Joel_600x300When most people think of Antarctica, they picture a white, barren landscape — a place suitable only for scientists, explorers and penguins. But for Joel Runyon ’09, Antarctica represents the thrill of achieving personal goals that once seemed impossible.

When the recent recession hit, Runyon found himself laid off, discouraged and frustrated. While surfing the Internet he came across stories of people doing amazing things — quitting their jobs to travel the world and take big risks.

He wanted an interesting story for his life, but felt trapped by his circumstances. “I can’t even get a job, much less quit a job,” he thought.

Then one day, he decided to try something different.

“After a few months I got tired of myself,” he says. “I decided to at least go out and fail miserably instead of predisqualifying myself.”

He picked one activity that seemed completely out of reach — running an indoor triathlon — and gave it a try. He was surprised to discover it wasn’t as hard as he had built it up in his head.

“I spent two or three months telling myself that this was impossible, but it wasn’t really impossible. I just hadn’t done it yet.”

Joel Runyon Inset

IMPOSSIBLE BUSINESS GOALS: Runyon’s “impossible list” has included some lofty business goals, like building his own consulting agency and creating a number of fitness-related products and services. He developed the Ultimate Paleo Guide, a website and app designed to be the best paleo resource on the Internet. The site has hundreds of thousands of visitors every month and the app is consistently one of the top 20 paid apps in iTunes’ Health and Fitness category.

That led him to wonder about all the other things on his “impossible list.” What else could he dare to accomplish?

With his new found confidence, he started conquering other things on the list, including landing his dream job and starting a consulting business on the side. After a while, he was surprised to discover that none of the things on his list scared him anymore.

And that’s when he went in search of a new list, one that left room for growth and personal risk, something he’d found to be essential.

“Being able to embrace failure was a big step in understanding it’s not just about getting things right and perfect, it’s about screwing up and learning from those mistakes.”

Runyon went from conquering the indoor triathlon to running longer races, and eventually to ultramarathons — any race that is longer than the traditional marathon length.

But he wanted his efforts to mean something beyond just conquering personal goals. So he partnered with Pencils of Promise and raised $26,000 to build a school in Guatemala.

Inspired by the impact and success of this project, he is taking on a new impossible goal — running seven ultramarathons on all seven continents so he can raise money to build seven more schools with Pencils of Promise. He calls it the 777 Project.

He hopes this project will make a lasting impact for kids around the world, empowering them through education. “Running these marathons is something that seems impossible to me right now, but for a lot of people out there, something as simple as a basic education actually is impossible,” he says.

In October, he traveled to Chile and completed the Patagonia International Marathon. He also plans to run the Kepler Challenge in New Zealand, the Everest Ultra in Nepal, the Comrades Ultra Marathon in South Africa, the Lavaredo Ultra Trail in Italy, the Leadville Ultra Marathon in Colorado, and finally, the Ice Marathon
100K in Antarctica.

Runyon is self-funding all project expenses and 100 percent of donations go directly to Pencils of Promise. For more information and to donate, visit