Health & Wellness

Aileen Flanagan Runs Seven Continents, 50 States, Battles Cancer and Keeps on Going

Flanagan ran a half-marathon on every continent, achieving her goal with the completion of a race on King George Island in the Antarctic—with her The Chatham Club bag in tow! Credits: Aileen Flanagan

As a runner, Aileen Flanagan likes to set goals for herself. Sometimes they are quite challenging and long-term goals. Ten years ago, she decided to run a half-marathon on every continent. She completed that challenge in August with a race on King George Island off the coast of Antarctica.

“I’m very fortunate that I was able to do it,” thanks in part to frequent-flyer miles, Flanagan said. 

She also credits her achievements to 26 years of membership at The Chatham Club. “It’s been an integral part of my training all along,” she said.

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Flanagan wanted to take her family’s Christmas card picture at the Great Wall of China. When she spotted a Great Wall half-marathon opportunity in a travel magazine about ten years ago, she signed up—and added her husband and three children to the list.

That earned her the obligatory “I hate you, Mom,“ from her youngest daughter. 

“My oldest daughter read all the pre-race literature, and she beat me” at the Great Wall, Flanagan said. “My husband hadn’t trained at all and ended up walking the last bit.”

Flanagan was already working her way through half-marathon races in every state, completing six each year. She decided to treat herself to a half-marathon on a different continent each time she completed 10 in the U.S.

Born and raised in New Jersey, Flanagan earned her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in finance from Seton Hall University and a Master’s degree in accounting from Fairleigh Dickinson University. She lives in Parsippany with her husband John and works for Community Builders & Remodelers.

Flanagan has been a runner since high school. “I ran up until the sixth month of each of my three pregnancies,” she said. 

At 40, she decided to run a marathon. She began training with Darren Worts—now The Chatham Club’s general manager and a long-distance runner himself—but an injury prevented her from competing.

Shortly before a race to benefit the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society near the end of 2012, Flanagan was diagnosed with breast cancer. 

“I knew that I needed running to get me through that experience,” she said. 

Following a lumpectomy and in the midst of radiation treatments, Flanagan ran the Nike women’s half marathon. She has since raised $10,000 for the Society’s blood cancer research. 

Her battle with cancer convinced her to prioritize running half-marathons on all seven continents. Even tearing a meniscus in both knees couldn’t stop her. 

“Training with Darren showed me that I could do it,” she said. “But the older I get, the more I need to stretch and loosen my muscles.” 

Although she no longer needs the babysitting offered by The Chatham Club, Flanagan still goes in at least three times a week for interval training with Jennifer O’Connor, plus yoga, weight training and foam roller classes. 

Every year she takes advantage of her membership’s three complimentary fitness-routine tuneups with a certified personal trainer.

“I can’t do even a mile on a treadmill,” Flanagan said. “It drives me crazy. I need the variety.”

She finally ran in the Boston Marathon last year and is within two years of completing her “50 states” goal, ticking off a half-marathon in Utah this month.

Having run on the Great Wall of China, dodged wild game in Kenya with sharpshooters in helicopters circling overhead, been surrounded by penguins on a muddy course in the Antarctic and boasting a medal for each half-marathon completed—plus a Seven Continents medal—what is left for her to do?

As she approaches retirement, Flanagan expects to gear up for “all the races I should have run.”

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