Alumnus Greg Nance running in the desert

7 marathons, 7 days, 7 continents

Alumnus Greg Nance (MPhil Management 2011) is taking part in the World Marathon Challenge later this week – we caught up with him to chat about why he’s running it, his charity work, and what it feels like to be described by the Obama administration as a “champion of change”.

  • Why the World Marathon Challenge? 

I'm an ultra marathon runner on a mission to expand access to education. I was only able to attend Cambridge thanks to the Gates Scholarship and I'm on a mission to pay it forward. I'm running the World Marathon Challenge beginning on 31 January to raise funds for Moneythink, a charity I co-founded that is using text-based financial coaching to help low-income students navigate the college application process and overcome the financial barriers to a great education.

I'm also a competitor and I'm always looking to take on the biggest challenges I can. Only 104 people have ever run 7 marathons in 7 days on 7 continents compared to 562 who have travelled to outer space or 4,000+ who have climbed Mount Everest and I want to see if I can overcome the mental and physical obstacles to join this community of nutters!

  • What is your training schedule like?

Lots of early morning mileage, calisthenics, and strength training. Due to the climactic variation I’ll be experiencing during the challenge, I'm training for both the freezer and the furnace!  

Each morning I head out into the cold to train without gloves, cap or coat. The winter chill stings my hands and ears, teaching me to power through the discomfort surely awaiting me in Antarctica.

Simultaneously, I’m preparing for the rigours of distance running in extreme heat. Before work and on weekends I knockout a “Stair Master” workout where I’ll wear a winter jacket, wool cap, and rucksack loaded with books. Within a few flights of stairs, I’m sweating and feeling the burn. I started with 100 flights up and down my office stairwell and I'm aiming to peak at 777 flights before the Challenge kicks off. I also train with cardio sessions in the sauna. An intensive aerobic circuit in the sauna helps me refine breathing and find a rhythm despite suffocating heat.

  • How long have you been training?

I've been slowly ramping up since December 2011 when I used sprint repeats on Castle Hill to prepare for my first ultra marathon on the Jurassic Coast. Running ultra marathons requires physical endurance but it's more of a mental challenge so each of my previous races has been training leading to this start line. I took a week off to rest after finishing the 250km Atacama Crossing in early October so this training cycle has spanned 13 weeks. 

Atacama crossing finish line
Alumnus Greg Nance at the Atacama ultra marathon


  • What do you think the hardest aspect of the World Marathon Challenge will be?

Running 7 marathons (295km / 183.4 miles) in 7 days will be tough, especially because we'll be flying for about 75 hours to get between continents and reach the race sites in Antarctica, Cape Town, Perth, Dubai, Madrid, Santiago, and Miami.

I'm betting the second hardest aspect will be the huge contrast in temperature we’ll face. We’ll begin with sub-zero Antarctic wind chill before facing unrelenting sun and triple-digit heat in Perth and Dubai.

  • Tell us a bit more about Moneythink, the charity you co-founded?

I co-founded the organisation in 2008 with four fellow undergraduates while we were students at the University of Chicago. The flagship mentorship program at Moneythink connects college volunteers with high school students to teach saving, budgeting and goal-setting so high schoolers can build financial capability and healthy spending habits. So far, Moneythink has helped 15,000 students, but we want to help many more.

Our new program is an SMS text-based financial coaching model to guide college applicants through the FAFSA (America's compulsory financial aid application). When students complete the form they become eligible for grants, scholarships, and subsidized loans that make college affordable. We're excited to be expanding the program after a successful pilot because the opportunity for positive impact is astounding.

  • How did it feel for Moneythink to be recognized by the Obama administration as a “champion of change”?

It was an amazing feeling! I remember the celebratory Skype call from my Fitz dorm room with our Chicago HQ team right after the announcement. We were a group of volunteers aiming to make a difference and President Obama's recognition gave us a chance to start building our impact at a whole new level. 

  • What is your fondest memory of Fitz? 

I have too many fond memories to pick just one! Countless wonderful conversations at the Buttery, glorious morning walks around the beautiful Fitz grounds, lots of pasta dinner parties with my suitemates, and dozens of amazing nights at the MCR!

The World Marathon Challenge starts on 31 January 2019 - you can follow Greg’s progress on his Instagram account @GregRunsFar. To sponsor him, visit gofundme.gregrunsfar

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