Dubai resident Maria Conceicao has completed the first of her attempts to complete six Ironmen across six continents.
The charity founder – who has broken six Guinness World Records – is currently taking on the challenge to raise awareness and funds for her Maria Cristina Foundation in Bangladesh, which supports nearly 200 children from the slums of Dhaka.
Ironmen are known to be among the most challenging endurance races in the world, pushing the body to the extreme with a 3.8km swim, a 180km bike ride and a 42.2km run.
Athletes spend years conditioning their bodies to complete only one Ironman, let alone six in quick succession. Remarkably, Maria’s successful finish in South Africa last week was her first ever.
Speaking to Sport360 after returning from Johannesburg, Maria said: “It was extremely tough. I was so nervous at the start as I really didn’t know if I could make it.”
“Ironman have cut off times throughout the race and they are really strict, if you don’t make the time you are out.”
“For example on the swim you have 2hours 20 minutes to swim the 3.8km, I know that in normal conditions I can make it ok but I’m still not a strong swimmer so if its a little bit rough it really slows me down, this race was a little bit choppy but i made it ok.
“Also with the bike, I am not strong as I’m relatively new to cycling so have limited strength and confidence on a bike.”
For Maria, the lengths that she goes to preparing for such a physical challenge, is nothing compared to the daily struggles of the Dhaka children that she supports and is helping to put through education.
“I am always seeking challenges that are a bit different. If I keep doing the same type of challenges people can get bored and the only reason I do them is to keep people’s attention and to raise funds for the children’s education,” she said.
“Quite often people don’t know the story from the beginning so if they see me doing another challenge running marathons they assume that I am some gifted runner and that it comes easy for me. But this is definitely not the case. I start from zero every time and basically have to re-invent myself.
“When I decided to summit Mount Everest I had no experience in mountain climbing and it took me a year of intense and extreme training to get there. The same with my marathons and ultras and the same with my English channel swim.
“I learnt to swim in 2015 and triathlons seemed like a great progression from running after that and to try to keep the same theme of competing on all continents this is the perfect challenge for me at the moment.”
While many would wince at the idea of running a marathon, Conceicao has ran over 50 so far. In 2015, she completed seven marathons in seven continents over 11 days, raising over Dhs275,000 for the charity. She could have achieved this in seven days but bad weather forced her plane to divert 20 minutes from landing in Antarctica.
Her next race will be in Texas on April 22, before flying to Taiwan, Australia and the Canary Islands. She will finish in Brazil on May 28.
Maria Conceicao has recently released an autobiography, which charts the story of the Maria Cristina Foundation. All proceeds from the book will go towards the children’s education in Dhaka.