In the Running

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Erin Sprague hits the road at six a.m., five days a week. She's not on her way to work. Instead, she heads to Central Park to log another long run, part of a 50-mile-per-week training plan in her quest to set a new Guinness World Record by becoming the youngest woman to complete a marathon on all seven continents. All the while, she's raising awareness around the world with her nonprofit organization, In the Running.

It began as an athletic goal. "I've always been a runner," Erin says. "I ran in high school [and] in college. After you graduate from college, it's sort of like, 'Well, what's next?'" To satisfy her competitive hunger, she took up road racing, which ultimately led to her desire to conquer 26.2 miles in China, Tanzania, Florida, Brazil, Ireland, Antarctica and Australia. Then, as if that weren't enough, she added fundraising to the mix.

Joining Erin's international mission are nearly a dozen of her former Harvard University classmates, who together comprise In the Running's board of directors. Following months of research and outreach, they identified one non-profit organization on each continent to which they wanted to contribute. Erin explains, "We started with a macro-level cause that we thought was important to the continent and would collectively provide important solutions for the world community."

The organization's goal is to raise $70,000, to be divided among their selected organizations:
Girls on the Run Manhattan [North America]: targets the physical health and self-esteem of adolescent girls through classroom mentorship and running programs throughout New York City, as part of the national Girls on the Run mission
A Drop in the Ocean [South America]: partners with existing local organizations to provide direct funding, technical assistance, a network of volunteers and a portal for exposure to combat poverty through microfinance programs
Co-operation Ireland [Europe]: identifies conflicts and promotes solutions through cross-community and cross-border education and peace reconciliation programs in Ireland and Northern Ireland
The Polaris Project [Asia]: combats human trafficking, a form of modern-day slavery
KENWA [Africa]: serves and employs individuals infected with HIV/AIDS through education, health care and other vehicles of support
Silver Lining Foundation [Australia]: promotes personal and professional development through an "earning and learning" model for Aboriginal advancement
The Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition [Antarctica]: Studies and promotes long-term, sustainable conservation on Antarctica and in its surrounding oceans

Beyond fundraising, In the Running's goal is to raise awareness. "I'm sure a lot of people have never heard of Co-operation Ireland or the Polaris Project," Erin says. "The goal is to help people realize that you don't have to donate just to huge organizations . . . You can donate a small amount to a very small organization and also have a huge impact."

By word of mouth, the organization is getting noticed. "I think we mention In the Running to everyone—coworkers, friends, random people we see on the street. It's fundraising for a good cause, so we try to get the word out as much as we can," Erin says.  

Since she also works full-time as an analyst for The Blackstone Group in Manhattan, Erin sometimes focuses her efforts until three in the morning. "I always joke that setting up [In the Running] has taken more leg work than actually running," she says. "It's just been much more work than we anticipated, but so rewarding because of that."

As a 501(C)3 organization, In the Running [] essentially has no operating budget. "That means the typical ways of getting things done don't always work," says Dana Worth, director of strategic planning. "If you have a big organization and lot of staff, you'd tell your staff, 'I want this to happen,' and it happens. When you don't have that [advantage] . . . you have to be a little more creative." That includes fundraising events, direct email campaigns, even partnering with Co-operation Ireland to build a Dublin marathon team.
Erin is just as dedicated to her training, which, she says, has been driven by a new level of commitment. She says, "I have this separate life, and I don't have practice every day, so there's no one forcing me to go run." Competing in college, however, prepared Erin for the challenge of constant marathon training. "I know how to train," she continues, "so I know the consistency and the discipline that you need."

Pulling information from various training guides, including those offered by the New York Marathon and Runner's World magazine, Erin combines long runs and hill workouts with cross training that integrates Pilates or weightlifting and iPod cranking—including her favorite tunes from Kanye West, Justin Timberlake, Jay-Z and Nelly Furtado. 

Other things that keep her going? GU and lemon-lime Gatorade Endurance Formula, along with some of her favorite power foods like pasta and bananas. "I do the best I can with nutrition," she says. "It's something that I definitely notice when I don't eat well. When I don't have enough calories, I just feel sluggish, and I don't feel well on the run, so I eat a ton of carbohydrates."

Also abundant in her training regimen: stretching. "I stretch a ton," Erin says, "before, after and sometimes in between workouts. I can't even finish my routine without stretching." She thinks it's been a key to keeping her injury-free.

Erin even alternates running shoes, lacing up her Nikes to hit different stress points to help prevent injuries. "When you run, especially on concrete sidewalks, which are the hardest surface, the design of the shoe makes your foot hit the ground in different ways, so you're putting different amounts of stress on different areas of your legs and feet," Erin explains. "By switching shoes, you sort of spread out the stress points."

Erin's tactics prepared her for one of her toughest challenges—running 26.2 miles this past March in the Antarctica Marathon, where she placed fifth among women. "It took us two days by boat to get to Antarctica from southern Argentina, and the race was just wild," she says. "I was running through mud, rocks, ice, streams and up and down a really steep and slippery glacier.  It was cold and a couple of seals and penguins were the only spectators along the course!"

With six marathons down, Erin's preparing for her final go this July, the Gold Coast Marathon in Queensland, Australia.

Her post-race plans? "I think the immediate item on my agenda will be to get a massage after running seven marathons." And she intends to continue In the Running. "We're experimenting right now with integrating other people, she says. "We would like ideally to structure other challenges for runners to participate in and continue under the standard of small nonprofit fundraising."

Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock