2011 Antarctica Marathon
After 13+ years and 17 worldwide marathons I finally met the commitment I made to my donors in 1999 – “that I would finish marathons on all 7 continents”. I accomplished this on February 28, 2011 when I finished the Antarctica marathon, my 7th continent, in a time of 6:24. It was a very satisfying feeling crossing the finish line after what I consider my most difficult and physically demanding 26.2 miles that I have ever run.
Prior to the race I had set a finish time goal of 6:15, the race cutoff time was 6:30. My finish time goal was based on Tom Gilligan, the Founder of Marathon Tours recommendation to all of the runners that they should add at least 1 to 1 ½ hours to the finish time of their last marathon for their Antarctica marathon goal. I also checked with runners who had previously finished the Antarctica marathon and most of them told me that their Antarctica finish times were close to the 1 ½ hour finish time number.
The Male winner of the 2011 Antarctica marathon was Michael Hewitt from Denver Colorado in a time of 3:25:49 [45 minutes slower than his last marathon] the female winner was Diane Kenna from New York in a time of 4:26:29. The ages of the marathoners ranged from the youngest at age 29 to the oldest of 74 [yours truly]. There were 54 male runners and 22 female runners and the average age of the male runners was 49.
Total, there were runners from 13 countries.
All of the 16 previous marathons that I finished were run in major worldwide cities during their warm weather seasons, on paved roads, with thousands, of people cheering me on, with water stations every 3 miles and I could get to the start line by walking or taking a taxi. The 2011 Antarctica marathon was the exact opposite as it was run on the most remote continent on earth, with the coldest and windiest weather, on muddy, rock infested dirt roads that had many steep hills, streams that you had to wade through to get across.
There were no people to cheer you on, no water stations, and the only way to get to the start line is to travel 600 miles on a ship from Ushuaia, Argentina through the treacherous waters of the Drake Passage to Antarctica, and then to get on a Zodiac for a 15 minute ride over very choppy waters to the start of the race on King George Island.
At this time I would like to thank Tom Gilligan, and his great Marathon Tours team of Scott Guillemette, Anita Allen, Bill Serues, and Jane Serues for their tireless efforts to ensure that the 2011 Antarctica marathon was a success. What follows are the details of the day before the marathon, and marathon day on King George Island.
Day Before the marathon – February 27,2011
On the morning of the 27th, the day before the marathon, Tom Gilligan and his staff went to King George Island to determine what the course for the marathon will be, to get approval from the base research installations staffs [Russia, Chile, China, and Uruguay], and to setup the course with flags and mileage markers for the marathon.
While Tom and his staff were setting up the course we disembarked in the morning for Robert Point, Robert Island. In the evening Tom Gilligan and his staff gave us the final race briefing and gave us the details concerning the final course. After the briefing I went back to my room to layout my race gear for tomorrow’s race.
The gear that I wore for the marathon was:
- Running Shoes: Asics 2160
- Socks: Wigwam mills ¾ socks
- Underwear: Thermal underwear
- Running Tights: Asics running tights
- Three Layers of jerseys: 1st [light thermal], 2nd [heavy thermal], 3rd [heavy fleece]
- Marathon Shirt: On top of 3rd layer of jerseys I wore my worldwide marathons shirt
- Hat: Wigwam Mills Gortex Hat
- Watch: Garmin
- Fuel Belt: 4-bottle Road Runner Sports fuel belt
- Gloves: heavy winter gloves
I also wore a Road Runner Sports water- proof jacket and pants to go ashore on the Zodiac.
As is the case in every other marathon that I have finished the night before the race I was very excited as well as concerned about finishing my 7th continent. At the same time I really had no idea just how difficult and physically demanding the race would eventually be.
I want to thank all of my sponsors who donated their best in class products for my Antarctica marathon. Asics [shoes/tights], Wigwam Mills [socks/hat/], Phase n [Garmin], Road Runner Sports [Water and windproof jacket and pants].
Marathon Day – February 28, 2011
I woke up the morning of the race at 6am, showered and got into my race gear then went for a light breakfast of oatmeal, a peanut butter sandwich, and a cup of coffee. Early in the morning Tom Gilligan and his staff boarded their Zodiacs and headed for the island to prepare for the race. The runners were on the Zodiacs around 8am and by 8:45am all of the runners were lined up for the start of the 12th Antarctica marathon. The weather on race day was overcast; with a temperature that ranged from 32F-38F and with wind gusts of 40mph it made it much colder.
The racecourse was a number of outs and backs between the Russian, China, and Uruguay bases and ran along crude dirt roads. The race started at the Russian base and went out 2.5 miles South to the China base and back to the Russian base for a total of 5 miles .The toughest part of the course was going North to the Uruguay base and back to the Russian base for a total of 11 miles. The course then repeated the China and Uruguay routes for a total of 21 miles and repeating the China route 1 more time for the 26.2 miles makes up the final 5 miles. Although I had a clear understanding of the route and that it would be clearly marked, with race monitors in key locations, I along with all of the other runners had no idea how really bad the running conditions would be as the day wore on.
The race started at 9am and the fastest runners were up front and literally left all of the other runners in the dust.
The first 2.5 miles to the China base consisted of about 4 to 5 steep hills, the dirt road was in good shape with no mud yet but the only flat area in the first 5 miles was where there was a lot of stones, I had to run against the 40mph wind gusts on the way back to the start and for the first 5 miles I did very well as I ran up all of the steep hills and went faster on the downhills to help my time.
Once I was back at the Russian base I headed North 2.5 miles to the Uruguay base, which turned out to be the toughest part of the marathon. The route had a number of places along the road that was covered in a very thick and sticky mud and had at least 2 places where I had to wade across the streams and got my shoes and socks wet. I counted 7 steep hills along the route and I ended walking up the last 2 hills due to my having to run against the 40mph wind gusts.
On the return to the Russian base I had to go through the mud and water again and my shoes were starting to get heavier as I couldn’t shake off the mud because it was so thick. When I got back to the Russian base I had now run a total of 11 miles which meant that I had to run the China route 2 more times and the Uruguay route 1 more time to make up the 26.2 miles. I headed out on my second trip to the China base and found that the road was starting to get muddier due to the number of runners going over the route for the second time. It became more difficult to run up the hills due to the increase of mud along the way.
I eventually reached the China base and returned to the Russian base at a much slower time than my first trip to the China base due to the mud and wind gusts. At this point in the race I had run 16 miles and now was headed towards the Uruguay base. While running up the first hill towards Uruguay I picked up small stones in both of my shoes and they were rubbing on my heels, which made it painful to run. I tried moving my shoes to see if I could get rid of them but I just couldn’t shake them out of my shoes. After a while I thought that I finally got rid of them but they had moved to the front of my shoes and away from my heels, which were starting to hurt.
It was a very difficult 2.5 miles to the Uruguay base due to the increase of thick mud, water, and the 7 hills. Some of the hills had so much mud on them that it was very difficult going down the hills.
On the way back to the Russian base I was now walking up all of the steep hills as almost all of the runners were doing. When I got back to the Russian base I had now run a total of 21 miles and it was apparent that I would not meet my finish time goal of 6:15, as I still had to run the China route 1 more time to reach the 26.2 miles.
I headed out for my last China run and my heels were now really bothering me it was clear that I had some rather large blisters on my heels due to the stones rubbing against my heels. When I reached the China Base and headed back to the Russian base I felt confident that I would beat the cut off time of 6:30.
When I finally reached the Russian base I could see the finish line and as I finally crossed the finish line in a time of 6:24. I was very tired but very excited to realize that I had finished my 7th continent. When I got back to the ship I finally looked at my heels and found that I had 2 very large blisters on my heels. I went to see the ships doctor and he put some salve on it and large band-aids.
There was a post-race party and celebration during the evening onboard the ship as we cruised overnight south to the Antarctica Peninsula.
View more photos on Flickr – CLICK HERE