wouldn’t advise it — not from a heart point of view, but more from a muscle point of view. It makes it hard for fatigued muscles to cushion the blow of running, which is stressful on your knees, hips, and back.” From a cardiology perspective, Thompson notes, the jury is still out on Casale's type of marathon series — though recent studies have shown that over-stressing one’s body could lead to atrial fibrillation, an irregular and often rapid heart rate that restricts proper blood flow. “There’s a movement afoot to suggest there could be such a thing as getting too much exercise,” he says.

None of that has stppoed Casale, who trained in the weeks leading up to the challenge by running six days a week for a total of 75 to 90 miles a week (up from her usual 60 to 70); that included 20-mile runs every Saturday and Sunday to get her body used to doing back-to-back distance. In between each marathon of her seven-day quest, she stuck to a fairly humdrum recharge routine. “I go home and take an ice bath,” she said. “Then at 10:30 or 11, I eat pasta or some chicken and just try to replenish and refuel and rehydrate.”

And while the health benefits are debatable, Casale said that, for her, nothing could beat the mental rewards — especially during the point in each race when others would join her in paying homage to those who have died. One such poignant stretch, she explained, came at the end of the fourth marathon, which she ran to honor Rich Arcuri, a fellow Team in Training runner who died in a work-related accident in June. “Over 50 people joined me for that run, and hundreds were there to cheer us on in front of his house,” she said. “It’s very emotional. I can’t even describe it.”

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