Marathons across the map

Andy Witte has gone the distance on six continents

By Brigid Hamilton  |  Photos courtesy of Andy Witte

Andy Witte, 92, M.Ed. 98, didn’t finish his first marathon.

The accomplished marathoner and former collegiate runner failed his first attempt at the coveted distance.

“I was a senior in high school, and the spring track guys decided to jump into the Long Island Marathon. I hadn’t really run more than 10 miles at a clip before the race.”

He blacked out at mile 21, and that ended his first attempt—or what he calls “an exercise in stupidity.” An ambulance transported the dehydrated runner to the finish line.

Most people who know Witte laugh in disbelief when they hear this story. And that’s because Witte, who has been training for his next marathon for as long as most people have known him, has competed in multiple marathons over the last two decades. On six continents.

Witte displays his finisher medals from marathons and races of other distances in his Catonsville, Md., home.

The 44-year-old originally from Upstate New York, who has taught and coached running at Archbishop Spalding High School for two decades, made a personal goal in 2003 to run a marathon on each of the seven continents.

Now only one continent and 26.2 miles stand between Witte and his goal.


One morning while he was overseeing Saturday detention at Spalding, Witte stumbled upon a newspaper article that (literally) changed the course of his hobby.

Witte holds a photo of him crossing the finish line at the New York City Marathon, the race he considers his official marathon for North America.

“I read a story about a guy from Virginia who had done seven marathons on seven continents. And at the time, I was looking for inspiration,” he explained.

“I didn’t have a whole lot of time or goals I’d set for myself, because I had poured most of it into coaching and starting the cross country program. So I needed a new goal, and I read this and thought, ‘Wow.’ Running and travel are two of my favorite things. So, why not travel to run?” Witte asked himself.

Following his first failed attempt to run a marathon, Witte was accepted at Loyola, where he ran for the Greyhounds and studied history.

Following college, Witte taught Spanish at Boys Latin High School before he took a position with the foreign language department at Spalding. That same year, he started building what would become the girls and boys cross country and track and field programs there.

“It started as the ‘running club.’ By the second season, I had 125 kids on the roster for indoor track. We built it up slowly… We decided to start a cross country team, then an outdoor track team, and it rolled from there,” he said.

While he was teaching and coaching, Witte trained for and completed six marathons on six continents: in North America—in Washington, D.C., in Chicago, in New York, and in Maryland; in Antarctica; in London; in Tanzania; in Rio de Janeiro; and in Tokyo.

After Witte read that newspaper article, he started researching a company out of Boston called Marathon Tours, which organizes races in far-off places for avid runners who are attracted by this notion of traveling to run. (As it turns out, Marathon Tours is the only company through which Witte could run a marathon in Antarctica, which seemed as good a place to start as any.)

“I read that article in 2003 and a couple months later, I persuaded my wife to ‘let me’ sign up to do it,” Witte said of Kristin Wickersty Witte, 95, M.A. 03. The two were married in Loyola Alumni Memorial Chapel on June 24, 2000.

“Kristin has been incredibly supportive of this goal, of my training, of my travel. I never could have done any of this without her,” he said.

Traveling to run

Witte was told there was at least a year-long waiting list to run Antarctica, and so he added his name to the list and started training and preparations for his trip in 2005.

The trip to the race site found Witte and the other runners as passengers on a Russian research vessel, which they boarded in South America and then sailed from the tip of Argentina across the Drake, where the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans meet. Twenty-foot swells were considered calm waters, and everyone got seasick for the first 12-24 hours.

Before the race, Witte kayaked among humpback whales and camped overnight in a tent on the peninsula during snowfall.

“Antarctica was incredible. What an experience. The trip alone was something I’ll never do again in my life. It was more than the marathon,” he said.

“When you run a marathon in Antarctica, you’re not going to have crowds cheering you on. You’re going to have colonies of penguins and birds dive-bombing you if you get too close to their nests. I almost tripped over a fur seal at one point. You could see whales in the water from the course. It started snowing around the halfway point, and I stopped to put on my hat and gloves and take pictures on the course with a disposable camera I was carrying.”

Witte running the Antarctica marathon in 2005

After Antarctica, Witte set his sights on Europe. He registered for the London Marathon, and his wife joined him for the trip.

The conditions and the crowd were a bit different than Antarctica, to say the least.

“I was coming up on mile 20, where Kristin and I planned to meet. She was going to hand me a banana and an energy bar for the last few miles. But when I came around the corner, this huge group of people, strangers, were yelling my name, cheering for me, and in the middle of it was Kristin! She had met up with a pub crawl that morning and invited them all to come stand by the course and cheer me on.”

A painful path to the finish line

In 2007, Witte registered to run a marathon in Tanzania. Friend and teammate from his Loyola running days, Robert Digney, 92, joined him in Africa.

They decided to climb Kilimanjaro days before the race, which turned out to be more challenging than either had anticipated.

“We went from 1,000 feet above sea level to 19,000 feet in three days, which turned out to be too quick, and altitude sickness got me around 18,000 feet,” Witte said.

Witte and Digney at the top of Kilimanjaro

During the climb, Witte lost four toenails. When he and his friend finished the climb on Thursday afternoon, he had just three days to recuperate from altitude sickness and injury, and to prepare to run on Sunday morning.

“That particular race was not about time. It was just about finishing, And it was painful.

Finish he did. The friends went on safari in Tanzania and in Kenya after the race before heading home.

Blazing an international trail

In 2011, Witte flew to Brazil to run the Rio Marathon in Rio de Janeiro. Rio turned out to be one of his favorite places Witte has ever run.

“The city is spread out across a couple of mountains and right on the beach. They bused the runners up the coast about 20 miles and dropped us off, and then we ran back. We finished the race just past Copacabana beach,” he said.

The only drawback? “The heat. The sun came up and we were running with sweat dripping our eyes, looking at the sun glaring off the ocean.”

After the race, Witte traveled to Peru, where he hiked the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu.

His most recent race in 2013 saw him crossing the finish line in Tokyo. The flights there and back proved long and tiring, but he was able to get a few short runs in before race day once he landed.

He powered through 26.2 miles, crossing Asia off his list and adding another stamp to his passport.

The seventh and final race?

“It’s looking like Wellington in 2016 or 2017,” Witte said.

On running and life

Witte continues to coach the varsity and JV men’s running teams at Spalding, where he currently teaches social studies and history.

This year, with a record of 9-0, his team was undefeated. They also won their conference championship. “We have come a long way,” he said, thinking back to those first few seasons when the team consistently finished with losing records.

Witte said his experience with training and being a runner helps with teaching and with coaching. “It helps with patience, certainly, and in helping students and the kids I coach staying the course throughout the school year—and really, throughout their lives. Running gives you great perspective,” he said.

He believes running marathons gives him credibility for coaching, helping him to develop runners across the years, and not just across the season. “You have to have a bigger picture in mind, to not burn them out in high school. You want them to be a lifetime runner, to enjoy it and be healthy and keep running for themselves. I think my own passion for running and the marathons give me better perspective for this in my coaching,” Witte said.

And even after he crosses New Zealand off his list, Witte said his greatest accomplishment in running will have come through coaching.

“The thing I enjoy most about coaching is seeing how they change and develop over time, from these gangling, doe-like babies to these pretty confident and accomplished young men and women by the time they leave. It’s amazing what they’re capable of,” he said.

As for his own running career, Witte says he has his mother to thank for sparking and encouraging an interest for what would become more than a hobby: a job, a passion, and a lifestyle. She encouraged him to join the cross country team as a 15-year-old high schooler. (In her 70s now, she is still an avid runner, participating in 5K races near her home in New York.) Had she not pushed him to join the team in high school, he would not have run for Loyola.

And in fact, it was his mother who encouraged him to apply to and attend Loyola. “She’s a smart lady,” he said.

Today Witte said he applies much of what he learned on the track and during his liberal arts education to his own classroom.

“The roots and values that Loyola instills in people, and the ability to think critically, I try to bring that to my classes specifically. The ability to question and not take things for granted is something I try to impress on my students and on my runners.”

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1 Comment

  • Posted by David Warrington | September 3, 2014

    Good Luck to Andy in getting that last marathon and completing his 7 continent goal.
    He was a great coach to my children at Archbishop Spalding and they are still running these many years after graduating.
    So, Andy’s goal of instilling the idea of making lifetime runners and living a healthy lifestyle has also been met.

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