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Running the World With a goal to run a marathon on every continent, Julia Poppenberg ’19 sets her sights on Antarctica.

Julia-WEB-556x400 Running the World

The morning of a marathon, without fail, Julia Poppenberg ’19 is terrified. Yet, despite this, she’s completed four — each on a different continent — in her mission to run 26.2 consecutive miles on all seven continents. Such a feat has only been accomplished by 358 women in the world — which, for perspective, is fewer than half the number of women who have summitted Mount Everest.

“There is nothing that makes me feel more scared, but there’s nothing that makes me feel more alive,” she said of running marathons. “I think being so scared is knowing how hard what I’m about to do is. I’m going to get through it, and I know how proud I’m going to be on the other side that I did it.””

It all started in 2018 when Poppenberg returned to her hometown of Sewickley, Pennsylvania, for a semester off from Washington and Lee University to work on her mental health. Her drive for perfectionism had taken a toll. With the university’s support and guidance, her semester away gave her time to heal. And as a way to feel strong in her body, Poppenberg signed up for the Pittsburgh Half-Marathon.

Julia11-576x400 Running the WorldJulia Poppenberg ’19 ran her first marathon in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

But then, a week before the race, she changed her mind. She wanted to do the full marathon.

“Being home that semester, I wanted to challenge myself. So, a week before the race at the expo, I  ended up switching my registration from a half-marathon to a full marathon,” she said. “There was no plan; the Wednesday before the race – and you’re not supposed to do this – I ran 14 miles just to make sure that I could run far enough.”

Though Poppenberg doesn’t remember the genesis of the idea, while studying abroad in Madrid, Spain, through W&L in 2019, a goal ignited to run a marathon on every continent. In July of that year, she traveled by herself to Füssen, Germany, and ran around the Neuschwanstein Castle – the one Disney famously modeled Cinderella’s castle after – in the Königsschlösser Romantik Marathon.

“It gives me a lot of joy to combine my love of travel and my drive to accomplish something very tough,” Poppenberg said of her goal.

Julia7-512x400 Running the WorldPoppenberg ran by Neuschwanstein Castle (Germany) in her second marathon.

While in Mendoza, Argentina, on a Fulbright Fellowship in 2022 teaching English, Poppenberg completed the Maratón de Mendoza and finished second in her age group – despite getting sick multiple times after mile 16. And then last fall, she completed the Aoraki Mount Cook Marathon in Canterbury, New Zealand; she met up with her friend Elizabeth Grist ’22 – living in Melbourne, Australia, on a Fulbright research grant – who ran the half-marathon portion with her.

Poppenberg is thankful for the W&L connections and experiences that have had a hand in helping her on her path to marathon running, including the opportunity to study abroad (her second marathon) and secure a Fulbright fellowship (her third marathon).

“When I was struggling with my mental health, W&L made it so easy for me to go home and made me feel like I really wasn’t going to get behind,” she said. “I am thankful for W&L for making that an easy choice for me and, in a way, giving me the opportunity to run my first marathon.”

Poppenberg works for PricewaterhouseCoopers as a trust solutions senior associate in Washington, D.C., and starts her days exploring the city on her runs. At the same time, she’s looking ahead to her next three continents: Africa, Asia and Antarctica. Two marathons at the bases of Mount Fuji and Mount Kilimanjaro have piqued her interest, but she’s hoping to check off Antarctica next.

Julia9-2-400x600 Running the WorldPoppenberg ran her third marathon in Mendoza, Argentina.

Only three marathons are held in Antarctica, with one being the Antarctic Ice Marathon at Union Glacier on the mainland. The journey to the race involves flying to southern Chile, taking a charter plane to Antarctica and sleeping in tents.

“You’re running on snow, which is like running on sand, in negative temperatures, wearing four layers, three pairs of gloves and two pairs of socks,” she said.

Poppenberg is currently exploring sponsorships to cover the cost of the trip and is a quarterfinalist in the Ms Health & Fitness cover competition. The Antarctic requirements differ drastically from any of her prior marathons in terms of clothing, shoes and training, and she’s considering spending time in Alaska to practice running on snow and in a colder climate.

“It’ll definitely be my most intense training,” she said, “partly because I’m absolutely the most scared of it.”

But even through the looming fear, she values the grit and tenacity the experiences have taught her.

“I am constantly in pursuit of doing things that make me uncomfortable,” she said, “because that’s when I know that I grow in the biggest way.”

Julia1-400x600 Running the WorldPoppenberg ran her fourth marathon in New Zealand and met up with fellow alum Elizabeth Grist ’22 who ran the half with her.