Running a marathon is one of the toughest sporting challenges out there.
Running the 26.2 miles whilst juggling three balls sounds impossible.
Yet that unique feat has been done several times in under three hours by Mikhal Kapral who happens to be editor of Canadian Running magazine.
On Sunday Kapral ‘joggled’ the Cayman Islands Half Marathon, figuring that one loop of the course is quite enough if he isn’t going to take it seriously.
He still finished third behind Marius Acker and Paul Drury in 1 hour 27 minutes and 14 seconds, only 11 minutes behind Acker who broke his own course record.
Had he wanted to, Kapral could probably have won juggling the balls, he is that good. Running and ‘joggling’ totally consumes his life but he uses self-deprecation about it all.
We’re sitting in Breezes restaurant the night before the big race and Kapral is explaining how he got into the weird knack of joggling.
‘This is great, my dream job,’ he says. ‘I get to travel to parts of the world to cover races, but mostly I sit at home and edit stuff.
A fastest time of 2 hours 30 minutes in 2002 when he won the Toronto Marathon is his best time. ‘I’m not a super competitive runner, I suppose top local class.’
Before discovering joggling, Kapral set the marathon record for pushing a baby in a stroller in 2004. Daughter Annika, who was 20 months at the time, was his companion.
He was training for a marathon but three-quarters of his mileage was pushing her so he decided to check with Guinness World Records to see if there was a record for it.
The existing record was over three hours and he ended up doing it in 2:49. ‘It was really hard at the end. My arm muscles were sore for years after that.
‘There’s a great shot of Annika at the finishing line with her arm in the air. It looks like she’s celebrating but she’s actually looking up at balloons.’
After that friends were asking what record was he going to set next. So he thought about it and remembered that years earlier he’d seen in the Guinness Book of Records one for marathon juggling.
‘The best part of it was that this sport was called ‘joggling’ which I thought was really funny. I knew how to juggle and practiced with tennis balls. Problem is that when you juggle for a long time your arms start to hurt really quickly.’
At first he was dropping the balls all the time and his biceps were killing him almost immediately, but like marathon training he preserved every day.
‘I did speed work joggling and long run joggling… everything. At the beginning I was so embarrassed I’d wake up at 4am, before the sun was up and went to a local park to practice while no one was looking. Eventually I got better. It was really like learning to run.
‘You need to have great concentration for almost three hours and you need endurance in arms as well as legs. You need to have this perfect groove and when you have it going well, it’s pretty much like poetry in motion.’
He runs with three balls but wants to try the much harder skill of five in the future.
Kapral’s first attempt was successful. He thought the record of 3 hours 7 minutes would last for a long time because he smashed the previous by 13 minutes.
But then a nemesis emerged. Two months later Kapral got a call from a cocky reporter in Boston. ‘He said: ‘How do you feel about Zack Warren breaking your record?”
‘I told the reporter: ‘I challenge Zack to a marathon joggling duel. You tell him that.’ So Zack phoned up and said: ‘I hear you want to race me?’ So I said: ‘Yeah, a marathon of your choice.’ He said as he lived in Boston he chose that one.
‘So the following April we lined up in Boston. It was crazy news coverage. It was even front page of the sports section of the Boston Globe. A really long article.
‘People were calling out how far he was ahead. He beat me by eight minutes and ran 2:58. I came back the next year and in late 2006, I ran the Toronto Waterfront Marathon where I first set the record and joggled 2:57.
‘Two months later, I got another call from a documentary film maker. ‘How do you feel about Zak breaking your record?’
‘He ran 2:52, so he’d smashed it again so now it’s getting really hard. So I trained really hard.
‘We had another duel, in Salt Lake City. I beat him but fell just short of his record, 2:53. And then I retired from joggling. But then two months later I came out of retirement. My wife, Dianne, said: ‘C’mon, you’ve got to give it one more shot.’
‘So last September I went back to the Toronto Waterfront and ran 2 hours 50 minutes and 12 seconds and that’s the current record.
‘Zack can definitely break it. He’s 27, and I’m 36, but right now he’s working in Afghanistan with a kids circus, so he’s out of commission until 2010.
‘Actually, I got a call from the New York Times recently and the reporter said: ‘If you and Zack have another duel I’ll write a big story on you, so let me know.”
The full marathon was won by Scott Brittain in 2:42:33 and first woman home was Beth Schreader in 3:12:54. Both received $1,000 TAG Heuer.
After Sunday’s run, Kapral looks as fresh as a daisy.
‘This was my first half marathon joggling and it was a tough one because it was dark. I had white bean bags so it meant just juggling blind for a lot of it.
‘A couple of times I was going through a dark patch and dropped it and when I started up again I dropped it again. I made it through, second half the light came through then I picked up the pace. It really took a lot of concentration.’
The father of two loves the Cayman course and the island. ‘I hope to come again, I loved it and I’m going to absolutely recommend it. It was great, the cheering sections, water stations and friendly vibe. It wasn’t as warm as I expected, but still comfortable.’