Doha residents Mekaal Rahim, 9, and Zara Rahim, 11, have broken the record for the youngest male and female respectively, in the world to complete a full marathon in Antarctica.
The previous record for completing a full marathon on the cold continent was age 12 for female and 10 for male (both Americans).
Both Zara and Mekaal have been taking part in long-distance races from a very young age. To-date, they have completed 3 full marathons (in Europe, South America and Antarctica). Moreover, they have run half marathons in North America and Asia and are on track to complete the 7 continents full marathon journey by March 2018, which would make them the youngest male and female in the world to achieve this remarkable feat.
The Canadian-born siblings, who are students at Qatar Finland International School, are among the fastest junior athletes in the country; winning regularly in the 3K and 5K events.
Mekaal ran his first 3K race at Dubai Marathon at the tender age of 3 while Zara was 4 when she took part in her first official event. They have, until now, completed almost 100 long-distance events in 15 countries.
In 2016 and 2017, the kids were part of the one-week Southern Caribbean Challenge where they ran 7 10Ks and half marathons on 6 Caribbean Islands and one race on the cruise ship.
Zara and Mekaal are global travellers and have so far set foot on 61 countries on 6 continents. Their love for running came from watching their parents take part in long-distance events all over the world. Their mother, Nadia Rahim, started the Qatar Running Series back in 2015. It is the only community-based running series in the country which attracts hundreds of runners ranging from juniors to adults. She also owns PlayBall Doha, a sports and movement program for kids.
Their father, Ziyad Rahim, holds 10 Guinness World Records in long-distance running; something both kids aspire to break when they grow up. Both Zara and Mekaal are fluent in English and French and conversational Arabic and Urdu.
The quest for 7 continents started after both kids watched a documentary on Syrian refugees struggling to find a safe haven.
Zara added, “I was so sad to see young kids walking hundreds of miles with their parents from one country to another. They did not have warm clothes or proper shoes, but still they were determined and motivated to reach their destination. I wanted to experience the pain they were going through, so I asked my parents if Mekaal and I can run a marathon”.
Ziyad explained that the kids had to go through strenuous training for the race. “I had to ensure that they were fit enough for the challenge. A few months before, they both had completed a half marathon in Barbados, including multi-day 10K races. However, the jump from 21K to 42K is huge so I had to train them to be mentally strong for the challenge. They are fast runners as they usually run a 5K in 23 minutes and a 10K in under one hour. I told them that they need to walk and run and conserve energy or they will not be able to succeed. We enrolled them in a swimming camp to improve their cardiovascular and had them thoroughly checked by doctors. Once my wife and I were convinced, we signed them up for the marathon”. After three months of training, they signed up for their first marathon in Scotland in July 2017 and the whole family completed it together.
Throughout the fall season, both kids continued their training by taking part in Qatar Running Series events. They also joined TriClub Doha and H20 club where they honed their swimming and cycling skills.
On December 12, the family took a 28-hour flight (including transits) to reach Punta Arenas; the southern tip of Chile. There, the runners were informed that the weather in Antarctica is not safe for planes to land as it had been snowing for the last 4 days. After 2 days of waiting around, the organisers decided to hold the Magellan Marathon, Chile to save time. The weather wasn’t that great in Chile, too, as the Patagonian wind was extremely strong and the kids found hard running on the Punta Arenas promenade along the Southern Ocean. However, they managed to complete the race to secure their 2nd continent finish after Europe.
Two days later, the weather in Antarctica co-operated and the runners were flown in to King George Island on Saturday morning. With legs still heavy from running a full marathon two day earlier, the kids started the race 30 minutes after getting off the plane. The KGI Classic Marathon, Antarctica was tough as it took place in December which is the end of the spring season. So, within two days, the kids ran 42km in gruelling conditions on both continents. The underfoot conditions in Antarctica were extremely rough with 12 inches of snow on most parts of the course. The temp was about -10C (with wind-chill) which is about 40C colder than the temp is in Qatar where they live.
“Whenever I was cold and tired, I kept thinking how those Syrian kids managed to travel those long distances. I was exhausted but I kept going and my parents helped me a lot. It was a great feeling when my brother and I finished the race together”, Zara explained.
Their parents were extremely vigilant throughout the race.
“I kept checking their heart rate and body temperature and made sure they were well hydrated. We even took a 15-minute break and took them inside the base for hot chocolate and soup. We had doctors on board, too, so we knew they were in safe hands. I think my wife and I were more tired after the race as we kept monitoring them throughout rather than concentrating on our own race”, Ziyad added.
In the end, both completed the race with a big smile. The next day, they woke up fresh and did all the excursions by visiting penguin and elephant seal colonies and even played ping pong with the Russian scientists at the base.
Mekaal explained how amazing the Antarctic trip was: “I spoke with a scientist, who studied glaciers and he told me about climate change. I also ran beside penguins and took pictures with them. They are cute but their colonies smell bad”.
Their mother was elated: “I am so proud of Zara and Mekaal. Running a marathon is tough physically as well as mentally, and they powered on through. At times you feel like you want to quit but they kept on going. They are an inspiration to me and I am amazed at their determination” said Nadia Rahim.
Both Zara and Mekaal completed a tough race in Pretoria, South Africa on Saturday. This marks the 4th continent on their quest for the youngest runners to complete a marathon on each continent.
The race was tough as it took place at 6,000 ft above sea level. It was a remarkable effort since they both live and train at sea level.
Their next destination is North America and Asia in January while the final continent will be Australia in March.
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