Siblings aiming to finish a marathon on all seven continents

Zara (11) and Mekaal (9) Rahim on Antarctica
Zara (11) and Mekaal (9) Rahim on Antarctica

Two children who spend their summers in Cumbernauld have broken the record for the youngest male and female in the world to complete a full marathon in Antarctica.

The previous record for completing a full marathon on the continent was held by a 12-year-old girl and 10-year-old boy from America. 

Both 11-year-old Zara and nine-year-old Mekaal Rahim have been taking part in long-distance races from a very young age, inspired by their father Ziyad who holds ten Guinness World Records in long-distance running.

To-date, they have completed four full marathons in Europe, South America, Africa and Antarctica, as well as having run half-marathons in North America and Asia, and are on track to complete full marathons on seven continents by March.

This would give them another record as the youngest male and female in the world to achieve this feat. 

The siblings, currently residing in Qatar, are among the fastest junior athletes in the country; winning regularly in the 3K and 5K events. 

Mekaal ran his first 3K race at the Dubai Marathon at the age of three, while Zara was four when she took part in her first official event.

They have completed almost 100 long-distance events in 15 countries. 

In 2016 and 2017, the kids were part of the one-week Southern Caribbean Challenge where they ran seven 10Ks and half marathons on six Caribbean islands and one race on the cruise ship. 

Zara and Mekaal are global travellers and have so far travelled to over 60 countries on five continents following in the footsteps of their parents who take part in long-distance events all over the world. 

Their mother Nadia grew up in Glasgow and attended Glasgow Caledonian University before moving to Canada. She owns PlayBall Doha, a sports and movement programme for kids.

The siblings spend their entire summer in Cumbernauld every year with their grandparents and cousins, who live in Craigmarloch.

They are regulars at park runs around the town and their first full marathon was the Glasgow to Edinburgh Trek organised by the British Heart Foundation in August.

The quest for seven continents started after both kids watched a documentary on Syrian refugees on their struggle to find safe haven.

Zara said: “I was so sad to see young kids walking hundreds of miles with their parents from one country to another. They did not have warm clothes or proper shoes, but were determined and motivated to reach their destination.

“I wanted to experience the pain they were going through, so I asked my parents if Mekaal and I could run a marathon.”

Ziyad explained that the kids had to go through strenuous training for the race.

He said: “I had to ensure they were fit enough for the challenge. A few months before, they both had completed a half marathon in Barbados, including multi-day 10K races.

“However, the jump from 21K to 42K is huge so I had to train them to be mentally strong for the challenge.

“They are fast runners, but I told them that they need to walk and run and conserve energy or they will not be able to succeed.

“We enrolled them in a swimming camp to improve their cardiovascular and had them thoroughly checked by doctors. Once my wife and I were convinced, we signed them up for the marathon”.

After three months of training, the whole family completed the Scottish marathon together.

Throughout the autumn, both continued their training by taking part in shorter distance events. They also joined TriClub Doha and H20 club where they honed their swimming and cycling skills.

Last month the family flew for 28 hours to reach Punta Arenas; the southern tip of Chile.

They were informed the weather in Antarctica was not safe for planes to land as it had been snowing for the last four days and after two days of waiting around, the organisers decided to hold the Magellan Marathon, Chile, to save time.

The Patagonian wind was extremely strong and Zara and Mekaal found it hard running on the Punta Arenas promenade, however they completed the race to secure their second continent.

Two days later, the weather in Antarctica cooperated and the runners were flown to King George Island.

Despite their legs still being heavy from running the previous marathon, the kids started the KGI Classic Marathon, Antarctica, just 30 minutes after getting off the plane.

The underfoot conditions were extremely rough with 12 inches of snow on most parts of the course, and temperature of -10c around 40c colder than their home in Qatar. 

Zara said: “Whenever I was cold and tired, I kept thinking how those Syrian kids managed to travel those long distances.

“I was exhausted but I kept going and my parents helped me a lot. It was a great feeling when my brother and I finished the race together.”

Their parents were extremely vigilant throughout the race checking their heart rates and body temperature to make sure they were well hydrated and took them off for a 15-minute break to load up on soup and hot chocolate.

Both completed the race with a big smile and the next day were treated to trips to the penguin and elephant seal colonies and even played ping pong with the Russian scientists at the base.

Mekaal said: “I spoke with a scientist who studied glaciers and he told me about climate change. I also ran beside penguins and took pictures with them. They are cute but their colonies smell bad.”

Nadia added: “I am so proud of Zara and Mekaal. Running a marathon is tough physically as well as mentally, and they powered on through.

At times you feel like you want to quit but they kept on going, they are an inspiration to me and I am amazed at their determination.” 

The kids collected their fourth continent with a marathon in South Africa on Saturday, North America and Asia will follow this month and then Australia in March.