Winter Vinecki Part II: 7 Marathons in 7 Continents Before the Age of 15

Winter Vinecki
Winter Vinecki

A few weeks ago, I introduced you to 14 year-old Winter Vinecki.   She has some seriously big goals and I, for one, find her to be an incredibly inspiring young woman. Her greatest goal is to defeat prostate cancer. But she has a lot of other exciting plans too, which we want to tell you all about.

Winter is currently attempting to set a world record by becoming the youngest person to run a marathon on each continent.  She has 2 marathons under her belt, one coming up very soon, and 4 more to go after that – all before she turns 15 years old.

She is also currently training with an elite development aerial skiing team and is hoping to qualify for the 2018 Winter Olympics.  Training is going very well for Winter.  She is having a lot of fun and she has already earned several podium placements this season with her team.

How does she do it?  How does she juggle a multi-marathon training schedule, elite aerial skiing training and competition, and an almost 4.0 GPA at an advanced online school?  We are here to give you the inside scoop on how Winter channels her passion and drive into making her dreams come true.

Working hard to capture a world record.
Working hard to capture a world record.

The Goal of Seven Marathons.  Winter was sitting on the couch sifting through the Guinness Book of World Records when she was 9 years old.  She announced to her mom then and there that she wanted to become the youngest person to run a marathon on each of the 7 continents.  She would do it for her dad, who was taken far too soon by prostate cancer only months before.

Fast forward a few years and Winter is making it happen.  Even though Guinness will not recognize Winter’s effort because they feel she is too young, Winter is undeterred.  She wants to set the record regardless of who brands it.

How does a 14 year old train for a marathon?  The answer, quite simply, is the same way an adult would.  Winter is coached by her friend, and well-regarded coach, Mark Hadley.  She runs 5 times per week with one long run each week.  Her long runs start at 12 miles and ramp up to 22 miles 2 weeks out from her goal race.  She also runs a midweek semi-long run and several shorter runs, including tempo runs.

This can be tough to fit in since Winter is also training five days a week with her aerial skiing team, Fly Elite.  Last summer, Winter moved to Park City, Utah to live with a host family to train with the team.  While Winter is often sore from jumping, she has made running a priority, so she will get up early in the morning to run before ski training or she will run after a hard ski workout.

winter skiing podium

Winter also does a lot of cross training (swimming, biking, free skiing, weight training, rock climbing and core work to name a few).  This not only keeps her strong, but keeps training fun.  Nutrition is also a critical part of Winter’s training regimen and recovery.  She tries to make good choices and to always have fresh fruits and vegetables and homemade meals.

What motivates Winter:  While most 14 year-old’s don’t have the drive to achieve what Winter is setting out to do, Winter believes in dreaming big.  “My mom always taught me to see it all, do it all, be it all.  Every day, live your life to the fullest because you don’t know if you are going to be here tomorrow.  So I set these big goals and start working towards them.  If you don’t set any goals, you are never going to get anywhere.”

She is an elite athlete, but also loves to have fun with her friends.
She is an elite athlete, but also loves to have fun with her friends.

Marathon Debut – North America.  Winter began her quest in the Spring of 2012, at the age of 13, when she ran the Eugene Marathon.  Winter is from Salem, Oregon, so she was in familiar territory for her first 26.2.  Winter had just started receiving professional coaching advice that season from Coach Hadley.  As it was her first foray into marathoning, they waited until a couple of weeks prior to the race to set her goal.  As race day approached, they decided a 3:45  (8:35 pace) race was within reach.  Winter lined up for her pace group and ended up running with our very own Clove’s significant other, DB, as a pacer.  Ever the competitor, Winter felt great during the run and went out a bit more aggressively than planned (3:40 pace).  Around mile 23, the familiar pain of the last 10k of a marathon set in and slowed her down some.  She isn’t afraid to admit those last miles were HARD (welcome to the marathon, Winter!), but she fought through and crossed the finish line on the track at Hayward field with a very impressive time of 3:45:04.

Killing it in Kenya!
Killing it in Kenya!

Marathon #2 – Africa.  For her second marathon, Winter traveled to Kenya to run the Amazing Maasai Marathon Ultra, a race that supports girls’ education in Kenya.  The race is small, so race officials pair up international runners to ensure everyone has someone to run with.  No one there met Winter’s specific pace needs, but she ran with a local boy until mile 15.  After that, he started walking and she ran on her own the next 11+ miles.  While it was quiet at times, she saw many children on the side of the trail at different points that would run with her and inspire her.   At one point, she described encountering a big hill, but she was determined not to stop and walk.  Two small boys with no shoes who were herding cattle, ran up it with her.  She described it as an incredibly motivating and an awesome experience.

She did not know it at the time, but she had been leading the women’s race until mile 20 when 2 women passed her.  When she crossed the finish line, they handed her the number 3, indicating she was the 3rd place female with a time of 4:04.  As a top place finisher, Winter earned race money.  Rather than taking it home, she generously gave it to the fourth place female, who won the race last year.  The young Kenyan woman was only 19 years-old and had a small child, so Winter wanted her to have it.  The Maasai people – many of whom she described as warriors – needed the money more than she did, so she was happy to contribute.  Since running the Amazing Maasai Marathon, Winter has kept in touch with several of the people she met in Maasai.  She thinks is amazing she had the opportunity to meet them and to experience a bit of their culture.

Always competing for Dad.
Always competing for Dad.

Marathon 3 – Antarctica. For marathon #3, Winter is planning to run the Antarctica Marathon.  She was scheduled to depart for the race at the end of February and to run on March 7.  Unfortunately, the ship that transports people to Antarctica was damaged by ice, so the race has been postponed for a month.  Like many of us, Winter has been training through harsh snowy and cold winter conditions in preparation for the event, so it was easy to feel a bit disappointed at this news.  She would not let it get her down though and had the following to say of the change in plans:

Had to dig deep today, mentally and physically, with the news that the ship taking me to Antarctica, Akademik Ioffe, was damaged by an iceberg today, just one day before we were to depart. Life will be full of obstacles and there is only one guarantee, I will climb over it, under it or go through it to “stomp out prostate cancer” For My Dad.

I love her attitude and I hope you all stay tuned for Winter’s results in the Antarctica Marathon and her remaining  four marathons scheduled for 2013:

Out for a run
Out for a training run.

The Big Picture.  It was so much fun talking to Winter and hearing about all of the amazing things she was doing.  I couldn’t help but ask her what her favorite sport was given she was training at such a high level for both aerial skiing and marathoning.  In response, she said she loves running, triathlons and aerial skiing equally.  Even better, she’s already figured out her big plans with these sports.  She explained to me that aerialists are all very young.  Most of them are under 25 or 30 when they compete in the Olympics.  Distance runners/endurance athletes, on the other hand, don’t usually peak until their 30s.  So, she still feels she has great potential for both since they are completely different age groups.  For now, she is doing both, but setting her sights on making her Olympic dreams come true with aerial skiing first.  We can’t wait to watch.

winter goals

Ignoring the Naysayers.  Of course, there are plenty of naysayers and critics who tell Winter and her team that her level of training is unhealthy and that she will burn out.  Her philosophy is to ignore them.  There are plenty of people who support her.  Many kids have told her that they look up to her and want to follow in her footsteps as  Winter speaks to local schools and groups about the importance of childhood sports and avoiding childhood obesity.  Her message is quite compelling.

Winter has made friends all over the world and says it is awesome to have a big network of friends and people who believe in her.  Because Winter’s outlook aligns with our very own Salty Manifesto, I asked Winter what she thought of our goals of finding self-confidence, self-esteem, believing in yourself, trying your best and building others up along the way.  She said she definitely tries to live her life that way:

You just have to surround yourself with people who believe in you.  Anything you can set your mind to, you can make it happen.  It’s possible.  You just have to work hard towards those goals and you can accomplish anything.

winter never underestimate

Dad is always there.  Winter started her journey for her dad and he is always in her heart and at her side.  “I definitely know my dad is always around me even if I’m just sitting there doing my homework or out on a long run – especially  when running those longer distances I know he is right there by my side. I know my dad is always with me.  When he was sick, he taught me to never give in.  He never gave in.  Throughout the years, even though he is not with me, I know that Team Winter is celebrating him and keeping his spirit.  Even though he is not here every day, he is pushing me to do my best.”

Incredible.  For more information on Winter’s efforts and impact on prostate cancer, watch the video below and check out Winter’s web site.

LAST MINUTE UPDATE:  Dealing with Bumps in the Road.  When I talked to Winter on Sunday, she was a bit disappointed that her Antarctica Marathon was rescheduled because it would require her to miss Nationals for aerial skiing, for which she had worked hard to qualify.   Despite this disappointment, she was committed to staying on course with her quest for a world record for her dad.  She decided she’d simply focus on competing in Junior Nationals upon her return.  Last night, Winter learned that she qualified for the 2013 Junior World Championships and was invited to represent the United States in Valmalenco, Italy.   She was one in four athletes selected for the team. Unfortunately, this competition also conflicts with her trip to Antarctica.  Faced with an incredibly difficult decision (for anyone, let alone a 14 year-old), Winter has made the hard choice to stay the course for her dad and run in Antarctica.

I hope all the Salty bloggers and readers join me in cheering for you when you run in Antarctica and get behind you next time you qualify for Worlds, Winter.  Go get ’em girl!

Please add your thoughts on Winter’s adventures and give her words of encouragement in the comments. 

Mindi is a serial marathoner. She is a private practice attorney, wife and mom of two awesome (and super fast) boys, ages 12 and 14. She coaches Girls on the Run and is a big advocate of youth running.

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  1. I cannot fathom making those type of tough choices at such a young age. Glad Winter had a great support team to help her achieve all her goals. Good luck in Antarctica!

  2. I lost my dad when I was a kid too. I think it’s great that she’s learning to take something so tragic and do something positive in response. She’s also learning such great life lessons along the way – the decisions get even tougher as life goes on. She’ll be miles ahead of other people dealing with that! I wish Winter the best of luck in achieving her goals!

  3. Wow! What an amazing and inspiring young woman! She seems so down to earth and grounded, and I think it’s absolutely sweet of her to do this in her dad’s memory. I’m sorry to hear about the timing of the marathon, but I commend her for sticking to her values and moving forward with her goal. There will be other chances for her to qualify–what a tough decision that must have been. We’re all cheering for you Winter!

  4. Very informative post, as I have been intrigued by her story. I never knew she was coached by Hadley! I think financial resources play a big part in this story. Many teens and families don’t have the resources to chase such big dreams but it seems Winter and family are putting their resources to a positive use, while helping others too. Very unique story for sure.

    1. I’d like to see Team Winter or someone else (hmmm…) help kids who are disadvantaged and lose a parent chase their dreams. That would be pretty awesome.

      1. I’d say Team Winter IS doing just that for Winter. 🙂 I am also pretty sure they are devoted 100% to prostate cancer research rather than other altruistic aims (such as helping other kids). While that would be awesome, until they get a huge diffusion of cash, they need to give all they can to fighting the good fight against prostate cancer. If you watch the video, they are making real strides too! I’d like Team Winter see a cure or eradication of prostate cancer during the founders’ lives.

        1. I was just thinking out loud, perhaps lamely. The financial resources thing that Ginger mentions was something that struck me too, especially being someone who lost a parent with very little along those lines. I don’t expect TW to do that and realize its focus is elsewhere, I was more stating my interest in seeing something like that happening. Maybe one of these days I can accomplish something like that 🙂

  5. I am a true believer of Winter and her efforts. I am a young triathlete like her, and she is huge inspiration for me. I think that it is a very important thing to be committed to a sport that you love, but it is equally important to make a difference in everything that you do.
    Not many people have to go through the tragedy that Winter had to go through when she lost her father at age nine. You can make a difference in other ways besides what Winter is doing. Thanks for posting! I was thrilled hearing a follow-up story about Winter’s race in Antarctica.

    1. Thanks for the comment Brittany! You are a very wise young-one and very lucky to have found how much athletics can change not only your life but others’ too at such a young age. Have a great summer and best of luck at your next race!