When I originally signed up for a marathon at the bottom of the world, I imagined visual wonders of penguins lining the course, blue glaciers to my right and left, and the sound of crunching snow underneath my feet.
When I stepped up to the start line on the day of the marathon, I was met with pure cold, intense fog and those glaciers? I didn’t get to enjoy the beauty of them. I had to run up one of them. I explain a few of my adventures while participating (and I don’t use the word “running”) in one of the toughest marathon courses in the world:
Falling into a mud pit. Near mid-race, I didn’t notice the treacherous mud pits looming right alongside the course. Veering off to the right instead of staying on the straight and narrow pathway, one step cost me several minutes. I lunged straight down into a deep pit with dark brown mud, formed from melting glacier water. No matter how I turned, I couldn’t find a way out. Remembering the sage advice from sedentary hours watching “Man vs. Wild” on the Discovery channel, I thought of Bear purposely falling into a mud pit and demonstrating how to hoist himself out using a stick as a fulcrum. I spun myself around like a sprinkler and found no sticks in sight. But I did have a water bottle in my hand–and that would have to do. I laid it on its side and used it as leverage to pull my body right out. Unfortunately, this meant I now drank mud instead of water and carried 10 extra pounds of mud-caked clothes.
No aid stations. Due to the challenging conditions and less-than-ideal weather, no volunteers greeted us with small cups of water or sports drinks. Rather, we carried our own. Not only did I wear significantly more clothes than a typical marathon, but I also “ran” with a water bottle and 10 gels. At the halfway point, located at a Russian research station, we left trusty drop bags with additional water bottles and nutrition (and an extra pair of shoes.)
Climbing a glacier. In a battle of marathoner versus nature, nature won. It was without a doubt, the most difficult three miles I’ve encountered in any race anywhere in the world–we climbed up a glacier. I watched a man fall and break his hip, a woman sprain her wrist and bodies fly. I cautiously stepped very, very slowly and others assisted me when I slid. Hanging on to other runners, we all prayed our way up and down this glacier, taking 1:44 to complete three miles of the marathon. So much for a decent time.
Sideways rain. Growing up in Seattle, I knew rain–every kind of rain imaginable. I didn’t know rain like this. At the South Pole, running in rain appears as if you’re moving through a vortex.
Attacking birds. Instead of cute little waddling penguins along the course, we were met with skuas, aka, attacking birds of the Antarctic. To avoid a collision with these fellas, it was necessary to run with our arms over our head with water bottles in hand. Skuas land on the highest part of you and with arms raised up, the skuas landed on them and we beat them off with the bottles.
Despite the insanity of this race, I highly recommend it. It’s a race impossible to forget and impossible to replicate. Each year is a different experience for runners.