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Avid race-walker competes in grueling World Marathon Challenge, traveling around the world in a week

COURTEY PHOTO - Ginny Turner, 66, recently completed seven half-marathons on all seven continents, including a race in Antarctica on Jan. 31. She was one of 41 racers to compete in the the World Marathon Challenge.For nearly 30 years, Ginny Turner has been lacing up her sneakers, opening the front door of her Hillsboro home, and going for a run.

It's been her go-to form of exercise for years. What started as a hobby quickly became an obsession, driving the Hillsboro grandmother to compete in marathons all over the world.

Turner lives by a simple philosophy: Never stop moving.

Turner is an avid race-walker, an Olympic sport which requires athletes to keep one foot on the ground at all times. Turner was a runner for years before she gave up the sport for race-walking in 2001.

This month, Turner returned from the World Marathon Challenge, a grueling weeklong race that pitted her against some of the most extreme runners out there. The 66-year-old grandmother completed seven half-marathons on seven continents in seven days.

Turner was one of 41 racers on the trip who competed in Antarctica, Africa, Australia, Asia, Europe, South America and finally Miami, Fla. The racers came from everywhere: America, Portugal, France, the Netherlands and everywhere in between, she said.

"It was crazy," Turner said. "It's pretty fantastic what we did."

COURTESY PHOTO - Turner has already raced on every contininent twice over prior to the World Marathon Challenge. She's already planning another half-marathon in Madagascar later this year.Turner left in late January, arriving at Novolazarevskaya research station in Antarctica on Jan. 31.

"It was just a bunch of container buildings," Turner said. "There was an ice runway, and that's about all there is there. You have to wear glasses, otherwise the glare off the snow can hurt your eyes."

The temperature in Antarctica was as low as minus 2 degrees Fahrenheit during their race, she said, but arriving at their next race destination in Cape Town, South Africa, later that day, Turner found herself in more than 100 degree weather.

"That's a big difference in less than 24 hours," she said.

Most of her races were held at night, Turner said, which proved to be a blessing in Australia, which is in the middle of its summer heat wave.

From Perth, Australia, the racers flew to Dubai, then Madrid, Then back to the Southern Hemisphere to Chile before finishing the race in Miami.

"It was really hard to wrap your head around how fast we were doing this," Turner said. "My daughter and friend were flying to Miami to meet me at the end of the race, and I was in Dubai and got a text from my friend about snow in Portland. … I land in Madrid and it's time for them to check in for their flight. It was wild."

Turner lived on the plane for a week with the rest of the participants. They ate and slept in the air, in between races.

"We became a family," she said. "We would welcome different pilots and air crew on and off the plane. That was our hotel. I told people after it was the best cruise ever. It was an air cruise."

Sleeping in an airplane seat is far from comfortable, but Turner said after a while, it became second nature to her.

"We were tired enough it didn't matter," she said. "The hardest part was that we needed to get our legs lifted so your feet didn't swell. But I didn't get enough sleep between Perth and Dubai. I felt like I was sleep walking in Dubai. I needed to go horizontal and get some sleep."

In Madrid, Turner said, the racers were able to grab a little shuteye in a hotel room, but it wasn't much.

"I got about an hour and a half of sleep in a real bed," Turner said. "But I slept really hard and I was afraid I was going to miss the plane!"

Somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean, Turner said she came to a realization.

"This is going to come to a halt really quickly," she thought to herself. She took her time that day, meeting every single racer, learning their names and their story.

"I got their contact info for all of them," she said. When she arrived back in Hillsboro, she set up a private Facebook page for the racers to stay connected.

"We call ourselves 'the 41,'" she said.

Already planning for next adventure

COURTEY PHOTO - Ginny Turner competed in seven half-marathons on seven continents in seven days.The World Marathon is a feat Turner is proud to have accomplished, but it's only one more notch in a running career that has sent Turner around the world a few times over.

Turner has raked up a list of accomplishments as a runner and race-walker. She's completed 208 marathons in her life, racing in all 50 states twice over. She's raced on all seven continents twice as well. She ran all the provinces of Canada and held two Guinness World Records in 2007, the first for having the shortest overall time to complete marathons on all seven continents, and the second for being the fastest woman to complete marathons on all seven continents and the North Pole. Both records have since been beaten.

"It's a good thing I got them back in 2007," she said.

Turner stumbled into marathon running. A softball player in the 1980s, Turner began running as a way to improve her speed running the bases.

But once she started running, she found she couldn't stop.

"I wanted to run the bases faster," she said. "But I discovered that running is its own sport. It could take me all over the world."

She ran her first marathon in 1990, completing the Portland Marathon. At the time she only planned to run a single marathon. She stopped racing.

She found the sport again a few years later, after the birth of her granddaughter. That inspired her to get in shape, she said.

"I ran two miles that day," she said.

She ran another marathon, then another, then another.

In her career, Turner has completed 208 marathons. When her knees began to give out, she moved to half-marathons.

"When it got to where it wasn't fun anymore, I had to re-think what I was doing," she said.

Turner had both her knees replaced in 2017. Turner said she won't stop racing, but she wants to be much more selective about the races she chooses.

"I have to treat them well," she said. "I'm not looking so much for quantity of races anymore. I'm pretty particular about the ones I pick. Now it's about the quality."

Turner said she's as interested in racing as she is in seeing the world.

"When they come together, like a travel race, sign me up," she said.

Turner has been busy since she returned, appearing on KPTV, KGW and KATU and featured in The Oregonian. But she's already thinking of her next adventure.

"I'm already signed up for a race in Madagascar in June," she said. She has another race in Oklahoma in the spring, as well.

By Geoff Pursinger
Editor, Hillsboro Tribune
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