Taking on the World Marathon Challenge
Instead of students dropping out, we can get them to finish line. By running the World Marathon Challenge I am also pushing past my limits and I hope to inspire them to see that it is possible.
Greg Nance  did his first ultra marathon on the Jurassic coast in December 2011 while he was a Gates Cambridge Scholar at the University of Cambridge.
He has always been very athletic. Since he was a boy he has been doing open water swimming and has swum in a large variety of settings, from the Persian Gulf to the East and South China seas. He has also been described as a ‘world class mountaineer’.
However, it was not until he was an undergraduate that he took up long distance running, running along the side of Lake Michigan in Chicago. In 2009 he took part in the Chicago marathon and was hooked.
By the time he got to Cambridge, where he did an MPhil in Management, he was looking for another challenge. An ultra marathon - which is any marathon longer than 26 miles [just over 42 kms] - seemed a good move. He was surprised at how well he did. Not only that but he realised that doing it was about more than just running and giving himself head space - it could also be used to raise awareness about a cause, something that allies perfectly with the Gates Cambridge mission of having social impact.
Since then Greg has done longer ultras, often in difficult terrain. One that stands out is the 250km ultra he did across the Atacama Desert in South America with his father.
Now Greg is facing a bigger challenge: taking part in the World Marathon Challenge. For this he will be one of 40 entrants running seven consecutive marathons on seven different continents.
The Challenge begins on 31st January with the hardest leg, in Antarctica. It will be summertime there so Greg will run with special crampons on designed for ice and slush. He will also have to wear glacier goggles as the light from the glaciers can be blinding.
To train he is doing shirtless runs in Shanghai, where he is based and where it is currently winter. He is clear that running in the hilly, icy Antarctic terrain will not just be physically challenging, but also psychologically difficult so he has to prepare well. It will be his first time running there, but he is excited as he says one of his heroes is the explorer Ernest Shackleton. “I’m really excited to be following in his footsteps,” he says.
At the finish line there will be a plane waiting to whisk runners - who will include Olympians and world record holders - to the next marathon in Cape Town where it is summer time. “It will be like going from the freezer to the furnace,” says Greg.
After South Africa comes Perth, Australia, then Dubai, Madrid, Santiago in Chile and then finally the warm, flat terrain of Miami, Florida.
Increasing access to education
Greg is seeking sponsorship for his award-winning non-profit, Moneythink, and has already raised around $10K.
He set the organisation up in 2008 with four fellow students while he was an undergraduate at the University of Chicago. Recognised by the Obama Administration as a "Champion of Change”, Moneythink involves student volunteers across US campuses teaching high school students in disadvantaged areas to make and manage money. Greg, who is chair of Moneythink’s board, is now raising money for an initiative which involves Moneythink providing a platform for financial coaches to help disadvantaged students fill in a form they need to qualify for financial support to get through college.
The aim is to level the playing field for poorer students and increase access. “Filling in the form is a kind of marathon,” he says. “Instead of students dropping out, we can get them to finish line. By running the World Marathon Challenge I am also pushing past my limits and I hope to inspire them to see that it is possible.”
So far Moneythink has helped 15,000 students, but Greg says this is just the beginning. He hopes that by automating the process more Moneythink can reach more people and have a nationwide impact.
Moneythink is also an open source organisation and shares information on what it is doing with other organisations. Its aim is to create “a rising tide” and build a best practice guide. In the next months it is looking at the issues that lead to high drop-out rates among non-traditional students. “We want to build a beyond. The challenge to get to the start line of university is tough, but staying there is also difficult,” says Greg. Moneythink is looking at building partnerships with other organisations so that it can eventually be an end to end provider.
The ethos of Moneythink and the emphasis on mentorship has clearly influenced Greg’s other award-winning start-up, Dyad.com which he founded while he was at Cambridge. The organisation seeks to expand education access by providing "mentorship for the motivated". Dyad.com guides international students, many of them from China, through the university admissions process with a free online library of instructional articles and videos and a digital workspace for face-to-face video-conferences and document reviews.
Greg, who was named one of the "Top 99 Foreign Policy Leaders Under 33" in 2013 by the Diplomatic Courier, says he has always believed in the power of education and the need for access to be more fair.
He hopes the World Marathon Challenge will help to raise awareness globally about the issue.
After he has completed the Challenge he is taking some time off for the Chinese New Year. For now he is focusing on the start line on 31st January in Antarctica. “The hardest step is getting to the start line,” he says. “After that, if you can figure out how to take the next step you can make any finish line.”
*Greg will document his journey on his Instagram at gregrunsfar. To sponsor him, visit gofundme.gregrunsfar. Picture: Greg running from an Andean volcano. Credit: Myke Hermsmeyer.