Running for Mental Health

The journey that led Doctor Luis Allen on a race across the globe
by Ingrid Hernández (edited)

Editors note: Yes, I know, this is a swimming newsletter, but I know that swimmers will appreciate the effort and discipline needed for this challenge.  I thought this man’s story was interesting.  Maybe you have heard about it.  It is the World Marathon Challenge – 7 Continents; 7 Marathons; 7 Days.

Allen is board-certified in general and geriatric psychiatry and holds academic appointment at Florida State University, Nova Southeastern University, and St. Matthew’s University.

Luis Allen, M.D., participated in the World Marathon Challenge on Feb. 6-13, 2020 .  Allen ran seven marathons on seven continents in seven days.  This challenge was monumental, but certainly not the worst challenge he’s ever faced.

Allen is a survivor of the horrific 2008 terrorist attack in Mumbai, India, in which more than 150 people died.  For two days, he and his family of four hid under a bed in their hotel room as gunmen inside the Taj Mahal Palace & Tower Hotel pulled guests from their rooms and shot them.

When the Allen family was rescued by local authorities, they emerged from their room to find that every door in their hallway had been knocked down with the exception of their door and the two doors that led to them.

In the wake of that experience, Allen re-examined his life and, among other changes, took up running to improve his mental and physical health.  Gradually, he became a marathoner and started to compete around the world.

The World Marathon Challenge, is organized by Global Running Adventures.  Participants run 183 miles and spend 68 hours flying in a charter plane throughout the course of the challenge, which includes the destinations Novo (Antarctica), Cape Town (Africa), Perth (Australia), Dubai (Asia), Madrid (Europe), Fortaleza (South America) and Miami (North America).  The races take place at different hours of the day in varying climates.  The one in Cape Town had intense winds.  In Antarctica, Allen braved freezing temperatures, snow and ice

“The biggest challenge about doing something like this is the short period of time.  It’s a repetitive process,” said Allen.  “How do you recover from one race to the other?  What’s your nutrition?  Your hydration?  Do you have enough shoes and the appropriate clothing?  These are all of the factors we had to consider.”


Allen trained for the World Marathon Challenge for a full year, completing six marathons in 2019 alone.  But his preparation went beyond the physical aspect.

“Yes, we prepare physically, but this is more of a mental challenge than a physical one at times,” he said.  “It’s the goals you set in your mind, what you’re trying to get accomplished, the cause you’re doing this for — all of these things really come together and push you through the difficult spots.”

In the end, Allen completed the World Marathon Challenge with an average time of 6:37:32.

“I’ve felt that [this challenge] was like hitting a restart button,” he said.  “I don’t know exactly where it’s going to go, but I know there’s going to be new meaning in my life and I’m hoping that it’ll help me serve my patients better.”

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