Antarctic Ice Marathon 2019 by Sean O’Hagan

Several years ago I read a new article about this Irish guy, Richard Donavon who ran a marathon on the seven continents in four days.

I was impressed.

That was some feat, and it was a Galway man who did it.

Looking into Richard I discovered that he organised a race in Antarctica (and the North Pole).

I wanted to do it but I knew it was a pipe dream.

Fast forward to last year, I was confirmed with a place.

It was going to happen.

But it seemed a long time in the future.

Time flew by and a few weeks ago I found myself sitting in a hotel room in Punta Arenas listening to Richard giving a race briefing for the race planned for later that week.

Over the next few days some of us rented polar clothes, everyone received their boarding passes and checked in their luggage.

Friday morning we all boarded our plane, some of us wearing our polar clothing, to fly four and a half hours due South to Union Glacier.

As we were about to take off we were all handed earplugs to put in with the words – “you are going to need these” and they were right!

We had a smooth flight and a smooth landing on a blue ice glacier runway where we disembarked the plane and were welcome to Antarctica.

The runway was very slippery as the sun had melted the ice slightly!

We boarded the transport that took us to camp where we immediately had a briefing on the dos and don’ts for visitors. Safety for everyone was utmost propriety.

The hospitality was amazing.

We had too opportunities to go for runs before the marathon the following day.

There is a cardinal rule for runners – never try anything new on race day.

Well for this race the rulebook was out the window for me – where was I going to test my kit before race day?

The first run was amazing and quickly the idea of a fast race went out the window. No matter how prepared you think you can be, nothing can prepare you for running on a mixture of ice and snow.

The biggest surprise was how hot I got wearing my kit.

I had to quickly work out what layers I could afford to remove for the race the following day.

We then had another briefing followed by a second chance to check our running kit.

This time it was a lot better. It was perfect for running, but not warm enough to be standing around in for too long.

Next day was race day and I was ready. I wasn’t nervous, I wasn’t anxious, and certainly wasn’t wishing for it to be over.

Off to the start line and away we went.

Four carefully measured and groomed laps of the camp with two aid stations, one at the start and the other half away around the lap.

The start was amazing, everything was going perfectly.

And then the first issue arose – I found that I was over heating – easily sorted – open the vents in the jacket.

Then I found it hard to breathe through the face mask – there was an air hole to breathe through and it moved constantly every time I fixed it! It was easily fixed, I slide it down from my face, I didn’t need it. After all I had a massive beard to keep the cold out.

The next issue I faced was on the long back straight. It was long and beautiful! The wind was at my back and the sun in my face.

I could feel the sweat rolling down my face under my googles, and my mask started to steam up. But it wasn’t an issue for long. After the straight we turned slightly into the wind and the steam up goggles cleared almost immediately and my beard froze.

You could not get the smile of my face!

This is what I was here for.

First lap over I removed my GoPro and collected my sunglasses so that I could switch between the goggles and the sunglasses.

It was all going perfectly and I ended the second lap with a smile on my face, feeling slightly hungry.

This didn’t last. The third lap was hard.

I felt drained.

I wasn’t able to run a mile without walking for part of it.

I was still making progress but it felt slow.

I thought I would have been able to pick the pace up again on the straight with the wind at my back but it didn’t happen.

The miles went past slowly.

It was getting me down.

I started doubting myself.

Feeling negative.

And then I looked up.

Wind in my face.

Beard frozen.

And I saw the mountain ahead of me.

And I looked around at the ice.

As far as the horizon.

And I smiled.

I knew that I was going to finish.

Even if I had to walk it.

And currently I was ahead of my planned time!

So the third lap ended with another smile and I went onto the last lap.

And it was amazing.

I ran/walked for the first mile as I tried to get food into me.

And then I straightened up.

And I ran.

I stopped to get fluids and more food at the aid station and went off running again.

With about a mile to go I had a shearing pain on the toes of my left foot.

My toes had been rubbing for the past two laps but I wasn’t going to stop.

I had two options.

Stop and look?

Continue and worry about it later.

I went for option two.

Powering on the pain subsided.

Just felt uncomfortable but I knew I would have blisters.

Then I saw the finish arch.

And I kept going.

Finishing in 5:30 and some seconds.

And I was over the moon.

The doctor checked me over and sent me for a shower.

There I discovered the blisters on four toes (same two on each foot)

And it was obvious the nails were going to be lost.

But I had finished.

I had my medal.

I finished ahead of my expected time.

And I loved it.

I was worried that the trip would not live up to my expectations.

I didn’t have to worry.

It was amazing from the second I approached the airplane in Punta Arenas.

Better that I could have ever imagined it.