At about mile 20, Blanca Ramirez, really starts to feel the pain.
“I wonder if I’m going to finish, if I should quit, I’m tired and my legs hurt,” said Blanca, a 12-year-old from La Puente, California while recounting the thoughts that run through her mind during a marathon.
Marathon running can be a lonely journey—a grueling and punishing 26.2 miles – and is a mental, as much as it is a physical, battle between “me, myself, and I.” Pain, she said, always has a funny way of creeping into doubt.
But for Ramirez, she has dad, who follows her on a bike through every mile. He flashes Blanca a funny face to keep her smiling and encourages his daughter to sing lyrics to her favorite songs out loud.
“I would make her stop take off her shoes,” said Dimas Ramirez whenever he thinks his daughter needs a break. “I massage her feet a little bit. She’s just a kid.”
Blanca started running marathons about a year ago, but now the seventh grader plans on breaking a world record and become the youngest girl in the world to run seven marathons on all seven continents.
So far, she has run in North America, Africa and Asia. And she has been running three to five miles a day to train for her next marathon, on August 10th, through the streets of Paraguay in South America.
Her first international marathon in Rwanda included being followed by a helicopter for a few miles after a newspaper article on her record-setting attempt made her a pseudo-celebrity in her hometown. Her father ran half the marathon alongside Blanca after his airline lost his bicycle. In Mongolia, Blanca ran on dirt roads, and visited the Great Wall of China. Her journey will take her to New Zealand in November, then Europe, with the final race scheduled in March in frigid Antarctica.
“You get to see new things and when I’m running I meet new people,” Blanca said.
Both father and daughter insist it’s not about winning the races – it’s about finishing and enjoying the experience of a lifetime. Blanca’s best marathon time is 5 hours and 59 minutes and she aims to try to beat that when she can.
“I want to document the whole thing,” her father said. “If I see something, I tell her to stop during the race. We play jokes. We take pictures along the way.”
It’s an epic journey for any marathoner, but especially so for a tween. The average age of a female marathoner in the United States is 35.
Blanca’s first race was in January of last year in Disneyland. Before that, Blanca’s only experience with running came in her physical education classes where she would “have fun overlapping my friends” on the track. Before that, her running was limited to playing tag with her best friend during lunch recess. After Disneyland, Blanca became more interested in running and her father signed her up for local events in Southern California.
She ran 5 K’s, 10 K’s, then half marathons before she began running local marathons.
The idea for breaking the world record began with a conversation Blanca had with her two older sisters. They thought breaking the record would be a great adventure as well as a way to bring attention to a charity. Blanca is raising money through her running for Operation Smile, a nonprofit that provides free surgery to repair facial deformities for children.
The current world record currently belongs to Winter Vinecki, who, at age 14, became the youngest person to run a marathon in all seven continents.
Nickolas Toocheck, a 10-year-old from Philadelphia, is on his way to also beating the world record. Despite who earns the coveted title, Blanca and Nickolas already have plans to race together for charity – perhaps in Washington D.C.
“We aren’t really doing it for the record,” Dimas Ramirez said. “We are doing it to help others. We are changing the world.”
Father and daughter are currently looking for sponsors from local businesses in their hometown to help offset the cost of each marathon and to help with donations for Operation Smile. It costs the family about $5,000 per marathon, and the Antartica marathon will cost upwards of $10,000.
For Dimas Ramirez, who grew up too poor to play organized sports, his daughter’s newfound passion adds to an already athletic Mexican-American family. Blanca’s two older sisters are volleyball and basketball stars in their high school.
Though he’s received some criticism from online commenters about letting a 12-year-old run in marathons, he says he’s supporting his daughter’s passion and it’s all about having fun and enjoying the experience.
For Blanca, she can count on dad to continue to be by her side for the races, and beyond.
“I know my dad is there for me and he won’t give up,” she said. “But he does embarrass me sometimes when he drops me off at school and plays loud music while yelling bye to me from the car.”