Antarctica Marathon was not originally on my schedule for this year- I was on a wait list that had me on target to run this marathon in 2019. So when the email came in January that there was a place open in 2017, I grabbed it… Then I started to panic. I was to leave on March 2 and would be gone for 2 weeks. It wasn’t the training I was worried about- I had already begun training for an April marathon and could adjust my mileage without too much difficulty. It was the location, time away, gear needed, and the terrain that had me worried! Living in Michigan, I began stalking the weather forecast. I waited for the most terrible weather, then ran in it. -5° F, sleet with 25 MPH winds, perfect! My perspective on our harsh winters shifted, as I went from dreading the harsh weather to now looking forward to it as prime Antarctica training. I saved my long runs for the worst weather days and tested out my new Goretex gear. My running friends would ask me what the hell I was doing running in this sh**. My non-running friends asked why the hell I would go to Antarctica to run a marathon. I was excited as I adjusted my training, purchased some extra gear and got ready to go.
Those who know me, have come to know that I can’t seem to leave the state of Michigan without running into some sort of hurdle, so to speak. As I was running an easy 5 miles on Monday (leaving Thursday), I noticed a driver with her head down – possibly looking at her phone – driving towards me. I was watching her closely as she didn’t seem to be paying attention when she did a quick drift in my direction causing me to stumble towards the ditch, injuring my knee/calf. To make a long story short- on Thursday morning with a flight out of Detroit at 5:00 PM, I was at my 2nd Dr. appointment of the week getting an X-Ray. I was told I “couldn’t travel if I had a tibia fracture”. If it was just a calf injury I could go ahead. After a short wait I was happy to hear there was no fracture, only a calf injury. It was going to hurt, but I could run.
The rest of the trip there was uneventful, thankfully. Marathon Tours does an excellent job with the trip. We first spent 3 days in Buenos Aires where we had a briefing, city tour, and a group dinner before heading south. Next we flew down to Ushuaia. Ushuaia is the southernmost tip of South America, nicknamed the “end of the world”. We had some time to spend in Ushuaia before boarding the ship. There were 2 ships – one which had a group running on King George Island on Friday March 10, and the other ran on Saturday the 11th. (There are only a certain number of people allowed on the island at a time, and there are strict rules and protocol that must be followed to protect the ecosystem).
We spent a total of 10 days on the ship and were fortunate to have absolutely beautiful weather. The winds were not too high, we had a lot of sun, and the temperatures were usually in the upper 20s to 30s F. The staff on the Vavilov was wonderful and nearly every day they took us out to explore in small Zodiac boats where we were able to get up close to the wildlife and glaciers.
Our ship ran the race on day 5 of 10 days aboard the ship. As I was filling a canceled spot I had a roommate on a floor with a shared bathroom and shower. I didn’t know anyone on my ship going in, but did happen to have a friend on the other ship and we were able to catch up in Buenos Aires. There was plenty of down time so it was great meeting the other travelers. I have met some fascinating people over the years through these marathons.
On the ship we went through the Drake Passage, which I googled before I left and was a bit worried about but fortunately didn’t have any trouble there. It’s the body of water between South America’s Cape Horn and Antarctica. It connects the SW part of the Atlantic, the SE part of the Pacific, and extends into the Southern Ocean. Quite a few people were very seasick here, particularly on the way home. It was calmer on the way down but a bit rough on the way back.
Going out on the Zodiacs, we’d typically head out for a couple of hours at a time. We’d either explore out on the water or head to land to hike around. It was incredible how close the whales would come when we were on the water. Seals would float by on icebergs, penguins would walk right up next to you, we saw varieties of whales and seals in the water and on land.
I really enjoyed the hiking. One hike we did up a glacier was a particularly windy day. Each of the One Ocean Expedition team was outstanding and I enjoyed listening to their talks and reading their biographies. Harry Keys lead that day and happens to be a Glaciologist. He and his wife Karen Williams both were interesting and funny. He and some other staff carved notches up the glacier to assist us getting to the top. The wind blew so strong at one point it blew me off my feet as I neared the top of the glacier, it was awesome. Another great hike was up and into a volcano. All of the One Ocean Expedition team was full of information, and interesting to speak with. You can check out their website at oneoceanexpeditions.com.
The marathon! The goal I’m aiming for is to run a marathon on each continent, and am grateful for the places it has taken me and the people I have met along the way. They were predicting mid-30s and no precipitation, much warmer than I was expecting. We all headed out from the ship in the Zodiacs, and carried our own fuel and hydration to drop on the course. The course was an out and back – 6 times. We’d get our bib marked on the end and return. It was rough- very hilly, muddy and rocky. I was really concerned about my calf, I’d been careful with it all week, and done only a couple easy runs in Buenos Aires to feel it out. I wasn’t sure how those rocks and hills were going to feel so I brought an extra flask of Hot Shot and was just hoping it didn’t tighten up and cramp on me. This was not an easy place to get to for a do-over!
We got started 15 minutes early since we were all ready and standing around the start line. Sure enough, after the first loop I was way too hot. It was in the mid 30s with no precipitation so I had to stop to switch jackets (I’d brought a lighter one just in case) and drop my outer-gloves. I kept on my Luova fingerless gloves and that’s all I needed the rest of the race. I don’t think I ever really looked at my watch and I liked the out and back. It kept things interesting watching all of the other runners as they changed positions. There was a section (about 3/4 mile) that was larger rocks that was really difficult to run on, and by the 5th time my calf was really hurting. I’ve had worse pain and was feeling so lucky to just be there I just tried to block it out and keep moving forward. There was a lot of low lying mud, alternating with steep hills and rocks. It’s on a research base area winding through Chinese, Uruguayan, and Argentinean Territory. Some of the researchers from China were moving out that day and were very enthusiastic as they drove by- taking pictures and cheering through the windows. There was some nice views overlooking the water that we got to see along the way… over and over, ha. I walked a bit more of the steep hills in the last loop in attempt to monitor myself to make sure I could finish, at the very least. I managed that fair enough… 6th continent complete!
We joined the other boat for the awards ceremony two days later. It was yet another beautiful sunny day with a barbecue out on the ship deck. I was so happy to see my friend Gail receive her 7th continent medal. I’ve known she was running Antarctica 2017 for about 2 years now, who knew I’d be there to see her get her medal! If this is a marathon you’re interested in, check it out at marathontours.com. The list is long but it’s worth the wait!