Marathon Man: Jonathan Terrell Runs for Children’s National

by Catherine Douglas Moran

The world marathon challenge runner aimed to raise $1 million for pediatric mental health. 

Terrell finished the 2018 World Marathon Challenge in Miami, Fla. (Photo Courtesy of World Marathon Challenge).

In early February, Jonathan Terrell completed the 2018 World Marathon Challenge, which brought him to Cape Town, South Africa; Novo, Antarctica; Cartagena, South America; Perth, Australia; Dubai; Lisbon, Portugal and Miami. We sat down with Terrell, 55, to discuss why he ran seven marathons in seven days to raise funds and awareness of pediatric mental health.

Why did you decide to run the World Marathon Challenge?

Children’s National is one of the best children’s hospitals in the world, but it has a relatively low profile in the D.C. community. I knew about the race, because I am runner, and it was coming up in my social media feeds. I had this vision, ‘Why don’t we do this extreme endurance event? I’ll try and link it to the hospital.’ So I did.

How did you get involved with the committee for Children’s National Health System? 

The Corporate Advisory Board for Children’s National Health System was formed maybe a year and a half ago, and I was an inaugural member of that. Children’s National is all in in its commitment to pediatric and adolescent mental health. It was electrifying to me, because, one, I have been interested in mental illness my whole life. I spent over two years working in a mental hospital when I was a student. Second, I’m very interested in marginalized, stigmatized groups.

Terrell’s sons running a loop with him in Miami (Photo Courtesy of the World Marathon Challenge).

When did you start running?

I woke up on the first of January 2011, and I was the heaviest I’ve ever been. I had osteoporosis and sleep apnea and high cholesterol – you name it. I had young children, and I felt miserable. I thought, “Something has to change.” I’ve done about 35 marathons starting six years ago when I was 49, so I really got the bug.

How did you train to run seven marathons in seven days?

I had a couple of great trainers – Tiffany Nesfield and Leslie Knibb. A typical week would be 20 to 25 hours of training. I’d be getting up at 4:30 in the morning to work out for three hours before work, and it would break down to a lot of running, two long bike workouts, two long swim workouts, three strength training sessions. I think the real secret to it was every day I would spend about 30 minutes stretching. I am obsessed with injury prevention. During the World Marathon Challenge, I would do a two hour recovery routine.

Jonathan Terrell running in Antarctica (Photo Courtesy of the World Marathon Challenge).

How did you keep your stamina up?

I specifically prepared for this race for 14 months, and the mental and spiritual side of endurance sports is as important as the physical side. The foundation of my mental preparation was in three things. One, a sense of gratitude. The second pillar is a sense of belief in myself, my mission, my training and most importantly, my God. The third pillar is having a relationship with pain.

Part of this was to raise $1 million for Children’s National. Did you reach the goal?

I did not. I started out with a less ambitious goal, but I thought, ‘Let’s put a big number out there and see how far we can go.’ I’m not an elite athlete. I’m a regular guy who decided to get in shape and I took a huge risk in signing up for this race, so to me, having a safe fundraising goal would not have been consistent with what I was doing. I’m north of $250,000, and I think I’ll get a fair bit more.

This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

Jonathan Terrell in his D.C. residence with one of the medals from the race (Photo by Catherine Douglas Moran).


Medals from the race (Photo by Catherine Douglas Moran).

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