Have you ever run a marathon where;
” You have to catch a Zodiac just to get to the start
” You peel off a layer of clothes just before the start of the race which still leaves you with another 3 layers
” You start the race carrying your drink bottles to leave at the drink stations when you pass them (& then collect them on the way back)
” You take up to 90 minutes longer than your slowest ever time & still you’re elated
” You have 2 people change your shoes, your socks & dress you at the end of the race
” After running for 5+ hours in zero degrees, you have to get into a Zodiac, then onto a ship & then onto your knees while you scrub every last bit of dirt off your runners before you can have a shower.
If you answered yes then you’ve run the Antarctica Marathon & you know exactly what I’m talking about. If you answered no then you really need to consider this marathon as it is one experience you will never forget.
The best way to explain this incredible event is that you think it’s about running a marathon on the 7th continent but ends up being more about Antarctica & the run is just one of the day trips. I left Sydney on a flight to Santiago Chile with a connection to Buenos Aires Argentina. A 14 hour flight followed by a 2 hour flight but for us Australians, long haul flights are just part of who we are and this one was pretty easy.
All the runners meet in Buenos Aires for a welcome dinner which is a great way to start the journey. Roughly 200 people who are running either a full or half marathon & just the knowledge & experience in the room on that first night was incredible. One person running their 60th marathon, another running their 7th continent….for the 4th time.
The second day included a half day tour of Buenos Aires with the afternoon left for our own sightseeing. (Tip No.1, if you are ever in Buenos Aires, go to a Parrilla (charcoal grill) as Argentina is famous for their steaks)
The next day is an early flight to Ushuaia (pronounced U-shway-a) which is the southern-most city in the world. After a few hours shopping, we boarded the Akademik Sergey Vavilov (Tip No.2, buy blocks of Cadbury chocolate from the local supermarket. You will be the most popular person on the ship).
The Vavilov is a Russian research vessel but is manned by One Ocean Expeditions who were our host for the next 10 days. The ship was really well appointed and I must say has the best bar in the world. Where else can you sit on a bar stool drinking Frozen Martinis (it is a Russian vessel after all) and look out one window & watch icebergs go past & look out another window & watch humpback whales jumping out the water. Then there’s the seals, whales, penguins, whales, glaciers oh & did I mention whales?
On the 3rd day we arrived in Antarctica and immediately we were on the Zodiacs over to land to start our Antarctica experience. (Tip No.3, sea sickness tablets. Not sure I would have needed them but better safe than sorry. Three metre waves crossing the Drake Passage throws even a large ship around).
The thing about going ashore is that the only way to get there is via Zodiacs. You sit on the side, you get wet, it’s freezing, you don’t stop smiling, you don’t hesitate doing it again & again & again. There is simply no way to describe what you see & experience. On one of the excursions I was standing in the middle of approximately 3,000 infant penguins. No that’s not a typo, three thousand penguins.
So on Day 5 it was marathon day. An early breakfast (don’t get me started on the food, three meals a day & each one had three courses – including breakfast… plus morning & afternoon tea. The only marathon I’ve done where I’ve finished weighing more than I was the week before) then it was on the Zodiacs for a short trip over to shore. The good thing about this marathon is that everyone is coming from the same place so as soon as everyone is on shore we start. The course is a challenge, that is probably an understatement. Mud, ice, melting snow running across the track, hills then add cold, wind & on the day we had snow for the last few hours.
That doesn’t sound like fun but it was great. You know you can’t run a fast time so you relax & enjoy it more. I mean how many marathons do you start in Russia, run to Uruguay, then back to Russia, then to China, then back to Russia. You do that three times & next thing you know you’ve run a marathon in Antarctica (Sure Mawson discovered the Magnetic South Pole but did he run it?? I don’t think so)
There were 168 people that started the marathon & 130 finished so yes it was tough because it’s not like the 30 that didn’t finished were doing their first marathon. Just to put the challenge out there, we also had the first blind person to run a marathon in Antarctica finish in just under 6 hours.
So after my two helpers dressed me (why can’t I have that at every marathon??) it was back on the Zodiacs, back to the Vavilov, clean all traces of Antarctica off my mud covered runners & then into the best shower you are ever likely to experience.
You know when you finish a marathon & you are telling your better half or friends and family about the experience & they look at you & nod but don’t really understand because they think you’re mad for running 42km anyway? Imagine sitting in a bar with a hundred or so people that know exactly what you have just experienced because they have just done the same thing. It was a great way to spend the afternoon (I must admit the enthusiasm to run outside whenever there was a whale sighting wasn’t as popular as other days)
After that it was a five day holiday in and around the most amazing continent you are ever likely to see. The landscape is spectacular and the wildlife is amazing and that doesn’t count the 20 odd runners that decided to do a Polar Plunge in zero degree water.
The whole trip was really well organised & the Travelling Fit/One Ocean team were fantastic. For those wanting to run all seven continents this one is a must but even if you want a unique experience this is a great way to do it.
Speaking from experience, the look on people’s faces when you say you are going to Antarctica is great but the next expression, when you add that you are going to run a marathon, is absolutely priceless.