Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Antarctica: The latest crazy adventure

Dear family and friends -

Once more, the siren song of the marathon beacons me onward. As my crazy quest to run on all seven continents continues, Rebecca and I prepare for departure to the White Continent - Antarctica. Planned three years ago, this combination tour (starting in Buenos Aires & Ushuaia, Argentina) & running event includes touring the South Shetland Islands and the end of Palmer Land in the southern continent. We expect to see thousands of penguins, a smattering of seals and hopefully the occasional whale. All told, we spend ten days on the cruise from Ushuaia (the southernmost city in the world).

The event is organized by Marathon Tours & Travel out of Boston. I first read that you could even run a marathon on all the continents just after finishing my first marathon in 2007. With a love of travel, this seemed like a great way to see the world and do something very few people have ever done. While no official count exists, at most only 2000 people have accomplished this; the number is probably even less. The limiting factor (beyond being somewhat crazy) is of course Antarctica. But if you think having one marathon there seems impossible, would you believe people can participate in three different ones? The one I am running has been around for over 10 years. About 100 people (limited by tourism restrictions) run either a half or a full marathon. A smaller race is run on the ice shelf at McMurdo Station each January. The most crazy (and southernmost marathon in the world) is the Antarctica Ice Marathon at 80 degrees south which they run in November. (My race is held at about 60 degrees south).

Rebecca may be the nuttiest of the two of us as she is going to just be a spectator and supporter. The weather in Antarctica is the coldest, windiest and driest in the world. In fact, Antarctica technically ranks as a desert albeit a very chilly one. I know that seems odd given that the entire continent is covered by miles of ice. However, at the end of the Palmer Land Peninsula, the conditions are balmy for being south. This is the northern part of the continent and is not inside the Antarctic Circle. Still, we expect temperatures in the 10s, 20s and 30s F. One of the previous races had to be run on the ship because they were unable to land at King George Island for the event. The island is home to numerous research stations, and the roads and glacier tracks between the stations form the course. Effectively, we do an out and back of about 6 miles, then an out and back of 7 in the other direction. The half-marathon people finish after one set; those of us doing the full marathon complete a second 13 mile lap. All told - 26.2 miles just like every other standard marathon in the world.

For preparation, beyond my normal long distance running, I journeyed forth to spend previous weekends in colder climes than Los Angeles. Baltimore and Fort Collins offered up identical temperatures to what I expect, and last week's 25 mile run in Fort Collins was super windy - another factor to consider. In terms of clothing, normally I run in shorts and a short sleeve shirt. Given the conditions, I don't actually add that much in terms of weight. I wear running pants over my shorts, and on top I have both anundershirt and a light wind resistant pull over. For my hands, I am using a pair of running gloves with a liner. Over my head instead of a visor is a running cap, an ear band and I have something I can pull over my mouth if needed. My running shoes are my normal Asics trail shoes that I use in the Santa Monica Mountains. However, I do have some Yak Trax to pull onto them. We expect a fair bit of mud (particularly if the temperatures are on the warmer side - above freezing that is). So, the tour company recommends to bring two pairs and to plan to switch mid-race. (This is not a race one really does for time - they say to expect up to an hour longer than a person's average. For me this means possibly 4:30 or more. However, I really want to complete the race in 4 hours if I can.)

Personally, I am very excited. I've wanted to visit Antarctica for 30 years since reading about exploration in my teens. And I've never been to Argentina either (Rebecca has been once, but not to where we are going). I met another runner when I ran the Casablanca Marathon in Africa last October, so I know one person going which is neat. It's hard to believe the sail date is so close. This will be my sixth continent with South America only remaining to be done sometime later this year (fulfilling my target goal of 2011 which I set back in 2007).

As I have done since 2008, I am using my run to raise money. Here's a link to the fund raising site for those who are so inclined. Once again, I am supporting for The Alliance for Children's Rights, Children International and The Call of Duty Endowment. The past three races (NYC in 2008, Boston in 2009, Adelaide in 2010) have garnered around $40,000 in total. Rebecca and I match $10 for every donation made, so if you give just $10, the charity gets double. I am actually the co-chair of the Alliance's fund raiser for the 2011 LA Marathon (which I am also running on March 20). So, this is really a double race fund raiser given the two races are 20 days apart. (And if you thought I was crazy before reading this far, I am also running a 31 mile ultramarathon in April.)

Look for more updates on this adventure to follow. I am writing an "Adventure Log" for Indiana Jones in the Classroom; more details on that to follow but here's a link to the biography page. I will hopefully get updates on Twitter (@runlairdrun) and Facebook (www.facebook.com/lairdo). Believe it or not, we actually have cell service at the race location. Weird.

Thank you all for your support.

Happy running -