August | 250 km | Trail | △△ | Iceland
If you want to run a marathon in Antarctica, you have a few choices: Antarctica Ice 100Km, 4 Deserts: The Last Desert, and the White Continent Marathon . I opted for the White Continent Marathon, due to its lower price tag, less than half the cost of the Antarctica Ice 100Km at the time.
Our plan for the race was to fly to Antarctica’s King George Island the day after arriving in Punta Arenas. We would race upon landing, camp overnight, and return the day after. At the pre-race meeting, however, the race director, Steve Hibbs, announced that our flight was delayed. Visibility was too low at the airport to land. An earlier group had already tried to go, but they were turned back at the last minute when the fog sitting on the runway did not dissipate.
Days later the fog still hadn’t lifted. The pilot came to talk with us about the situation, as he knew we were getting concerned for the race and making our return flights. He explained he hadn’t seen stretches of bad weather like this in years and that it could be two weeks before we could fly. Even if we could make it to King George Island, there was the issue of getting back to Chile and home after. I figured I could push my flight back into the week, as a worst-case scenario. Many didn’t have this flexibility, unfortunately, and they were growing anxious that their Antarctic dream were slipping away.
We kept ourselves occupied in the downtime by touring around Punta Arenas, visiting a penguin colony at Magdalena Island, and taking a bus tour of Torres del Paine. We visited the southernmost brewery in the world and a historic mansion where one of the area’s pioneering families used to reside.
By the fifth day, many had given up on touring and focused on contingency planning instead. Luckily, we got word that afternoon that our flight was tentatively scheduled for the next day. There was a small weather window that would allow the pilot to land on King George Island’s gravel runway. The next morning, the flight was pushed back an hour, but thankfully no more. Instead of starting the race upon landing, we would camp and start in the morning.
The flight over was buzzing with excitement and anticipation. We were just hours away, our long road to Antarctica finally crossed. We had the whole plane chartered, so Steve got on the intercom and made a few race announcements. Then someone caught sight of land and everyone pulled out their cameras, wanting to document our descent into what had to be the coolest airport in the world, save maybe Jack F. Paulus Skiway Airport, located at the South Pole.
After we landed, everyone wanted to go out and explore, but we needed to prepare for the race first and foremost. I made instant noodles for dinner, laid out my race gear and clothes, then walked part of the course with a few other runners. It was cold, around 25 degrees Fahrenheit, but it felt even colder with the wind chill. Part of me wanted to curl up in my sleeping bag with a cup of hot chocolate, but we were only in Antarctica for two days. I wanted to see all I could!
Despite the common image of Antarctica as desolate, there are quite a few buildings on King George Island. Several countries have military personnel and scientific researchers stationed there. We were staying on the Chilean research base, between the Chinese and Russian bases.
We walked towards the Chinese side at dusk. There was still a bit of light on the horizon, despite it being almost 10 p.m. Amber lights from the windows of the Chinese bunkers contrasted with the cerulean sky and reflected off the frigid blue water. When I tried to feel how cold the water was, my hands were too numb to feel anything. Some of my friends had gone swimming on their trips to Antarctica and I lived in fear someone in our group would suggest it. I doubted I’d be able to withstand the peer pressure, but I also really didn’t want to get in.
After we returned to camp and I tucked into bed, I thought I’d warm up. But I spent the whole night shivering, unable to sleep. My sleeping bag was warm, but not warm enough. I was now looking forward to the race for a different reason: I wanted to start running to get warm.
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