from Pittsburgh to iceberg…a marathon in Antarctica

Gentoo penguins in a line with Bernadette on D’Hainaut Island

LeboLife blogger Carolyn Newkirk is running a marathon on each continent. This week’s blog documents her run in Antarctica. Part two of two. Read part one.

After registering three years ago for the Antarctica Marathon, (it’s limited to 200 people and yes, there are that many intrepid people from all over the globe who want to attempt this), my faithful running friends, Bernadette, Barb and I finally began our journey in March. It took two weeks of planes, buses, taxis, ferries, and ships and so the five hours to finish a marathon on Antarctica was but a small part of an incredible adventure.

Fortunately, we arrived in Antarctica a day before the marathon, so we had a day of sightseeing with penguins and seals to recover from our long trip at sea. I settled into my cabin early, laid out my marathon clothes, and quickly fell asleep.

Marathon morning started with breakfast at 6:30 a.m., followed by suiting up in our waterproof bib overalls and jacket. We walked down the steep gangway to catch a zodiac boat from our ship to King George Island, the largest of the South Shetland Islands. As we rode across Maxwell Bay, I distinctly remember saying out loud, “This is by far the most insane thing I’ve ever done.” Barb and Bernadette’s facial expressions mirrored my sentiments. In about 10 minutes, we arrived on shore, took off our waterproof gear, set up our own water bottles and prepared for our start. The course was six loops from Bellingshausen Station (Russian research base) to the Great Wall Station (Chinese research base), full of mud puddles, steep hills, and ankle-turning rocks, along with spectacular views of glaciers. The first half felt relatively easy for me, but loops four and five felt difficult. By the last loop, I was ready to finish and ran faster than the previous two loops.

Race conditions

Since there were few spectators, the runners on the course were also the crowd support. As we passed each other on the loops, we offered high fives, “You’ve got this,” and other words of encouragement. It was a challenging course and my body felt a little beat up by the end. However, I think the Kilimanjaro Marathon was harder because of the heat. Antarctica was kind and gave us 30 degrees with winds at 17 knots (19 to 24 mph) that seemed to die down over the course of the day. It snowed sideways for a short while, but we truly lucked out on the weather. Last year, the marathon was cut short by an hour due to high winds and the danger of not being able to get the zodiacs back to the ship. Some runners did not complete the full race and will have to return if they wish to accomplish seven marathons on seven continents. Only 100 people are allowed on the island at one time to preserve the environment and leave zero impact. No wrappers were allowed on the island, because they could blow away in the fierce winds, so I threw loose Sports Beans in my SPIbelt for fuel. Hailing from 17 different countries, 114 full marathon runners and 71 half marathon runners from two different ships on 2 separate days achieved their goals. As I crossed the finish line, I decided it wasn’t all that crazy. Not only was the weather calm but also there was a rare, juvenile Emperor penguin at the finish. Normally, they reside farther south on the continent, and the staff members who frequently visit Antarctica were amazed he traveled north. Mother Nature granted us another gift on marathon day.

Author Carolyn Newkirk at the finish line with a rare Emperor penguin

Compelling 2017 Antarctica Marathon facts: Quinn, an 11-year-old from New Zealand and Maya, a 13-year-old from Wisconsin placed 1st and 2nd, respectively from our ship for the half marathon. Quinn’s mission is to inspire kids to put down the Xbox and become active. This was his 4th half marathon in his 4th country before he turned 12. With his steadfast guide Christian, David was the second blind person to complete a half marathon in Antarctica. This stupendous Swedish duo ran over difficult terrain to finish a formidable race. Not only is David an accomplished runner, but he also earned a gold medal in the Lillehammer Paralympics in alpine skiing in 1994. Another new friend, Dave, ran his first (and he says last, but we’ll see) marathon in honor of his late wife, My Luu, who was supposed to conquer her final continent in Antarctica but lost her battle to amyloidosis, a rare blood cancer, before she had the chance. He valiantly crossed the finish line and fulfilled her goal with her brother, Sang. The awards ceremony where Dave and Sang unexpectedly received the exclusive 7 marathons on 7 continents medal for My Luu was an emotional one. When you are on a ship with 100 other people for 10 days, you get to know some of them pretty well and listen to their life stories. It’s what made this trip so meaningful.

Bern, Barb and Carolyn after the marathon in the ship’s lounge

With my 16th marathon on my 4th continent complete, I am grateful for the opportunity to have visited Antarctica. While the marathon was a significant accomplishment, the experiences we shared with the new friends we made created an extraordinary trip. From getting up close and personal with whales, seals, and penguins to seeing some of the most alluring icebergs and glaciers in the world, we had the adventure of a lifetime. In the end, it wasn’t about the marathon but rather the connections we made and the phenomenal journey we shared together. Bern, Barb, and I hope to meet up with some of our new friends as we complete seven marathons on seven continents.

Carolyn and Todd Stabenow, another Mt. Lebanon native, living in Minnesota, who also ran the marathon. She says “We are at the top of Almirante Brown, an Argentinian scientific research base, overlooking Paradise Harbor. My friend sent me a text the day I was leaving and told me she knew someone else from Lebo going. I met Todd on the trip, and not surprisingly, we have several friends in common. There were so many ‘small world’ moments on the trip.” – We booked our trip through Marathon Tours. They were well organized and did an exceptional job of preparing us beforehand and taking care of us on the trip. Family members or other supporters are also welcome. There is currently a three-year wait for this marathon.

Carolyn’s other blogs in this series:








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