Running in Antarctica

We made it to Antarctica and back safe and sound and I can’t wait to write all about the trip, but first I want to share about the marathon, which was a very challenging but extraordinary experience. The day before, King George Island, where the marathon was going to be held, was hit with rain and snow. The island is home to scientists that live on research bases from all over the world and we were supposed to run on their dirt road, from the start line to the Uruguay base, and then to the China base. However, the race organizers decided to change the course because the path to the Uruguay base had turned very dangerous with all the mud and snow. Now the course consisted of 6 laps from the start line to the China base and back. While some people complained, I actually liked it as I prefer to run laps: the familiarity with the whole terrain after only one lap would work well for my anxiety. And so, the next morning, our adventure started!

Getting our race bibs

Getting our race bibs

About 100 runners had to be brought to shore by zodiacs: each zodiac is a small boat that holds 8-10 people, so it took a while for everybody to get to shore. We ended up being on the last boat that left the cruise ship, not because we were late, but because someone had to be last and we figured we preferred to arrive closer to the starting time than to be first on the island and have to sit around for an hour. However, being last off the cruise ship didn’t work out so well because as soon as we set foot on shore, the organizers started the race: I didn’t even have my running shoes on yet! I scrambled to take all of my zodiac gear (waterproof suits and rubber boots), secure everything into my backpack and lace my shoes, but by the time I was done, the race was well under way. Because they go by gun time, not chip time, my official race time wouldn’t be an accurate representation of my running. Still, I wasn’t too upset: I was not there to finish the marathon at a certain time; all I wanted was to finish it!

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The day before, I had watched a movie about the Chicago marathon and one of the participants, who came last, said he didn’t mind taking his time: he had paid so much to be in that race, that he was getting his money’s worth by enjoying it for as long as possible. That was my attitude on race day. I was running a marathon in Antarctica and I wanted to experience it my way. I knew I had 7 hours to do it, so the fiancé and I decided to walk the first lap together. Since everybody was way ahead of us, we were able to walk, stop, take pictures, and absorb the view together. The research stations looked like small warehouses and some scientists were out and about that day. Around us we could also see lakes, the ocean, mountains, birds, and the occasional penguin. It was a beautiful time we spent together, but after the first lap, the race organizers were really worried about my time: if I continued to walk at that pace, I wouldn’t be able to complete the course in less than 7 hours.

The fiance and I at the starting line

The fiance and I at the starting line

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To prove to the race organizers that I could do it, I had to pick up my pace and the next lap I hit some 11-minute miles, which, considering the course, that was pretty good. The path to the China base was extremely muddy as well. Even though at first I tried to go around the potholes, it was pretty much impossible to keep my shoes clean and after a while, I gave up and stepped right in the middle of all the mess. Although the mud was a deterrent, it wasn’t as bad as the hills: not very steep ones, but there were lots of them. After the third lap I knew I couldn’t run the whole course and finish it, so to save my legs from exhaustion, I decided to walk the up hills and run downhill. It worked out great and I was having fun listening to my music, dancing, and enjoying the scenery. The weather had been in the 30’s with a light breeze and the three layers (next-to-skin base layer, fleece, waterproof outwear) I was wearing had proven to be the perfect amount. I was also very happy with my decision to bring my hydration pack. While most runners had to leave water bottles at the start line and the China base to replenish their bodies, I was able to hydrate anytime I wanted. Although I hadn’t had breakfast, my GU gels were working great. We couldn’t have them in the original wrappers on shore, so the night before I had squeezed all the gel into a flask and I was able to sip on that anytime I needed, thanks to my hydration pack that carried all of my essentials.

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I completed the half-marathon mark (13.1 miles) in 2h50, so I was confident I could finish the marathon under the cut off time, but then the wind started to pick up. Snow started to fall and I had to pull up my face mask to protect myself. The race organizers said they might have to close the course soon due to the weather: if the boat captain said we had to leave, we had to leave. During lap 4 I was worried I wouldn’t be able to finish the marathon: the really fast runners were already going back to the cruise ship, after finishing the course in about 3h30, but I was still really far behind – maybe I shouldn’t have walked that first lap… At least one of us had completed something: the fiance finished the half-marathon and was on his way back to the warm boat.

The fiance finished the Half-Marathon! Congrats!

The fiance finished the Half-Marathon! Congrats!

During the fifth lap I was trying so hard to get faster and finish before they closed the course, that I started to feel miserable, but then the wind died and the organizers told us we still had the full 7 hours to complete the marathon: I relaxed almost too much and just walked the last 2 miles, absorbing the magnitude of my day.  I ended up completing 26.2 miles in Antarctica in 6h15min, which is about 14-minute/miles. I hadn’t been the fastest runner (or the slowest! About 20 people finished after me!), but at least I had done it. Not only I had accomplished my lifetime goal of going to all 7 continents by age 30, but I had also finished a marathon in a muddy, hilly, cold, and windy terrain.

Antarctica Marathon? Check :)

Antarctica Marathon? Check 🙂

After receiving my finisher’s medal, I sat down with a big smile on my face and the cold finally hit me. The whole race I had been pretty comfortable as the heat built from running kept me warm, but once I stopped exercising, the cold sweat on my skin became unbearable. Thankfully, he expedition crew was awesome and I didn’t have to think about anything. They found my backpack, changed my shoes for me and zipped me up. Back on the cruise ship, the fiancé and I celebrated our accomplishments after a deserving long hot shower. He had finished the half-marathon in less than 4 hours, with tendonitis and all! So proud of us!

2 thoughts on “Running in Antarctica

  1. Pingback: Traveling in Antarctica | Run, eat, travel, and more

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