The Coolest Marathon on Earth (Literally)

This is a guest post courtesy of Todd.

My wife and I had a goal to run a marathon on every continent, so it was inevitable that we would eventually have to run one in Antarctica.

The trip sells out years in advance, so we had to secure our positions for the 2017 race in 2014.  Along with planning well ahead, we definitely had to consider some unique challenges, particularly when developing our packing list.

In April, the weather in Antarctica is unpredictable and is known to change very quickly; in fact, the previous year’s race was cancelled due to rapidly deteriorating conditions and an increased risk of hypothermia. Given this, we were warned by the organizers that temperatures could be well below freezing and that high winds, rain, ice and snow were entirely possible and may come all at once.  That, and the weather seen at one part of the course could be entirely different from another part due to the variances in terrain.  So, it made sense that we would have to be prepared for all of it and pack accordingly.

The general rule of thumb for races is that you should wear clothes for weather that is 10 degrees warmer; this, however, is hard to follow when the best-case scenario would still leave you wearing clothes for below freezing conditions.  So, the key for us was to bring a variety of inner layers while keeping the outer layers constant.  Our final list included:

  • Shoes:  Gore-tex trail shoes and nanospikes on standby in case ice made the running path extra slippery.
  • Socks:  Compression calf-length socks, with multiple pairs at the aid station in case the others got wet.
  • Lower Body:  Thigh-length tights as a base with windproof winter-weight pants as an outer layer.
  • Upper Layer: Light base layer with a merino wool padded middle layer and a rain/windproof shell
  • Windproof neck buff, skullcap and winter thermal gloves
  • Sunglasses to protect against the glare
  • Insulated water bottles to protect the liquid from freezing
  • Unwrapped energy bars / waffles for food (no wrappers allowed on land)
  • UV face balm to protect against wind / sun burn
  • Layers of dry clothes to change into at the finish

When the time finally came we left the US and flew to Buenos Aires, where we met our fellow runners and spent a few days exploring the city.  We then flew to Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world, and boarded a Russian research vessel for our three-day cruise to the continent.  Fortunately for us, the Drake Passage decided to behave itself and we experienced smooth sailing the entire way.

For the next two weeks, we sailed to various points along the peninsula and made daily excursions to shore via zodiac boat or kayak.  Along the way, we managed to see a remarkably beautiful terrain and an incredible variety of wildlife to include whales, several different types of seals and more penguins than one could count.  In every case, the animals were curious about us and had no issues coming directly to us and giving us a closer look.  Needless to say, the whales were a bit more intimidating than the penguins.  Sadly, some really great footage was lost as my GoPro made its way off of my kayak and fell to the bottom of the bay.  I imagine that it will probably have some pretty cool stuff on it once it’s found thousands of years from now.

On race day, the weather called for temperatures at -2C, with winds at 32kph with a chance of rain and sleet.  Fortunately, the weather stayed largely agreeable, although at times we did get rain / ice as the winds blew down the glaciers and into our faces no matter what direction we seemed to be facing.  The course itself was exceptionally muddy and wet, with snow and ice covering parts of the path.  Fortunately, the items we chose to wear suited us very well for the course and kept us dry and warm enough without excessively sweating or, more importantly, overheating.  As the runners began to finish, the race organizers watched us carefully and ensured we got changed rapidly and transported back to the ship to minimize the risk of hypothermia.  Once back on board, they passed out warm drinks and gave us time to relax and recover.  Needless to say, the ship’s bar was very busy as we celebrating as a group for completing an incredible, one-in-a-lifetime event.

About the Author

 

Todd is a pilot, former US Marine and generally awesome fellow who moved here from Washington, DC in September of 2017.  Currently scheduled for Chicago, Berlin and the Marine Corps Marathon, he is working on his goals of completing a marathon on every continent and eventually knocking out the World Majors.  He thanks City Runners for allowing him to combine three of his favorite (favourite) things (running, fun people and a nice pint) and looks forward to learning about his exciting new city from street level.

 

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