More than overcoming fears and physical limitations, Victor Consunji’s achievement is all about making the entire Philippines proud
By Eric Nicole Salta | Lead photo courtesy of Victor Consunji
If there’s any expression that describes Victor Consunji right now, it’s carpe diem. As 2018 kicks off, Consunji’s late 2017 surge in the Antarctic tundra found him front and center into a life-changing role that’s sure to make more heads turn—something he has gotten used to, thanks to a natural leading man quality, a successful career in construction, and a lifestyle that would make even the most accomplished professionals envious.
As it turns out, I find in our little interview, Consunji’s infatuation for challenges bigger than himself stemmed from a simple problem: “It was just another marathon.” What emerged after this realization is a beautiful adventure of conquering the world in nearly three years narrated against a backdrop of intoxicating landscapes, 4,500 meters above sea level, below freezing PDAs with wife Maggie Wilson-Consunji, giant ice cracks, and African wildlife.
First off, what led to your decision to run on all seven continents?
The thing about endurance sports is that it takes up so much time. You can’t exactly call it “endurance” if it takes 30 minutes or less. So basically, goals are a very important, almost critical part of achieving anything in endurance sports. They help you get through the hours of training and set milestones towards which to strive for.
At first, my goals where typical: run a 10K then a 21K. Run a marathon. Run a marathon major. And here is where I started having problems. My second marathon major was interesting for sure but somehow I still felt like it was “just another marathon.”
So in the quest to find different kinds of marathons, each more challenging than the previous one in various ways (physically, psychologically, geographically), I somehow ended up in the North Pole. Once that happened, it wasn’t exactly a stretch of imagination to realize that I have a shot at the Marathon Grand Slam Club and the Seven Continents Marathon Club.
Completing your Antarctica marathon makes you part of the Marathon Grand Slam Club and the first Filipino to join that elite group. How does it feel?
To become a member of the Marathon Grand Slam Club, you must have run a marathon on all seven continents and the North Pole. To date, 104 people can claim membership in human history. Of course I am proud of this achievement. In at least three of those races to get here, it was more than simply running a marathon.
It was about getting over real fears and physical barriers that you don’t encounter in your everyday road race. However, I think more so than pride, I feel relief. Relief that our flag is finally represented among the members. We have such passion among our ranks in the endurance and multisport communities in the country, and I’m just happy that we’re now officially represented.
So once you’re inducted into that club, is there any other benefit aside from the pride of finishing all those marathons?
Bragging rights for life isn’t enough? Great new friends, lifelong memories, never ending stories, irreplaceable experiences. I’d say that you have to be a certain kind of goal-driven individual to get here, and I think all of us had to push ourselves way beyond our comfort zones to claim this membership. Along the way I think we’ve all gotten to truly know ourselves a little better (or a lot better). And if you had any doubts before about what you can achieve, believe me, people in this club feel empowered to tackle challenges head on. That’s definitely a benefit we walk away with.
Do you know actually know each other? Have you met your fellow members?
Yes! Through the years, in previous races, I’ve met people who were or have been inducted into either the Marathon Grand Slam Club or the Seven Continents Marathon Club. Several members who where inducted were with me at the completion of Antarctica, some where inducted during my North Pole Marathon, and some also at the Volcano Marathon in Chile.
Can you tell us a bit about your strategy towards achieving this goal? Like, did you already map out the marathons you’ve intended to join in that span of two and a half years?
I don’t think I had a particular strategy. I wanted to be healthy. In my mid-30s, I had run into some medical issues that caused a lot of weight gain. Which meant I needed to do some running. And in order to do some running, I figured I’d join some races to motivate me. A ‘motivated me’ ended up signing up for some extreme races, and the rest is history.
In my opinion, once I’d gotten serious about the Marathon Grand Slam, I knew I didn’t want to take too long to accomplish it. After all, running isn’t my career, and it certainly isn’t a substitute for family. And I figured, the longer it took to accomplish, the less certain the future prospects of completing it, either family or work would eventually take priority.
Now I’m not saying I went gallivanting around the world racing, I did, with the exception of the North Pole, try to select each race also as a place I actually wanted to visit and experience, and a place I wouldn’t mind bringing Maggie along to.
What’s the timeline of the marathons you’ve done? You decided on the order?
Yes I decided on the order, work permitting of course. Tokyo was first (Asia), two and a half years ago in 2015. Then Perth (Australia) and New York (North America) in the same year. The North Pole followed in 2016 with Berlin (Europe) later that year. Kenya (Africa) was earlier in 2017, completing my fifth continent. The final two marathons, Chile (South America) and Antartica, I did one week apart since Chile is the gateway to Antartica anyway.
I’m sure that the different locations alter the experience of running. Out of all the marathons you’ve done, which was the hardest?
The Volcano Marathon, hands down, was the hardest. We ran that marathon at 4,500 meters above sea level. You have about half the oxygen available at sea level. Altitude sickness in one form or another is the rule, not the exception. To put it in perspective, the Everest Base Camp Marathon is run at a similar altitude except this is a desert, with the added complication of challenging terrain.
Is there a certain quality or criteria for someone to be able to qualify and complete this goal?
No. Physically speaking, if you can run a marathon, you can complete this goal.
But saying it and doing it are two completely different things. Are you willing to run a marathon in -40 degrees Celsius? In the most remote parts of the world? Where there isn’t a nearby hospital to take you to if you suffer medical complications? Are you willing to run alone for hours on end? Just you and nature and not a soul in sight? Are you okay with the idea that even after you finish the marathon, weather conditions might not allow you to travel back home for possibly weeks on end? Risk of polar bear attack? Lost in an ice crevasse? Hypothermia?
It’s all a psychological battle. For some of the races, having the guts to register and the willingness to push through may be the hardest part of achieving this goal. And don’t count on friends and family encouragement. Most of the time, they just view your idea plain crazy.
Having said that, I’ve seen some of the most inspiring people accomplish these races, many handicapped in some way. You really won’t know what you’re capable of unless you’re willing to push your limits.
Your wife Maggie also ran the Antarctic Ice Marathon? How did come about?
Maggie loves to travel. She’s adventurous, brave, and tough as nails. Running or not, I figure we probably would have wanted to visit Antarctica one day. So the conversation started with, “Do you want to come to Antarctica with me?” When she agreed, I said, “You know, you might as well run the marathon with me.” Being the first female Filipino to have run a marathon in Antarctica may or may not have had a small part in her agreeing.
How would you describe your experience racing in Antarctica alongside your wife?
Nerve-racking. She’s sporty but not an endurance athlete in particular. In fact I’d say running is probably pretty low on her preferred activities. Reasonably, I think any husband would be worried about their wife running her first marathon. And in my case, her first marathon in Antarctica in the Antarctic wilderness in extreme cold, alone, and probably plotting to beat me up for asking her to run this.
The good news is we’re still very much married! So really I have at least three things to be proud of: my achievements, her Achievements, and our seventh marriage anniversary! (Note: Not necessarily in order of importance)
Was it difficult to get used to the Antarctic environment? How did you prepare yourself for such harsh conditions?
I don’t think you ever really get used to it. Especially for us Filipinos! It is cold. Cold beyond anything you can imagine. And unlike being in the cold in other countries, it isn’t like I can just step into a warm building to escape it! The warmest place you could find was your sleeping bag, and if you let any air in from the outside, you could kiss that warmth away.
I learned very fast from the North Pole Marathon; wear the proper layers of clothing, mostly made from merino wool. And also make sure your outer layer is wind proof! It’s a lot easier to be warm and stay warm than it is to warm up from being cold. During our time in Antarctica, we never left any skin exposed.
Any dangerous moments throughout your seven marathon voyage?
In the North Pole Marathon, the entire race is run over frozen ocean. The year we ran it, we experienced very unstable ice and a giant crack opened up beside our tent. There was a very real risk of falling straight into the Arctic Ocean. It also effectively cut us off from civilization as no supplies could fly in from Norway, and obviously we couldn’t fly out.
In Kenya, the marathons I did there were both wildlife marathons. These were done at protected national parks and you do run in the wild. Though we never actually saw any lions, hyenas, or other predators during the run, that risk of course is always there when running the plains of Kenya. We did see herds of giraffe, wildebeest, zebra, and antelope while running.
At the Volcano Marathon, the high altitude and lack of oxygen caused problems with many runners. Some runners were forced to stop due to excessively high heart rate and high blood pressure. Other runners developed other symptoms of altitude sickness.
Finally in Antarctica, assault and battery. I mean, love and marriage.
Is there anything else you want to accomplish?
As long as I am both physically and mentally able, I will always want to try to accomplish something new. That goes for athletics, work, and family. I think that’s part of what makes me… me. But you know what makes me even happier? People who are willing to join me on this never ending adventure.