Catching up with Dean Pratt: the RaceRaves interview

Dean Pratt, who ran six World Marathon Majors in one yearOccupation: Chartered Accountant
Hometown: Hawera, Taranaki, New Zealand
Notable: In 2014, Dean Pratt completed all six World Marathon Majors (Tokyo, Boston, London, Berlin, Chicago, New York City) in a single calendar year, becoming one of only a handful of runners (and the first Kiwi) to do so. In the process he raised $24,500 to benefit the Starship Children’s Hospital of New Zealand. When we met at the Berlin Marathon in Sept 2014, Dean’s personal mission reeled us in hook, line & sneaker. So we recently caught up with him to ask about his remarkable 2014, the ups & downs of tackling six Majors in one year, and the added challenge of doing it all from a country (and continent) with no Majors of its own.

What’s your background as a runner, and what inspired your goal to run all six World Marathon Majors (WMMs) in a single year?

To be fair there wasn’t one [specific inspiration]. In August 2013 I was reading a book called Run Like Crazy: 52 Marathons 52 Weeks 42 Countries by Tristan Miller, and in the book he made mention of how difficult it was to run the six Majors in one calendar year.

I sat there reading the book, realizing I was 47 years old, 5’10” and weighed approximately 210 pounds. I decided it was about time I got off my butt and started some running again. To put it in perspective, the last time I’d run a marathon was 20 years previously when I was a fit and relatively youthful 26-year-old, and since that date I’d done very little running and just a little bit of exercise. I hadn’t run any substantial distance other than to the coffee machine.

As an incentive, I thought it would be a cool idea to run the six marathons in one calendar year, and at the same time raise money for the Starship Children’s Hospital in New Zealand. So with that in mind I set about figuring out how to enter all of these Majors, which is relatively straightforward – as long as you don’t mind putting your ego to one side.

For our readers who don’t know, all six Majors use a lottery registration system, with Boston additionally requiring a qualifying time or $5,000 fundraising minimum through their Official Charity Program. So then logistically, for anyone looking to tackle all six WMMs in a single year, how would you recommend they get started?

One of the biggest fears I had when I started out was, how do I go about entering all these marathons? Because I had heard horror stories of people waiting for years to get their entry into New York or Boston or London. However, I was soon led in the right direction, because believe it or not there is a crazy group of people out there who actually organise tours to these marathons. Yes, you pay a fee for their organizing the tour which includes your airfare, accommodations, race entry and so forth, but they take a lot of the hard work out of it, and for the experience the cost is not that great.

It’s fair to say I was never going to be a Kenyan and I was never going to [make] the qualifying times, but I did get to every marathon through these tour companies. In saying that, I can recommend the tour companies for the simple fact they take a lot of the logistical nightmares out of the way for you as a runner, so that you can actually focus on running the event, having a great time, meeting wonderful people and sharing the marathon experience with each other. (RR note: Dean traveled with Get Running Ltd and Marathon Tours based in New Zealand, Sports Tours International in the UK and Travelling Fit in Australia.)

Many articles on adventurous athletes attract responses such as, “If I were independently wealthy, I’d run around the world too.” If you don’t mind our asking, did you do anything special to finance your international travels?

I really didn’t do too much special to finance my international travels. Rather, being self employed, having an understanding business partner and most importantly having a very, very understanding wife and children certainly helps.

Berlin-Start-Line_RaceRaves

From most to least favorite, how would you rate each Major?

Now, if I was to rate all of the majors that I ran that year, it would be very hard to say one was less favourite than the others. However, it would be fair to say that Tokyo was far and away my hardest race, as it was the first marathon I had done in a very long time. And on the basis of four months training with quite a few injuries it was a very, very long day at the office (RR note: Dean’s WMM finish times ranged from 4:00:48 in Chicago to 4:46:11 in Tokyo). To add insult to injury, Tokyo was also where I was passed by a running goldfish over the last 400 yards.

What stood out the most in your mind about each race?

As for all marathons, but particularly the Majors, the thing that really stands out is the way that all the runners come together and really support each other throughout the race. When you’re starting to feel a bit weary someone will run past and say “Keep it going, keep the spirit up, keep the legs moving.” It’s those little comments of encouragement that keep you going. That’s one of the things that makes marathons that much different from any other race – everybody’s just aiming to get to that finishing line and complete it to the best of their abilities.

How about a specific highlight or memorable moment from each race?

  • Tokyo – the cold and the snow falling during one section of the race.
  • London – the party atmosphere and the various really cool costumes.
  • Boston – the fact that it was the first marathon after the bombing. Shout-out to all the Bostonians out there – you are cool dudes and dudettes, stay strong!
  • Berlin – the organisation, and in some places on course the techno music that really lifts the spirits.
  • Chicago – its lovely flat course with cool neighbourhoods that get behind the race… though fair to say some of the roading could do with a bit of attention.
  • New York – the size and scale, which is just awesome. It is mind-blowing running down [5th] Avenue before turning toward the finish in Central Park.

If you could run just one Major again, which would it be & why?Dean Pratt pic from Taranaki Daily News

This is a tough question because at the end of the day, all of the Majors are special in their own right. But there are two that stand out for their size, atmosphere and rationale for running them.

The first would be London, which has got to be the most amazing party atmosphere out there. It’s an all-for-charity run: everybody’s raising funds for their various charities around the world, and everyone’s having a good time. The bands, the people along the side of the road, and all the other things going on make this a very special marathon.

The second would be New York City. The scale – the number of runners and spectators urging everybody on toward their end goal – is quite simply stunning. So those would be the two that stand out; don’t ask me to separate them because they are both very, very special marathons.

In just over eight months, you finished six marathons and – maybe more amazingly – logged nearly 116,000 miles in airline travel. Did you do anything in particular to keep your legs and body limber between races, e.g. join the Air New Zealand “Frequent Flyer Foam Roller Club”?

Apart from the basics of foam rollers etc. there was compression clothing (great stuff, but make sure you get quality gear), legs in the air (i.e. lay on your back with legs up on the wall) and shiteloads of physiotherapy & massage.

As a runner/athlete, how do you follow up a year like 2014?

After completing the six Majors in 2014, the body was suffering a wee bit what with the running and the jetlag. (Everywhere is a long plane ride from New Zealand.) Thus 2015 was just a year of taking it easy, getting the body back to the right place and also getting the mind back to the right zone. Toward the end of the mission, running was losing the enjoyment factor and was becoming a bit of a chore. It’s fair to say as we move into 2016 I’m back on the roads running, doing gym sessions and building strength with a view to running one or two marathons this year in New Zealand. It has always got to be remembered that running a marathon is not just a physical event but also a mental event – and after the efforts of 2014 I was mentally rather drained.

Dean Pratt Six World Marathon Majors display on RaceRaves

How would you describe your feelings as you stepped off the plane in New Zealand after finishing your sixth and final Major in New York?

Rather than describe my feeling when I stepped off the plane back in New Zealand, I would rather describe my feelings at the end of the New York City Marathon. I realised, as I came around the bottom end of Central Park and turned into the finishing area, that I had achieved a personal goal and raised a not-too-insignificant sum of money for charity. The emotions that swept through me as I crossed the line were nearly every feeling – you wanted to laugh, you wanted to cry, you had the euphoria of completing a marathon and the satisfaction of raising funds for others. It was a very emotional moment and yes, I’m not too big to say there were a few tears on realising the mission had been accomplished.

In retrospect, what was the most memorable aspect of your WMM year?

The most memorable aspect for me was raising funds for Starship Children’s Hospital and their support & genuine appreciation of the efforts I undertook for them. Starship Hospital in New Zealand is a very special place with a very special team of people. These people need all the help they can get, be it New Zealand Starship or the overseas equivalent in whatever country. And for runners to be able to combine their passion for running & raising funds for charity is a real blessing.

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Your turn – what do you think?