On November 30 the seventh Antarctic Ice Marathon will take place at the foot of the Ellsworth Mountains. This year is also the 100 year anniversary of man reaching the South Pole.
To mark the occasion, we spoke to Tristan Miller, who spent the whole of 2010 following the marathon circuit. He ran a race every week in a different country. So that's 52 marathons in 52 weeks, 42 countries on 7 continents. Exhausted yet?
The Antarctic Ice Marathon was his 51st marathon, and here he tells us his story:
I’ll never forget those first steps off the plane. The cold nabs you before the view does. Even with every layer on, it cuts right through and reminds you that Kansas is a long way off.
We were trucked to our “hotel”, away from the wind and into a protected depression in the landscape. The hotel is actually a small tent city that surrounds some semi-permanent structures. We were told that you need to wee in the urinal and poo in the toilet separately. It took a while to get the idea, but apart from that it felt like a modern Inuit village.
There were 36 runners in my group. The race would cover a 25km circuit, followed by a 17.2km loop largely using the same track. We became acclimatised over a couple of days, but the sun just kept running its own track around our heads, never setting in summer. Sleep happened, but it felt like a nap and the tents became sweat boxes with the constant rays.
When race time came, I really felt like I’d entered a different reality. I mean, who the hell goes to Antarctica in the first place? Then, who the hell runs marathon in Antarctica? We were all whooping for the cameras as we took off, runners from all over the world realising their own dream.
Everyone ran with vigour, but a few short kilometres in and I was wheezing through my face mask. The air is pretty thin at the poles. I couldn’t breathe, so started pulling my face mask down every few minutes to get some air into my lungs. But the air is so cold that it dries your throat and your chest starts to sting, so back on with the mask. Hmmm… difficult.
It’s weird though, it seemed to me that the first 10kms went pretty smoothly. I was running with other people, we were all breathing hard and trying to find some rhythm on the ice, but you could feel the general excitement. Then it all just went wrong.
I couldn’t breathe, my running became a trudge, I was overheating, then freezing, depending on my angle. I stopped at the aid station sleds, but don’t remember anything apart from swallowing some warm liquid. I kept pushing and even passed a couple of people, wondering how I’d gotten so tired so quickly.
I completed my first loop, but this time I was running alone and started to really look at where I was. Within a kilometre I couldn’t see the Station anymore, but the hills in front of me seemed to be slowly drifting further away. I saw the speck of another runner and just kept charging forward, counting off the little orange marker flags that appeared every 50 metres.
What was previously a race, became a solitary journey, surveying the only true wilderness I am ever likely to experience. It’s more ice, more white, more rocks. There’s no cities, no forest, no people.. There aren’t any penguins or birds. There’s only ice and cold and probable death. Life is tenuous here, but the views and the idea of Antarctica provokes adulation above the fear. It’s the most beautiful, heart quickening place on the planet. You just can’t stay too long to admire it.
The end is near
I kept running. The last few kilometres felt as though they would never end, though a small part of me wished they wouldn’t. This was the pinnacle of my year away and perhaps my life. My perspective on the world had been shattered and I realised that most people would never understand the peace that Antarctica provides. I was disconnected from everything, pulling each ragged breath just to stay moving, struggling to follow a steady line home. I would probably never see this landscape again, but it’s power was seared on my memory for life.
We celebrated at the finish line for a number of hours as each runner came home. The Union Station food is ridiculously good and we chowed down on lasagne and vegetables, drinking whatever looked like alcohol to cherish the experience we’d just had. Brett, a mad South African doctor, suggested a topless run. I ripped my top off, donned a Mexican wrestling mask and a wild, frosty sprint ensued. Of course I was the only one to fall flat on my face!
Would I go back? Absolutely. It’s like seeing the gateway to a world of wonder, you just want more. Everyone deserves a least one grand adventure in their lifetime. If you’re not sure where you’d go, then Antarctica is your answer.
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