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Oklahoma dentist runs 7 marathons in 7 days — on 7 continents

February 21, 2017

By Michelle Manchir

Cool runnings: World Marathon Challenge runners began their journey in Union Glacier, Antarctica, on Jan. 23. Dr. Raj Patel is photographed during the race. Photo courtesy of Mark Conlon.

Runner’s high: Dr. Raj Patel smiles Jan. 25, the day of the marathon in Miami, Florida. It was the third of seven marathons he completed in seven days around the world. Photo courtesy of Mark Conlon.

If Dr. Raj Patel’s completion of seven marathons in seven days doesn’t impress you, maybe consider that each race took place on a different continent.

Or how about that, three days after his last race, he was back in his Tulsa, Oklahoma, dental office seeing patients.

Dr. Patel, 50, was one of 33 participants in the 2017 World Marathon Challenge, seasoned runners who ran 26.2 miles every day Jan. 23-29 in Sydney, Australia; Punta Arenas, Chile; Miami, Florida; Union Glacier, Antarctica; Madrid, Spain; Marrakech, Morocco; and Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

“There were some challenges,” said Dr. Patel of the feat, noting the 90-plus degree weather in Dubai and Miami and the near constant dry mouth he experienced between races. “I figured this was a once-in-a-lifetime deal. So I sucked it up and went for it.”

And not only did Dr. Patel finish all the races, he beat an American marathon record holder, Ryan Hall, in two of them, he said.

Dr. Patel, who was born in Zambia, Africa, but came to the U.S. in 1980 for college, has been in dental practice for 26 years, he said. He received his dental degree from the University of Oklahoma in 1992, and then in the late 1990s, he went back to school for a law degree, he said. It’s during that time that he picked up running.

“I figured out that if I could keep a six-mile-per-hour pace on the treadmill, I could keep myself awake to study cases,” he said. “Anything slower, and I couldn’t keep up with the reading.”

But it wasn’t until about six years ago that he started running competitively, he said, after a patient persuaded him to do a local half marathon. He finished better than he expected, he said, and decided to pursue marathons. He has run 92 marathons since 2011, including the seven in January, he said.

“It keeps me out of trouble,” he joked of his hobby, adding more seriously that running long distances gives him time to pray, listen to the Bible and meditate.

Dr. Patel said he found out about the World Marathon Challenge from a patient, and decided to give it go, despite suffering a knee injury in 2016. In a freak accident, a collapsed driver drove his car into Dr. Patel’s dental office, bashing his knee. Dr. Patel said he endured physical therapy and aggressively trained to be ready for the serial marathons.

Runners in the World Marathon Challenge slept and ate mostly on airplanes between the races, Dr. Patel said. Once, they got to spend about four hours at a hotel to enjoy a proper shower.

After running, he said, “We just jumped on the plane. The whole key was to be well-rested, recover and be ready for the next one.”

Several media outlets, including many in his hometown, have published and broadcast news stories about Dr. Patel’s standout accomplishments.

He said many of his patients have commented on the news — with varying reactions.

“They’re congratulating me — and still think it was a crazy thing to do,” he said. “I’m just humbled because I got to do it.”