Runyon running in his seventh ultra-marathon of the 777 project, in Cape Town, South Africa.

Joel Runyon ’09 has competed in some pretty impressive races in the past two years. From a 12-hour race in Narrabeen, Australia, to a 62-mile trudge through the frigid landscape of Antarctica, he has shown radical stamina. However, no race has required more endurance and perseverance than completing the 777 project: Seven races. Seven continents. Seven schools.

Runyon with children at a the first Pencils of Promise School ever built, in Laos.

Runyon designed the 777 initiative to raise enough funds to build seven schools for children in communities that are in need of basic resources for proper education. He committed to run an ultra-marathon on each of Earth’s seven continents and partnered with Pencils Of Promise to raise $175,000 – enough to build seven schools. Read more about the journey Runyon followed to develop this goal in an article published in the spring 2015 issue of Bethel magazine.

What began as a personal challenge to achieve the impossible with his first marathon in 2012 became an outlet for Runyon’s heart for philanthropy, and he has invested an incredible amount of time and resources into reaching his goal.

“I have always had a responsibility to give back in some way … [777 has] been self-funded. I built my business in a way that I can travel and work online. I didn’t want any of the money raised [for 777] to go to me. This project has been sponsored by Impossible, which is my company.”

IMPOSSIBLE ( is a digital company that focuses on helping people achieve goals they consider “impossible” through apps, fitness products and other services. This venture was inspired by Runyon’s own “pursuit of the edges of impossible,” and has extended into 777.

However, since Runyon’s announcement of the project in 2015, he has hit his fair share of obstacles. Shortly after a serious injury that required six months of rehabilitation in his first race, the Patagonia International Marathon in Chile, he found himself in a trademark lawsuit.

“I put all this work into the launch [of 777] … It took a lot of money, and I immediately got hurt and immediately got sued,” he says. “I thought [completing 777] would be the toughest thing I had done, but the toughest part wasn’t even the races.”

However, unwilling to accept defeat, Runyon pressed on with his “impossible” efforts.

“The challenge had to pause, but if I say I am going to do something, I am going to do it.”

After completing races that took him across the globe, including places like Thailand, Finland, and his hometown of Chicago, lll., Runyon has crossed his seventh ultra finish line. On April 15, 2017, he completed the 56K Two Oceans Ultra Marathon in Cape Town, South Africa.

“I figured out what I was made of, and I got to see some incredible places around the world,” he says.

But the race isn’t over yet.

After personal visits to schools built by Pencils of Promise in Guatemala and Laos, Runyon is more dedicated to completing his mission than ever. After his first collaboration with Pencils of Promise in 2012, Runyon was impressed with their approach to non-profit work. One hundred percent of the donations to the organization are guaranteed to serve the schools built. Along with building schools in carefully chosen communities, Pencils of Promise integrates involvement of that community and continues support for sustaining the school’s success, such as teacher training and supplemental programming.

Now Runyon has less than $20,000 left to reach his goal to build seven schools, and he’s come up with some creative partnerships to make that happen. In the month of June, Jesse Itzler of the group is sponsoring a fitness challenge where he will donate $100/finisher to the cause. (See a video about the challenge here). This will be matched by both IMPOSSIBLE and entrepreneur Kent Clothier, for a total donation of $300/finisher. You can register for the challenge at and help close the gap on 777!

“I am trying to put my money where my mouth is and encourage people that you can do something,” says Runyon. “You can make a bigger difference than you think you can.”

Learn more about Runyon’s project at