Here’s a question: would anyone in his right mind run 150 miles across the driest desert on Earth … over a seven-day span … while carrying a 20-pound pack on his back?
Unless his name is Dan McKenna, the answer is no.
In 2009, McKenna graduated from Villanova University, where he played soccer. Straight out of school he got a job as a global banking analyst with Morgan Stanley. But after a year of working 11-hour days in New York City, he got the itch to do something more.
So, you know, like anyone would, he decided to run six marathons, consecutively, in the Atacama Desert.
On March 6, McKenna begins the Atacama Crossing. It’s a seven-day, six-stage footrace across the Atacama Desert in Chile—the driest in the world. During the day, temperatures reach 105 degrees Fahrenheit and drop as low as 40 at night. Competitors sleep in pre-arranged tent camps, but during the race, they have to carry their clothes, food, and other supplies in a backpack normally weighing around 20 pounds. While still working his day job from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. during the week, McKenna has trained from 8 p.m. to midnight over the past few months for the race.
McKenna is running the race for the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, an organization that helps fund research for childhood cancer. Since its founding in 2000, the foundation has raised more than $90 million in volunteer-driven donations.
McKenna will represent five of the foundation’s children and a friend’s mother who is battling cancer during the six stages. When he returns, he’ll shave his hair—which he’s been growing out—at a St. Baldrick’s event on Long Island. It’s a sign of solidarity with the foundation’s children and a St. Baldrick’s tradition.
McKenna leaves tomorrow, so I caught up with him to try to figure out what’s going on in his sick, altruistic, totally awesome mind:
You’re running 150 miles across the world’s driest desert with a 20-pound pack on your back. What the hell is wrong with you?
I guess it all started back when I blew my knee out. After the injury, I felt pretty fucked up, as I watched my disappointing D-1 soccer career fade in the rear-view mirror. Baptism into the real world was even more painful—no more soccer, no more college, no more fun. 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. in a cell (cough, cough … I mean a cubicle), rent checks, crowded morning commutes and 30-second elevator conversations were my new domain.
Like any college grad, acclimating to the real world is a real bitch. You either sink or you swim—that’s how it goes. Long story short: after a few months fighting the rat race, I started changing up my routine and running every day after work. Before long, my knee grew strong again, I shed the beer belly and I could honestly say I felt normal again. But that wasn’t enough.
And that’s when you decided you were certifiably insane?
Well, I started to look at running from a much more competitive angle. I did five-K races, sprint triathlons and even participated in my firm’s corporate challenge. I wanted more. Five-K’s turned into triathlons and triathlons turned into Military endurance races.
Then I stumbled onto Racing the Planet. Love at first sight. Four races across the globe in the world’s most extreme deserts—Gobi (windiest), Antarctica (coldest), Sahara (hottest), and Atacama (driest).
Around October I started doing my daily post-work run with a makeshift backpack stuffed with sweatshirts and five-pound free weights. I trained like that for about a month to see if I could manage the workload. I knew a race like Atacama would be no joke and would require a serious amount of training.
When I found out competitors had the chance to run the race for a charity it was game on.
So, insane for a cause then?
I’ve been working with the St. Baldrick’s Foundation to raise awareness to their cause—raising money and awareness to fund promising cancer research for children. I’ve had the opportunity to meet and interact with some of the kids and it’s truly been an amazing experience. They are inspiring people. I really believe in St. Baldrick’s. I hope my participation in the race will make a difference in their efforts.
We wish Dan the best of luck. And we’ll keep you updated on his progress. Go get ‘em, dude!