Dayo Akinbode: Nigeria’s Queen of Marathon

Dayo Akinbode: Nigeria’s Queen of Marathon

After a long walk in the corporate world and retiring from the petroleum industry at the age of 50, Dayo Akinbode has engraved her name in the sands of time as a marathoner of great repute, breaking and smashing personal records. She has traversed 77 countries and ran 112 marathons over the last 10 years. Nigerian renowned marathoner and holder of two Guinness World Records,  Akinbode, in an encounter with Funke Olaode and 

Sunday Ehigiator, speaks on her quest to participate in marathons in 195 countries 

Her appearance contradicts her track and field accomplishments. Petite and vocal, her professional antecedents point towards a giant ambition. Adedayo Akinbode, a Nigerian marathoner with two Guinness World Records in her kitty, has gradually carved a niche for herself in the world of athletics. To date, she has visited 77 countries and run 122 marathons. Akinbode’s consistency and unrelenting zeal to excel and conquer new heights in a field is proof that she is Nigeria’s Queen of Track and one of the nation’s flag bearers.

It has been 10 years since she embarked on this journey. Still, Akinbode’s efforts have been self-funded. Remarkably, she takes delight in raising the Nigerian Flag at every finishing line, her unique way of rewriting the nation’s narrative on the global stage. 

“My plan was to run a marathon in every country, lifting the Nigerian flag as I cross the finishing line, thereby pushing Nigeria to the forefront in my own little way. I have done this in 77 countries, all from my personal funds. With the passion still burning in me, I am wondering if I can get sponsors to help me complete this mission,” she said during a recent encounter.

Not soliciting for personal gain, Akinbode’s mission is simple. It is her quest to take Nigeria to the world, create health awareness through her Ile-Ife Heritage Marathon Organisation and bring non-Nigerians to experience Nigerian hospitality through the same organisation.

In her own words,  Akinbode never chose marathon, but marathon chose her as a child of necessity, battling life-threatening health challenges yet unbothered. The health concerns vanished eventually while she was busy competing in a ‘Global Corporate Challenge’ instituted by her company.

“I would say that running marathons didn’t choose me, but rather I stumbled onto running back in 2012. It happened during my annual checkup when my doctor informed me that I was obese and had high cholesterol levels. He advised me to change my lifestyle, eliminate certain foods, and warned that if I didn’t make these changes, my life could be at risk. However, I struggled to make those necessary changes and simply ignored the report.

“Fortunately, in 2013, my company introduced the Global Corporate Challenge programme. This initiative involved participating in a global event where each individual was encouraged to achieve 10,000 steps per day. Companies like Chevron and Shell were also involved in this programme.

“Before the challenge began, we were given speedometers to track our steps without making any immediate lifestyle changes. After two weeks, I found myself constantly recording 700 to 800 steps, making me one of the highest achievers in my company.”

Still treating the exercise with levity, two weeks later, Akinbode gained access to see the step counts of participants from other parts of the country and the world. She noticed that people from Canada and Germany were recording an impressive 20,000 to 30,000 steps per day. Being a highly competitive individual, she didn’t like being at the bottom rung of the ladder. This egged her on.

“There was a particular person in the forum who recorded over 27,000 steps, so I asked him if those steps accumulated over two weeks or how long. He clarified that it was just the step count for yesterday. Surprised, I only recorded 700 steps. I asked him how he managed to reach 27,000 steps. He explained that he avoids using the elevator, walks to work, and even runs sometimes.

“By making these adjustments, I started increasing my step count even before the day officially began. Initially, it wasn’t easy, but I gradually became accustomed to the changes. My daily step count went up to 5,000 and then 6,000, and I was quite pleased with my progress. However, one day I arrived home with nearly 9,000 steps, and I realised I was so close to reaching 10,000. Determined, I decided to walk up and down my street to achieve my very first 10,000 steps. It was a success.”

She soon discovered that it was relatively easier to reach 9,000 or 10,000 steps on weekdays, but her step count would decrease on weekends. Recognising this pattern,  she decided to make a change.

“On Saturdays, I intentionally started walking around the streets, not necessarily running but maintaining a brisk pace, to ensure I reached my 10,000 steps. On Sundays, I attended church and danced energetically, which contributed to my step count as well. It was interesting to see the numbers increase while I enjoyed myself.

“So, one of these weekends, I was out walking when it suddenly started raining. I realized I hadn’t reached my 10,000km goal yet. I contemplated whether to return home and stay dry without reaching my goal or continue walking in the rain and achieve my target.”

By then, she had started receiving side comments from neighbours who thought all was not well.  Unperturbed,  Akinbode would later find a partner in progress that catapulted her to the world stage of marathon.  “While contemplating this, I noticed another woman walking towards me in the rain. I felt relieved and excited to see her. She expressed her gratitude, saying she was glad that people wouldn’t consider her crazy for walking in the rain.

“Her name is Tayo Badejo. That’s how we became friends, and then we started meeting up and walking. Since she had been into exercise before me, she graduated from walking to jogging. She would pick up her pace and encourage me to do the same. Then we moved from jogging to running. She would say, ‘Oh, let’s do five kilometres,’ and she was hand-holding me.

“One day, when we were out running, she said, ‘Oh, do you know we can register to run a marathon?’ This was in the middle of 2013. I asked, ‘What is a marathon?’ She explained, ‘It’s when people run 42 kilometres’. I questioned her why anybody would run 42 kilometres. She replied, ‘When you get home, go to YouTube and search for the New York Marathon or Boston Marathon.’

“I got home, watched it, and I liked it. I did a lot of research and read somewhere that only one per cent of the world’s population has run marathons or can run marathons.

“Then, in September of 2013, we all went to Accra to run a half marathon. It was my very first race in this world, and we had a big number. My name was on that big number as well. On the streets of Accra, there were people lined up, especially towards the finish, and they would be shouting your name. My number was 607.

From being an amateur runner, she has risen to become a globetrotter. Akinbode has moved on to impress her name on the sands of time as a marathoner of great accomplishments, breaking and smashing personal records. She has traversed  77 countries and run 112 marathons over the last 10 years, holding Two Guinness World Records. She sheds more light on the Marathon Globetrotters Club.

“The Marathon Globetrotters Club operates on a tiered system, where entry is granted upon running in 10 countries, but the more countries you run in, the higher your status. I didn’t want to settle for the lowest tier, so I began running in more countries to elevate my standing. Currently, I hold a senior position in the club, having completed marathons in 77 countries.

“My current aspiration is to run marathons in every country around the world. With a total of 196 countries, it is quite a challenging endeavour, especially considering that I don’t have the necessary funds readily available. To date, I have managed to run marathons in 77 countries, fully self-funded. However, I am reaching a point where I require additional support to continue pursuing my goal.

“The more I visit countries where Nigerians are rarely heard of or where they have seldom encountered a person of African descent, the more determined I become to explore even more of these places. It is in these less familiar locations that I see the greatest significance. Nigeria is often overshadowed by more accessible destinations, where Nigerians are frequently seen. Therefore, I am eager to bring Nigeria’s presence to those less-travelled regions.”

On her Guinness World Records, she said, “I am proud to share that I have already secured two entries in the Guinness Book of World Records. The first record was achieved in 2019 when I participated in the highest road marathon in the world, which the Prime Minister of Pakistan invited us to. The race took place at an altitude of over 5,000 meters or feet (I cannot recall the exact measurement), and everyone who participated in that event earned a place in the Guinness record. The combination of the high altitude and intense heat made the race challenging.”

Talking about giving back to the country, Akinbode gave insight into the ‘Ile-Ife Heritage Marathon’ project. It is a project instituted by her and aimed at bridging the gap by providing marathons that meet global standards in Nigeria. 

“Drawing from my extensive experience in various marathons, I have carefully observed both the positive and negative aspects. My goal is to incorporate the strengths I have witnessed into the Ile-Ife Heritage Marathon. We had done it in the past, and I pray it continues with the help and support of well-meaning Nigerians,” she stated.

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