Running the Antarctica Marathon with Shinazy
“Hey, Janice, let’s run a marathon next February.”
Janice and I live life with passports in our back pockets, so this dialogue would not surprise anyone who knows us. Being adventure junkies we understand anything can happen at any time. Being marathoners we believe we can run out of any situation. These characteristics make us invincible; the race in Antarctica would test our resolve.
Once we decided to run, we had to plan our training. For previous marathons we would replicate the event’s terrain, which provided a physical and mental advantage. The Antarctica race pamphlet described running over ice fields, up a glacier’s flank, and through gravel riverbeds. Living in the San Francisco Bay Area there are no glaciers and streambeds cover only a few feet not the 138,435 feet we needed to duplicate the marathon course. If we couldn’t adapt our training we would acclimate our bodies; into storage went sweaters, coats, and all long sleeve shirts. When strangers questioned why we were dressed for summer when it was “freezing outside”, we would answer, “Training for Antarctica Marathon”. Our response always ended the conversation, but never removed the you-crazy-running-people expression.
After planning for a year and training for six months our craziness was imminent. With luggage containing layers of 50-mph-wind-subzero-temperature protective clothing that would transform us into Abominable Snowgals, we embarked on our journey. 8,460 flying miles later we arrived in Ushuaia, Argentina. Walking the gangplank we assumed all decisions were behind us, now we thought, ‘time to relax’. Intrepid travelers pride themselves on their ability to adapt. This trip and our ship, Lyubov Orlova, a Russian research vessel masquerading as a cruise ship, would require constant attitude adjustments.
To maximize our on-board comfort, Janice and I upgraded to a ‘State Room with ocean view’, which translated into ‘area equivalent to three side-by-side twin beds and a porthole’. There was no TV on the boat. We moved from deck to deck using stairs because there was no elevator. When ordering dinner we asked for “meat, fish, or vegetable”. The only five-star feature was the swimming pool – it was empty which allowed lounging in the deep-end to escape the skin piercing, horizontal flying, ice needle sea spray.
Despite having no amenities we remained excited; before us was open water and time. Or so we thought. The first omen was the Drake Passage weather, known for its brutal storms. As we motored across the Passage we experienced no waves. No clouds. No sea life. No seasickness. This first calm day would be our last until our last day became as calm as our first.
You need peaceful water when you use an inflatable dingy to commute to King George Island. For three days the race organizer attempted to get the 108 runners to land and every day Mother Nature distorted seas causing us to duct tape drawers closed and bungee cord doors open. With each 5:30 AM wake-up call we proceeded to wrap toes, moleskin blisters, greased bodyparts, diluted electrolyte, eat oatmeal, and wait. And wait. And snooze. And wait.
Before we ran out of time we ran out of oatmeal. At our final breakfast the organizer’s grim face told us the waiting was over; tomorrow we headed home. When 140 people focus on one problem some solution will surface. Because we were in Antarctica water, over Antarctica dirt, a marathon run on decks 5 and 6 would qualify. Over the next five hours and forty-four minutes I ran the gangway, stepped over the fiddley, jogged the hatchway, stepped again. I repeated this procedure, around and around, for 422 lapses.
Crossing the imaginary finish line I pondered, “Would I do this silliness again?”
photos courtesy 23am, shinazy, & longhorndave