MARATHON MAN: PROFESSOR PLANS TO RUN WORLD MARATHON CHALLENGE TO END DEPRESSION STIGMA

Dr. Shawn Bearden running outdoorsMadeleine Coles

Life Editor

Some people find running to be a grueling, miserable experience. Some people can’t even imagine running more than a few miles at a time. Shawn Bearden is not one of those people.

The physiology professor who’s been running ultra races since late 2013 is planning to take on one of the toughest runs out there: the World Marathon Challenge.

The challenge involves running seven marathons in seven days on all seven continents.

Bearden said he first heard about the race, which was only established in 2015, when he was interviewing a fellow runner for his podcast, “The Science of Ultra.”

“It just immediately clicked,” Bearden said. “As soon as I looked into it, I realized that’s what I had to do.”

For Bearden, the challenge was the perfect opportunity to speak out about ending the stigma of depression, something he has been working toward for some time.

“I’ve known for about a year that I wanted to do something big that grabs people’s attention, and use that to get this message out,” he said.

It’s a message that’s very important to Bearden as he said he himself has depression and struggled silently for a very long time. He said he hopes running this race and raising awareness about depression can enable other people to seek help.

“I hope that by my doing this run and getting the message out there, I’m … showing people that they can come back from depression by letting somebody know,” Bearden said. “And they’ll be able to do great things.”

And for himself, Bearden said that running has been the core of his therapy. In an easy week, Bearden said he typically runs 70 miles, and can run up to 120 miles a week.

He is also running five ultra races this year before he takes on the World Marathon Challenge in January.

Between running, teaching and his podcast, life can get pretty busy for Bearden. But, according to him, it all falls into place.

“The core of what drives me is human health,” he said. “Everything I do is wrapped around this one theme, so even though it’s a lot of things, and a lot to do, I’m lucky to have found my passion.”

And it will undoubtedly take a lot of passion to complete the challenge of running seven marathons in seven days. While Bearden said his physical training will not be much different as he is already used to running ultra marathons, the one thing he cannot train for is the sleep deprivation that will come from back-to-back marathons and back to back travel.

“Time of day will mean nothing after the first 24 hours,” Bearden said. 

But he added that he has already found energy with the outpouring of community support he has received.

“The biggest impact that I’ve had is the number of people speaking out to me and saying, ‘me too,’” he said. “That’s what’s really energizing me to continue on with all of this because it tells me I am reaching people.”

Although this is Bearden’s first project dealing with depression awareness, he said he hopes it will be just the beginning.

“My big hope is that this is the start of many projects to continue raising awareness,” he said.

Bearden has established a GoFundMe account to assist with the cost of the race. A portion of the money raised will go to the International Foundation for Research and Education on Depression, as Bearden will be running the race as an ambassador for the charity. To donate, visit GoFundMe.com/worldmarathons.

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