Eastern Iowans Debra Carneol, Sarah Lacina are taking on World Marathon Challenge

7 marathons, 7 continents, 7 days


CEDAR RAPIDS — You’ve never run a marathon?

How would you like to run seven marathons? In seven days? On seven continents?

Who would ask such a crazy thing? Who would answer yes and then proceed to try to do it?

The answer to the former is David Samson, the former president of Major League Baseball’s Miami Marlins. Two of the 15 friends he persuaded to join his World Marathon Challenge “Team Hold the Plane” are Eastern Iowans who hadn’t known each other and had never before run a 26.2-mile event.

“He wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer,” said Marion’s Sarah Lacina, a 33-year-old investigator for the Cedar Rapids Police Department who once shared national TV time with Samson.

“He said ‘Deb, you’ve got to do this,’” said Dr. Debra Carneol, a 51-year-old North Liberty dentist. “I said ‘David, I don’t run.’ “He said, ‘You will.’”

Weather permitting, Carneol, Lacina, their 14 teammates and 36 others will be in Novo, Antarctica, on Jan. 30 to try to run 26 miles and 385 yards. They’ll do the same the next day in Cape Town, South Africa.

And the next day in Perth, Australia. And the next in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. And the next in Lisbon, Portugal. And the next in Cartagena, Colombia. And the next and last on Feb. 5 in Miami, in front of family members and friends.

Chartered jet travel for the 54 people entered in the challenge will cover 27,894 miles and 61 hours. A total of 56 people completed the 7-7-7 feat over the event’s first three years, including 31 of 33 entrants last year. One missed the first marathon and another suffered an injury after two. Entrants stay with the group even if they can’t complete the challenge.

Lacina said her entry fee (35,000 euros/roughly $43,000 with flights, hotels, meals and medical support included) was funded by sponsors.


“It’s a team built on personalities, not their pocketbooks,” Samson said in a phone interview.

“Our team is all shapes and sizes. We have someone with Parkinson’s disease. We have a single-leg amputee. We have a former Major League Baseball player (former Marlins All-Star Jeff Conine). We have a former Major League Baseball team president. We have a ‘Survivor’ winner.

“Some have run a lot of marathons. Some have just started. But we all have one thing in common: We’re interested in doing extraordinary things.”

Samson met Lacina when they were in the 18-person cast of a season of CBS’ “Survivor” that aired in 2014. Samson was the first player eliminated. Lacina finished 11th but was invited back for a season that aired last year. She won the $1 million first prize.

“I love who she is as a person,” Samson said. “She deserved that win.”

In 2016, Samson asked Lacina if she wanted to be on his 2018 marathon team.

“My immediate response was no,” Lacina said. “I didn’t know if I thought it was humanly possible to do.

“I ran in middle school, high school and college. In college the longest I’d run was 13 miles, but I hadn’t run in about 12 years. I’d put on muscle weight and wasn’t thin like a marathon runner would be.

“Finally I said, ‘Fine, let me get my running legs back and I’ll give you an answer.’ Last spring I ran 3 miles and said ‘I can’t do this.’ But before I knew it, I was dedicated to training. OK, I’ll do this 110 percent.”

Samson got to know Carneol because his wife had been friends with Carneol’s husband, Steve Carneol, since childhood.


“Deb’s very adventurous,” Samson said. “She’s always looking for new challenges like I am. I had her at ‘Hello.’”

It actually took a little more persuasion than that. Before Samson asked her to join his team, Carneol’s longest run had been a 5K. Like Lacina, she initially balked. But she began running longer distances, then changed her mind. She ran about 25 miles a week from the start of the year through June to upward of 70 a week in November and December.

Lacina and Carneol, both wives and mothers of one child, hadn’t known each other. They became training partners and friends.

“Sarah’s wonderful,” Carneol said. “She and I will be roommates on the trip. I feel like I’ve known here for years. She puts her all into it.”

“Having her here has made it much easier for me, going for 17-mile runs,” Lacina said. “She’s great. There’s no quit in her.”

On Jan. 6, Carneol and Lacina joined most of the other members of Samson’s “Team Hold the Plane” at Florida’s Disney World to run in the Goofy’s Race and a Half Challenge. That was a half marathon on Jan. 6 and a full marathon the next day. It was Lacina’s first marathon. She and Carneol finished at the same time, in 5 hours, 7 minutes and 21 seconds. Carneol’s first marathon was last year at the same site.

Now they’ll attempt a marathon times seven. There is more to the World Marathon Challenge than the challenge itself. Samson’s team has reached 59 percent of its goal of raising a total of $2 million for 11 charitable causes. Carneol’s pet cause is Clubfoot Solutions, a nonprofit that helps fund braces to assist children with clubfoot.

The participants are now in the tapering phase of their training. They’ll travel independently next week to Cape Town, where they’ll gather and then proceed to Antarctica.


“I’m a little overwhelmed, but I feel pretty good,” Carneol said this week. “I’m excited to get it started. The morale of the team is pretty high. We’re all super pumped right now. Hopefully we’ll stay healthy.”

“My fear is injury,” Lacina said. “But we’ll have a medical staff with us. They’ve said yes, you are going to have pain.”

For Lacina, this isn’t for more fame. She got a lifetime’s worth after spending 39 days in Fiji and winning “Survivor.”

“I’m not doing any of this for attention,” she said. “It’s not so people will think I’m this great thing. I do it for me, for my family, to inspire people. I think I’m an ordinary person who tries to do extraordinary things. Anybody can do anything I’ve done. If you completely dedicate yourself to something and believe in yourself, you can be unstoppable.”

(To follow news and photos of Carneol, Lacina and their teammates during the Challenge, there is a Team Hold the Plane 777 World Marathon Challenge page on Facebook.)

l Comments: (319) 368-8840; mike.hlas@thegazette.com

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