Antarctica, my seventh and final continent was met with a lot of trepidation and some fear of the unknown. I had read a lot of accounts from those who had gone before me which further confirmed many comments as to the absurdity of such an endeavor. Why would I, or anyone for that matter, want to run a marathon on one of this planet’s most desolate and cold environments. The answer to that question lies within each and every one who took part in the 10th running of the Antarctica Marathon, the last great adventure. Speaking only for myself, I constantly am seeking out an adventure and with my natural fascination for the extreme I found myself beginning the amazing journey as we boarded a 3-hour flight to Ushuaia fin del mundo (the end of the world!) It was from this tiny town that we boarded the Russian expedition ship Ioffe, were assigned our room and given the requisite number of presentations on what protocol to follow in case of an emergency. There was no doubt that my trek to the “Coolest Race on Earth” had begun!
If I was apprehensive in the beginning I would now have 60 hours to ponder and justify why signing up for a marathon in such a remote area as Antarctica was normal. I could actually justify the other six that came before this but why was I so compelled to run where no man lives and penguins rule! The answer would not come quickly and the butterflies would constantly flutter right up to the day of the race. Never had I experienced such a long journey just to arrive at the starting line. It took over 60 hours of travel through the Beagle Channel and across the Drake Passage before we were to arrive at King George Island. Thom and the others went ashore to mark the 26.2-mile course as well as to meet with the personnel from the Russian, Chilean, Uruguayan, Argentinean and Chinese bases, which we would either run past, or through. We, the runners, spent the afternoon boarding zodiacs to view from a distance the racecourse. Not knowing exactly what would lie ahead of us gave way to great speculation and anticipation. That evening at dinner we were given the rules, which we were to strictly adhere to as this year, the political posturing gave the marathon organizers a whole lot more to worry about. There were to be no more than 100 people at any time on the course and there was to be zero impact upon the island. That would mean absolutely no missing powerbar wrappers, Gatorade (or in my case Accelerade) dropped from our bottles or any other form of debris left behind. It was for this reason that we had two starting points on the day of the race, one for the runners on our ship and another for the runners on the second ship the Vavilov (or Vavilovians as we would later call them.) After dinner we all went back to our respective cabins to plan our race day strategies and clothing to be taken with us on the next morning.
8:00 am, March 10, 2009 race day was upon us. 12 at a time we made our way down the gangplank fully clothed in waterproof attire, onto the zodiacs. We were carried over to the landing site in front of the Russian Base and then walked a few hundred yards to the staging area for the marathon. To our dismay this was not like any other marathon staging area that we had ever encountered. We were given large red plastic bags in which to hold all of our belongings and found a rock or spot upon which to leave them. Restrooms were two very small tents with camping Porto potties inside. At around 9:00 am everyone was lined up on a very narrow and rather muddy starting line waiting to hear…ready, set, go!!! We were off and there was no turning back now. The marathon course would become one of the most grueling courses that I have ever run. It consisted of hills, rocks, streams, mud, and oh, yes, a glacier. I went into the race knowing that there would be a few hills (operative word…few!) There were so many hills that I didn’t even count them because every time I thought I was done going up, I’d come downhill to encounter another one. The temperature on race day was about 35/40 degrees, not exactly sub-zero but for a Floridian still cold. Many would peel off layers only to put them back on later in the day as the weather changed with almost every hour (we went through wind chill, snow and temperatures dropping toward that zero mark). As we made our way toward the glacier we had to maneuver over slippery rocks embedded into at times ankle-deep mud. Going up the glacier was manageable without the use of yak tracks however coming down took a little finesse not to land on ones bottom. We were then once again carefully navigating through the rock/mud fields on our way to the Great Wall, or Chinese base and turn-around. My first lap was slow but still under the 3 hours that I had anticipated. To my surprise the foot was holding up (I came into this race with a tear in my plantar fascia…one cortisone shot and taping to hold it together) but beginning to feel the tear very early on into the second loop. The only way for me to complete this marathon was to be extremely conservative and as much as I hate to walk a marathon I knew that it was the only way I could complete this. There were many opportunities on this course to injure oneself from slipping on rocks, twisting ankles in the mud or just slipping and sliding upon the glacier. So with my pride thrown to the wind I rounded the turning point at the Great Wall with only 3 more miles to go and finished my 7th marathon on the 7th continent in the rather embarrassing 6-½ hour time frame. I have since reconciled this with myself and know that I gave it everything I had. As with all things worth accomplishing in life it is how we handle the disappointments that ultimately make us who we are. I can hold my head high and proudly say that I ran and completed one of the toughest marathons in the world and I will forever be grateful for the experience.
Sitting here nestled securely in my bunk I am trying hard to steady my computer upon my lap as the rhythmic back and forth motion of the ship creates a very unusual feeling within me. At times it almost is soothing, like being rocked as a child. Other times, when walking up and down the staircase and through the narrow halls of the ship, it feels like the old funny houses that we would go into…there is no straight line to walk. We are heading back from one of the most memorable trips this year, a trip almost otherworldly in nature. After the race we visited Matthews Bay and stepped our feet upon the island with no name. Here we sat upon the rocks and watched the Gentoo penguins frolic about. These lovely little creatures are so animated and fearless that they would slowly waddle to where we were just to have a look at us. Other areas visited were Neko Harbor and Paradise Bay. We had the opportunity to ride the zodiac’s throughout the Antarctic waters getting close up views of the glaciers, various forms of ice floating in the waters as well as encounters with leopard seals, fur seals, Weddell seals and whales. The spectrum of color here in Antarctica is so beautiful and amazing. Large pieces of ice, which have fallen from the glaciers, take on various shades of blue as well as magnificent sculptural shapes. It is almost impossible to do justice with words for this very amazing continent. Visiting the continent of Antarctica, so very remote yet fully alive is humbling at best. Once you have witnessed the magnificent handiwork of nature, marveled at the grandness of it all, you cannot leave without feeling compelled to become and ambassador for its very fragile eco system. As no country owns this continent, there are seven, which have staked claims. As the Antarctic Treaty is coming to its 50 year close the political posturing to claim various parts becomes more critical. One can only hope that the Treaty will be readopted and Antarctica will remain everyone’s but yet no ones territory.
Now that I have completed my mission to run 7 marathons on 7 continents to raise $1 million dollars for Caron’s scholarship program my hope is that the donations will continue to be made. As I was unable to meet my goal I will be staying true to my word and announcing in the coming months my next adventure. I am committed to challenging myself while at the same time asking others to do the same. Your challenge may be different than mine, may not be physical in nature but nonetheless something that is fulfilling to you. I am asking that you reach out to everyone that you know, ask him or her for their donation and help bring to the forefront the “The Recovery Movement.” I want to thank everyone for his or her generous donations so far as well as the encouragement that I have received throughout the year. It has been a spectacular 11 months!!!
Always remember….If you can see it, you can do it. If you believe it, it will happen…So DREAM BIG!!