Marathon running has become such a phenomenal craze that a party of visitors are coming here on a cruise ship to run one in Cayman after completing four 26.2-mile runs in each of the previous days in other Caribbean destinations.
Five marathons in as many days on a cruise sounds exhausting and not the typical way of enjoying oneself on a pleasure ship, but Ziyad Rahim has created a niche market and always finds plenty of takers. This event is the Western Caribbean Challenge. The marathon he has organized in Cayman is on Dec. 4, on the waterfront. The marathons in the previous days will be in Miami, Cozumel, Belize and Honduras.
Rahim noticed that there are many runners who complete marathons in multiple countries who join the Marathon Country Club and Marathon Globetrotters, but these trips tend to be expensive and relatively long.
So he decided to find a cheaper and shorter way for them to achieve this. Most runners tend to travel alone to countries for marathons.
His way, the majority of runners who sign up are traveling with their families, so they can enjoy a relaxing cruise vacation with family and run marathons as well.
The first cruise marathon Rahim organized was the Triple 7 Quest seven months ago, taking 36 runners from around the world to run seven marathons on seven continents in seven days.
Most of the runners on the Western Caribbean Challenge have signed up for all five marathons or a combination of marathons and half-marathons. Rahim will do all five long runs.
Around a dozen runners are involved, including John Wallace, who has completed marathons in 127 countries, which is a world record.
Another is Dr. Brent Weigner, who has done marathons in 87 countries and is also a three-time cancer survivor. Also on the trip is Ila Brandli, 70, who started running only seven years ago and has already completed more than 100 marathons.
“For the Western Caribbean Challenge, we have a small group, as by the time I finalized the race series, it was already July and most people book their planned vacations early in the year,” Rahim said.
“However, for the Southern Caribbean Challenge in January, we have 30-plus registered runners.
“We are also finalizing the Scandinavian Challenge in July, which would cover Sweden, Finland, Latvia, Estonia and Russia. The plan is to arrange four cruise marathons a year covering 20-plus countries.”
Qatar-based Rahim has traveled to more than 70 countries and completed a marathon in 33 of them.
“Over the years, I have met runners from around the world, so whenever I arrange an event in any country, I contact my running friends who either mark out a course for me or introduce me to local running clubs who organize events for us,” he said. “I am basically a one-man show and I do it as a hobby.”
He grew up in Pakistan and felt fortunate to attend Aitchison College in Lahore, which excels in sports and academics. Growing up, Rahim played a lot of competitive cricket and squash. He was also good at tennis, hockey and athletics.
He only started long-distance running after moving to Canada in 2000. In 2003, he ran his first marathon and instantly found his sporting Holy Grail. Even now, working as a full-time banker and a family man, Rahim, 42, still takes out an hour each day for sports.
He holds dual nationality – Pakistani and Canadian – and is married with two children; daughter Zara, 9, and son Mekaal, 7.
Rahim holds six Guinness World Records in endurance running and has broken four more records this year, pending approval.
He is the first and only Asian to complete a marathon and ultra-marathon on all seven continents, a record five times. He has also raised money for many charities and good causes in Pakistan.
His marathon in Cayman was determined by the date and timing of the cruise vacation.
Most cruises start and finish on Sunday, so running the official Cayman Marathon on Dec. 6 was not possible. Also, in all locations, the start time of the event is dependent on the time the cruise ship docks at the port.
“I have carefully chosen those cruises that have at least seven to eight hours of port time at each location,” Rahim said. “This would allow runners to complete a marathon in six to seven hours.”
All his scheduled routes are close to the cruise terminal. In Cayman they will run on a 5.275 kilometer out-and-back course eight times to complete the 42.2K distance.
“The reason we have chosen a short course is to ensure that at no point our runners are too far away from the cruise terminal,” Rahim said.
“We don’t want anyone to miss the cruise ship back, so if some runners are slowing down, we can easily pull them off the course.”
He does not expect much local participation, partly because the event is only two days before the Cayman Marathon and it is on a work day.
“However, for next year, we plan to arrange the event in early November and will advertise it locally in advance. For this year, we will give complimentary race entry to 10 local runners. They will also receive finishers’ medals.”
Rahim is so passionate about these events that, as well as the cruise vacations, he is organizing the highest ultra-marathon in the world.
The event’s start point will be higher than the Everest Ultra and will also be higher than any mountain peak in Europe and Africa. No details so far, but it will take place in May 2016.
Cayman resident Phil Brown met Rahim on the 2012 Antarctica Marathon trip and stayed in touch with him. “I last caught up with Ziyad at the 2014 London Marathon and plan to see him in New York next month,” said Brown.
“Sadly, I won’t be able to participate in his run in December, but Tony Watts [Wednesday Night Running Club founder] was able to provide him with some maps of possible routes for the race.
“I have seen Ziyad’s plans for a series of marathon cruise tours and it certainly is an interesting idea. My experience from Antarctica is that there is no end of people ready take part in such trips.”