The Year of Magical Running: One Belgian Man, 365 Marathons

By Josh Sanburn
Stefaan Engels celebrates while crossing the finish line during the last marathon of his challenge consisting on running 365 marathons in 365 days at the Collserola Natural park in Barcelona, Spain.

As a child, Stefaan Engels was diagnosed with asthma and told not to exert himself. Instead, the now 49-year-old Belgian started to run. A lot. But Engels needed a new challenge. So he decided to run 365 consecutive marathons over the course of a year, a new world record. TIME talked to Engels as he recuperated in Belgium.

How are you feeling?
Special. It’s been four days and I’ve had to do interviews for the whole world. A new challenge for me is [seeing] how long I can talk to journalists.

Physically, how are you doing?
Of course I’m tired. But I have six hours in a day free now. No running, no massages. I think maybe in two weeks I’ll know more about how I’m really feeling. It’s not easy to say now.

So why did you do this? You know, you didn’t exactly have to run this much.
I like challenge in my life. I go my own way. The last 15 years, I did triathlons and ran marathons. And I said, OK — after my first marathon, what’s next? Second marathon, yes. Then five or six marathons. Then I did triathlons, 16 Ironmans. I thought I’d do something else but finish in a good way, and I said, How many marathons can I do in one year? I went to the Guinness Book of Records and I got the idea.

Did people around you try to convince you not to do this?
Of course. Nobody said to me, “Oh, good idea. Go for it.” My friends, my family, doctors — nobody believed in this project. Nobody. They said, It is not possible. You’ll damage your body and your mind and after two weeks you’ll crash. I was really alone.

And being diagnosed with asthma as a child didn’t help.
Yes — I was born with asthma. The doctors and my parents said, “Stay home. It’s not good to run.” But that was never my lifestyle. Thanks to running, I am breathing better. Of course, I must take my medicines every day. But my lung capacity is really good now. When I was 18, I thought I’d do my duty and go to the army. But the army said, “No, no, no. We cannot permit you.”

Did you get injured in any of your marathons?
At the beginning, I was running on ice and snow and it was a problem for my feet. I tried running marathons in a wheelchair, but after 36 days, I said, “No. Now it’s No. 1. I will start over and not run a marathon in a wheelchair.” After that, I never had a really big problem.

So you don’t think you did any long-term damage?
No. We have done a lot of tests and we see nothing. So that’s good.

How many pairs of shoes did you go through?
A lot. Twenty-five, I think. Every two weeks I changed my pair.

What did you eat every day?
I ate what I wanted. I didn’t follow a special diet, but I ate double. I lost 6,000 calories every day. A normal man loses 3,000. I also lost 12 kilos (26 lbs.). But the doctors said, eat what you want: chips, steaks, French fries, mayonnaise. Drink beer or wine. Really, it didn’t matter what I ate. If it gave energy, perfect.

Did you listen to an iPod when you ran?
Sure. If I did not have music in my ears, it was not possible. I have an iPod with 10,000 songs. But if you ask me what’s my favorite, I say Radiohead.

That seems a little strange to run to.
It’s like you’re in another world listening to it, like you’re in another atmosphere. In the beginning, 200 to 300 people were running with me every day. People said I was like Forrest Gump. But sometimes I was so tired of talking. I wanted to stay alone, so I plugged my iPod in my ears. “Shh, shh,” I thought. “I will now stay alone with my music.”

What did you do the day after you were done?
I had my first hangover that evening. They gave me a real party with friends and sponsors. We went to a nightclub with about 200-300 people. I don’t know who brought me to my hotel.

So, are you going for another run anytime soon?
Yeah — my doctors say, please, please, please. It’s not good for your mind not to run now. The body, it might be OK. But the mind, they thought maybe I’d have the blues. I made a lot of endorphins every day. And now, none. They say it’s important for myself that I do something. I landed in Brussels the day after the party, and it was like, “I must be running now.” But no, no, no, no, no. You’re finished. I say to myself — OK, one week, really do nothing.


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