Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Georgraphic Extremes I've Reached During Marathons

When I decided to run marathons in all 50 states, it led me to explore the whole country.  Then I started running marathons in other countries.  Over the years, I’ve used marathons as an opportunity to explore far-away places.

When Marathon Tours & Travel held their first Antarctica Marathon in 1995, it became possible to run marathons on all seven continents.  These days, you can run marathons almost anywhere.  Here are some of the geographic extremes I’ve reached while running marathons.

Farthest North

The northernmost place I’ve been while running a marathon was Tromsø, Norway.  Tromsø is 69.5 degrees north of the equator.  For comparison, that’s roughly as far north as the northern coast of Alaska.

Tromsø is north of the Arctic Circle, so there’s a period of several weeks around the summer solstice when the sun never sets.  Even at midnight, you can see the sun just barely above the horizon.  It never gets dark.

I ran a race in Tromsø called the Midnight Sun Marathon.  It lives up to its name.  The race starts at 8:30 PM.  I finished the race several minutes before midnight, but most runners were still on the course.  It was mostly cloudy, but there were times during the race when I could see the sun peeking through the clouds.  There was still plenty of light as I walked back to my hotel.

Farthest South

My southernmost marathon was the Antarctica Marathon on King George Island.  Most of Antarctica is south of the Antarctic Circle, but there’s a peninsula that extends north toward South America.  King George Island is at the northern tip of this peninsula.  It’s outside the Antarctic Circle, but it’s still pretty far south.  It’s 62 degrees south of the equator. 

I was there in March, which is near the end of the Antarctic summer, but it was still cold.  I encountered temperatures that were comparable to winter in Minnesota.

Closest to the Equator

Since north and south are measured by their distance from the equator, being close to the equator is another extreme.  Of all the marathons I’ve done, the one that was closest to the equator was the Singapore Marathon.  Singapore is 1.2 degrees north of the equator.  That’s about 85 miles.

Near the equator, you would expect it to be hot.  Singapore was hot, but not nearly as hot as some of the other places I’ve traveled.  It’s an island nation, so the ocean has a moderating effect on the temperature.  As far as climate goes, but big issue is the humidity.  It’s always near 100%.

Farthest East

North and south are pretty straightforward.  East and west are more subjective.  Most maps of the world are Euro-centric.  Japan is considered to be the “far east.”  From this point of view, my easternmost marathon would be the Auckland Marathon.  Auckland, New Zealand has a longitude of 74.7 degrees east.

Personally, I don’t think of Auckland as my easternmost destination.  I don’t think of it as east at all.  To get there, I traveled west across the Pacific.  To me, it makes more sense to consider how far east or west I traveled from home to get to my destination.

The farthest east I’ve ever traveled was to Durban, South Africa, where I ran the Comrades Marathon.  Durban has a longitude of 31 degrees east.  I live at 93 degrees west longitude, so I traveled eastward by 124 degrees to get to Durban.  It was far enough east that I could see the Indian Ocean from my hotel.

Farthest West

From a Euro-centric view of the world, my westernmost marathon was in Kapa’a, Hawai’i, on the Island of Kaua’i.  Kapa’a is at 159.3 degrees west longitude.  I ran a series of four marathons there called the Aloha Series.

Just as I don’t think of the Auckland Marathon as my easternmost marathon, I also don’t think of the Aloha Series as my westernmost marathons.  I traveled west to get there, but I’ve traveled much farther west to reach destinations in Asia.  The farthest I’ve traveled in a westward direction to run a marathon was Bagan, Myanmar, where I ran the Bagan Temple Marathon.  The latitude of Bagan is 95 degrees east, but I traveled 172 degrees west to get there.  That’s almost halfway around the world.

Highest Elevation

I’ve rarely been above 10,000 feet in a marathon.  I’ve done a couple races that start at high elevation, but quickly descended.  I’ve only done one that went above 11,000 feet.  That was the Pike’s Peak Marathon.

The Pike’s Peak Marathon starts in Manitou Springs and follows the Barr Trail all the way to the summit of Pike’s Peak.  Then you turn around and go back down again.  The highest point is at the top 

Lowest Elevation

Elevation is measured relative to mean sea level.  There are several places on the surface of the earth that are below mean sea level.  One of them is New Orleans.  I’ve run four marathons in New Orleans, which is about 10 feet below sea level, but that’s not the lowest elevation I’ve reached during a marathon.

My lowest elevation involved running through a tunnel.  The course of the Hong Kong Marathon includes the West Harbour Tunnel, which connects the Kowloon peninsula to Hong Kong Island.  When I ran through that tunnel, I reached a depth of 25 meters (82 feet) below sea level.

Monday, March 20, 2023

Race Report: 2023 Antarctica Marathon

In March, I traveled to Antarctica with Marathon Tours & Travel (MT&T) to run the Antarctica Marathon.  There are multiple travel agencies that have their own marathons in Antarctica.  MT&T is the only one that travels there by ship.  The others fly to Antarctica, camp overnight, and then fly out the next day.  It takes longer to get there by ship, but for personal reasons, the other trips are problematic for me.

The MT&T itinerary involves flying to Argentina and then taking a cruise ship that visits the Antarctic Peninsula and several nearby islands.  Here’s the route of the cruise ship, as it was originally planned.

MT&T has been sponsoring a marathon in Antarctica since 1995.  As soon as it was possible to run a marathon there, running marathons on all seven continents became a common goal.

There’s such a backlog of people wanting to go on this trip, that there used to be a three year wait.  Recently, MT&T has started going to Antarctica twice a year, in order to clear that backlog.  A year ago, Deb and I made a deposit to go in 2024, but we also got onto the waiting list for this year.  I called MT&T in January to find out if there was any realistic chance of getting in this year, and I was surprised to find out we could.

As we started looking into more of the details of the flights, the itinerary, and the clothing we would need, Deb decided the trip wasn’t for her.  I was apprehensive about going by myself, since I would need to share a cabin with another runner, but I really wanted to see Antarctica, so I pushed myself to go out of my comfort zone.

MT&T provided us with details about the ship and gave us a recommended packing list.  Then they had a video-conference with everyone who was confirmed for the trip to brief us on everything we needed to know to be prepared.

Sunday, March 5

I left Minneapolis to fly to Atlanta, where I had a four-hour layover before boarding the 10-hour flight to Buenos Aires.  Delta has multiple flights from Minneapolis to Atlanta, but only one flight from Atlanta to Buenos Aires.  I could’ve had a shorter layover, but I gave myself extra time as insurance against travel delays.  Missing a connection would’ve been bad.

The flight to Buenos Aires was an overnight flight.  After the dinner service, I reclined my seat, closed my eyes and tried to sleep.  I wasn’t able to fall asleep, but I got some rest.

Monday, March 6

I arrived in Buenos Aires at 9:30 AM.  After going through immigration, I met one of our tour guides in the airport.  There were dozens of runners from our group that arrived on the same flight from Atlanta.  Other runners arrived at about the same time on other flights.  As soon as there were enough of us to fill a motorcoach, we left for our hotel.

We stayed at Alvear Icon Hotel, which is in Puerto Madero neighborhood.  We got to the hotel around 11:00.  The advertised check-in time wasn’t until 3:00 PM, but most of us were able to get into our rooms right away.  After unpacking and adjusting the thermostat in my room, I went to lunch with two other runners.

This was my first time in Argentina, and whenever I visit a new country, I seek out local pizza.  I found a place called Italica Pizza Bar about half a mile from my hotel.  Argentina has its own style of pizza.  It has a thick crust, little if any tomato sauce, and loads of mozzarella.  The most common topping is green olives.  I tried a pizza that had bacon and eggs.

Our hotel had one of the nicest fitness rooms I’ve ever seen.  After lunch, I did some strength training exercises.

Later in the afternoon, we had a group training run.  Some of us ran three miles and stopped, while others went farther on their own.  It was 88 degrees and humid, and I felt a little dehydrated even before the run, so I opted to stop after three miles.

I had dinner with the same two runners I ate lunch with.  Most of the nearby restaurants were next to a canal.  We had lunch on one side of the canal, but we went to the other side for dinner.  This side was busier and had music.  We arrived during daylight, but left after dark.  At night, the canal is lit up.

I slept reasonably well that night.  I felt like I adjusted well to the three-hour time difference between Buenos Aires and Minneapolis.

Tuesday, March 7

We had a large group, so the hotel set up our breakfast buffet in one of their banquet halls.  After breakfast, we had a half-day city tour of Buenos Aires.  As we visited different neighborhoods, our tour guide told as about the history of Buenos Aires.  We stopped near some of the major sights of the city.

Our last stop was the colorful La Boca neighborhood.

At the popular tourist attractions, you can pose for pictures with tango dancers.

We didn’t get back to the hotel until 1:00.  I had a late lunch at another restaurant near the canal.

Our hotel was close to Costanera Sur Ecological Reserve, where we could run on a combination of dirt trails and paved sidewalks.  We couldn’t run there Monday, because it was closed, but on Tuesday we ran a five mile loop through the park.  I was well-hydrated this time, but I still found the heat and humidity to be stifling.

In the evening, we had a cocktail reception, followed by dinner, and a pre-race briefing.  For the first time, I met the runner I would be rooming with on the cruise.  His name was Andrei.

Wednesday, March 8

Our last full day in Buenos Aires was a day to explore on our own.  After breakfast, I went for a run.  As I was leaving the hotel, I bumped into two other runners who were also going out for a run.  We ran the same loop through the Costanera Sur Ecological Reserve, but it was more comfortable in the morning.

I spent the rest of the morning at the hotel.  After cooling down from my run, I had a relaxing soak in the whirlpool.  Then I went to the fitness room to do strength training.

One of the foods Argentina is know for is their empanadas.  For lunch, I found a restaurant next to the canal where I could get a sampler of three different empanadas.

I wanted to spend the afternoon exploring Puerto Madura on foot, but there was a limit to how long I could stay outside in the afternoon heat.  Every so often, I had to come back to the hotel to cool off.  I used that time to wash my running clothes, recharge my devices, and start packing.

Restaurants that are only open for dinner tend to open at 7:30 PM and local residents often don’t eat dinner until 9:00.  I wanted to get to bed early, so I was noticing which restaurants opened early.  Argentina is also known for its beef, so I wanted to find a steakhouse.  When I saw this restaurant, I knew I found what I was looking for.

Thursday, March 9

We had to get up early to check out from our hotel, so we could go to the airport to board a charter flight to Ushuaia.  Ushuaia is located in the province of Tierra del Fuego, at the southern tip of South America.

When we got to Ushuaia, several of the runners on our flight didn’t get their luggage.  About 45 of the checked bags were never loaded onto the plane.

We had about two hours to explore Ushuaia and eat lunch before boarding the ship.  Ushuaia is a small port city surrounded by mountains.

King crab is a local specialty, so a group of us had that for lunch.  After lunch, we boarded buses to go to the ship.

Our home for the next 10 days was the Ocean Victory.  This is a small cruise ship that’s designed for Arctic and Antarctic conditions.

After everyone had a chance to find their cabins and unpack, we met for a welcome reception.  At the reception, Thom Gilligan of MT&T announced that some of the missing bags were coming to Ushuaia later in the day and the rest would arrive the next morning.  Our departure was delayed by about 16 hours, so everyone could get their luggage before we left.

Later, we had a mandatory safety drill, and an introduction to the ship and its staff.  We remained in port overnight.

Friday, March 10

The fitness room on the ship had several machines for cardio workouts, but no free weights.  After breakfast, I went to the fitness room to do my strength training exercises. Most of my exercises don’t use weighs.  For the ones that did, I had to modify my exercises, so I could do them without weight, but still get a good workout.

Later in the morning, we had another mandatory safety briefing.  This one was for the zodiacs, which were the rafts we would use every time we went ashore.  We were also briefed on the environment rules for going ashore in Antarctica.

After the briefing, I changed clothes and rushed to the fitness room, in hopes of getting onto the treadmill.  The fitness room had two stationary bikes, two elliptical machines, two rowing machines, and two treadmills.  One of the treadmills was out of service, so that left only one working treadmill for about 150 runners.

I had to wait my turn before I could get on the treadmill.  Then I did a short but intense race-walking workout.

We left Ushuaia around 11 AM.  We spent the rest of the day at sea, sailing through the Beagle Channel and entering the Drake Passage.

There aren’t any official time zones in Antarctica.  The various research bases each stay on the same time zone as their home countries.  Our ship stayed on Argentina time for the entire voyage.

By finishing both of my workouts in the morning, I had time to attend two lectures in the afternoon.  One was an introduction to photography.  The other was about seabirds in the Drake Passage.

In between lectures, I went out on deck to see the Beagle Channel.  One of those times, I saw four dolphins jumping in and out of the water.  Once we entered the Drake Passage, I wasn’t able to go on deck anymore.  The crew locked all the doors leading outside.  They also locked the fitness center.  I was glad to have finished both of my workouts earlier in the day.

When we were still in the Beagle Channel, the ship would occasionally roll from side to side.  Most of the time, the deck was stable.  Later, when we were in the Drake Passage, the roll was much more noticeable.  If you walked somewhere, you had to be ready to grab a railing.

The Drake Passage has a reputation for rough waters, and there was a big storm moving through.  The ship took a route that avoided the storm, but that added to our transit time.

In the evening, we had the Captain’s reception, followed by dinner.  Most of our meals were buffets. But this one was a la carte.

I slept OK, but I woke up a few times during the night.  Each time, I noticed that the ship was rolling much more that it was during the day.

Saturday, March 11

After showering, I went to one of the windows to see how big the waves were.  There were whitecaps and large swells.  By now, we were about halfway through the Drake Passage.  It takes a long time to cross, so we were at sea all day.

After breakfast, we started the biosecurity process.  Everything we were going to wear when we went ashore had to be thoroughly cleaned.  The concern was accidentally introducing non-native plant life to Antarctica.  They were particularly concerned about accidentally exposing the birds to avian flu.

After all our race and expedition clothes were cleaned, we were given our parkas and boots, and we were each assigned a locker in the mud room.   That’s the room where we prepared to go ashore on the zodiacs.

The fitness center was still closed, presumably for safety, since the ship was rolling so much.  I didn’t do a workout, but I got a lot of exercise moving about the ship.  To go anywhere, you usually had to go up or down stairs to get to a different deck.

In the afternoon, I attended two more lectures.  The first one was about the history of the Antarctic Marathon.  The other was about penguins, seals, and whales.

I was starting to get my sea legs.  The ship was rolling just as much as before.  If anything, the waves were getting bigger.  In spite of that, I found it easier to walk about the ship without needing to hold onto railings.

Before dinner, we met in the lecture hall for an update on our schedule.  We learned that we wouldn’t be able to go ashore on King George Island for at least two more days, because of strong winds.  The original plan was to go to King George Island first.  The new plan was to visit some of the other islands first, and put off running the marathon until the winds died down.  The soonest we could possibly run the marathon was Wednesday.

Sunday, March 12

After breakfast, we did the biosecurity process for our running shoes.  I cleaned my shoes pretty good before leaving home.  After inspecting them, the crew concluded they didn’t need any more cleaning.  I just needed to dip the soles of each shoe into a disinfecting solution.

By late morning, we got our first views of the South Shetland Islands.  After two days of seeing nothing but waves, we were all excited to see land.

On the south side of islands, we started to see glaciers.

As we moved past the South Shetland Islands and into the Bransfield Strait, the sea wasn’t as rough.  The crew unlocked the fitness center, which had been closed for safety.  After resting all day Saturday, I was anxious to do a race-walking workout in the treadmill.

It was too windy go ashore on any of the islands, so we continued through the Bransfield Strait toward the Antarctic peninsula.

I went to two lectures in the afternoon.  The first one was about the geology of Antarctica.  The second one was about penguins.

Later in the afternoon, we saw several humpback whales that were swimming near the ship.  A few came partially out of the water, and one brought its tail out of the water.

At our daily recap, we found out our itinerary for Monday.  We were finally going to have an opportunity to go ashore.

Monday, March 13

When I woke up, the ship was in a bay near Damoy Point.  In every direction, I could see mountains and glaciers.

Damoy point is the site of an old Argentine research base that’s no longer in use.  This is where we went ashore.

Breakfast started early, so we could be ready to go ashore at 7:00 AM.  Whenever we went ashore, we had to follow protocols established by the International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators (IAATO).  One rule limited us to having no more than 100 people ashore in the same landing area at any one time.  Our group was larger than that, so we always went ashore in two groups.

There wasn’t any limit to how many people could be on the water, so while the first group went ashore, the second group could cruise around the bay in zodiacs.

My group cruised around for an hour before going ashore.  We saw several colonies of penguins.  The first one was on this small rocky island.

At another penguin colony, there were whale bones.

There were several small icebergs in this bay.  We got close enough to this one that we could reach out and touch it.

Besides the Argentine base, there’s also a British base.  Most of the bases in Antarctica are for scientific research.  This one was put here for the benefit of tourists like us.  It’s only staffed during the summer months.  When we got there, the base was overrun by penguins.

Besides penguins, we saw other Antarctic birds.

After cruising around the bay for about an hour, we went ashore at Damoy Point.  This is the farthest south I’ve ever been.

We spent about an hour here.  We hiked over the glacier along a path that took us past several penguin colonies.

We got back to the ship just in time for lunch.  After lunch, we saw a large school of orcas swimming past the port side of the ship.  When a sighting like this happens, there isn’t much time to grab your camera, so I wasn’t able to get any pictures.

As we continued toward our next destination, we had constant views of glaciers and icebergs.  On one iceberg, we saw a pair of seals.

Our next stop was Paradise Bay.  We cruised around the bay in zodiacs, in hopes of seeing penguins and seals.  It started snowing heavily before we boarded the zodiacs.  By the time we were done loading, there was already an inch of snow in the boat.

The surface of the water was beginning to freeze, forming “grease ice.”  This is the first stage in the formation of sea ice.

Looking out across the bay, there was already plenty of sea ice.

We saw some icebergs that were a deep blue color, but they were getting covered with fresh snow.

We saw penguins swimming through the bay, and we saw a few Antarctic birds, but we didn’t see any seals.  The visibility was too poor.

The snow let up shortly after we launched, but it started snowing heavily again when we were already far from the ship.  That forced us to turn around and go back, while we could still find our way back to the ship.  Where we previously saw a paper-thin layer of grease ice, we started seeing a slushy layer that was two inches thick.

At our daily recap, we learned a little bit more about the schedule for the race.  The winds had calmed down, and we were on our way to King George Island, where we would race on Wednesday.

Tuesday, March 14

I never did a workout on Monday, so I was anxious to do some type of workout on Tuesday.  I ate breakfast quickly, and then I went to the fitness center while everyone else was still eating.  I wanted to race-walk two or three miles on the treadmill, but the ship was moving, and I found it difficult to stay centered on the treadmill.  I had to stop after just one mile.

Something amusing happened when we arrived at King George Island.  Some of the  research bases have cell phone towers, and those of us with international phone plans got messages from our mobile carriers saying, “Welcome to China,” as we came into range of the Chinese research base.  That unfortunately also caused our phones to get set to Chinese Standard Time.  I had to show a few of the other passengers how to manually reset their phones to Argentina Time.

Later in the morning, we received our race bibs and timing chips.  Then we had our pre-race briefing.

The menus for our meals on the ship changed each day.  They could prepare a variety of foods, and they were willing to accommodate special requests.  Earlier in the cruise, I put in a request to have pizza with one of the meals once we reached Antarctica.  They served pizza as part of the lunch buffet on Tuesday, which happened to me the day before the marathon.  Now I’ve had pizza on all seven continents.

After lunch, the MT&T staff went ashore to set up the course.  The rest of us had an opportunity to cruise around King George Island in the zodiacs.

Cruising through the bays around the island, we saw different types of birds.

We also saw penguins swimming and diving.

Several countries have research bases on the island.  This is the Russian base, where we would come ashore for the marathon on Wednesday.

Next to the Russian base, there’s a Russian orthodox church.

The Chilean base is right next to the Russian base.

A couple miles from the Russian base, there’s a Uruguayan base.

We cruised around for a little over an hour and then returned to the ship.

Wednesday, March 15

The race was originally going to be on Sunday.  Because of our late departure from Ushuaia, we didn’t arrive in the South Shetland Islands until Sunday.  Then the race was postponed two more days because it was too windy in this area to go ashore in zodiacs.  On Wednesday, we were finally ready to race.

Because of the IAATO rules, we couldn’t all go ashore at the same time.  We had to race in waves.  The first wave included everyone in the half marathon, and a few dozen of the slowest runners in the marathon.  Once enough runners returned to the ship, a second wave of about 20 runners could go ashore and start running.  I was in the third wave, which included the fastest 34 marathon runners.

Because our phones got set to the wrong time zone, some people were concerned that they couldn’t rely on their phones to wake them up at the right time.  To make sure nobody overslept, the crew gave us all a 5:00 AM wake-up call over the PA system.  I wasn’t in the first wave, so I woke up earlier than I wanted

The first wave was originally schedule to start at 7:00 AM, but it was delayed because of strong winds.  The MT&T staff went ashore to set up, but the wave one runners didn’t leave the ship until the winds died down.  That caused a delay of about an hour and a half.

I woke up early and couldn’t get back to sleep.  For the benefit of runners in wave one, the breakfast buffet started at 5:00.  I went to breakfast at 6:00, and nobody was there.  The wave one runners had all eaten, and were getting ready to go ashore.  The other wave two and three runners were sleeping in.  It felt really weird to eat breakfast by myself.

I don’t normally eat much for breakfast on the morning of a race.  Since I wasn’t going to start running until the early afternoon, I ate a full breakfast.

My wave was originally expected to start somewhere between 12:30 and 1:00 PM.  With wave one starting so late, I was worried we wouldn’t start until about 2:00.  The sun sets around 7:30, so I was concerned about the late start.

After breakfast, I still had to wait several hours before it would be time to leave the ship.  When I left my cabin, I sometimes saw a couple of other runners who were also waiting.  Most of the time, however, the ship seemed almost empty.  Most of the runners were in wave one, and everyone else was waiting, not knowing when our time would come.

It was tricky knowing what to wear.  The temperature stayed in the low 30s all day, but the wildcard was the wind.  In the morning, it was windy, but we expected the wind to die down in the afternoon.  I had to have warm enough clothes to stay warm for five hours, but I didn’t want to be overdressed and get sweaty.

When the first half marathon finishers got back to the ship, I had a chance to talk to a few of them.  Most of them were overdressed for the conditions.  With that in mind, I wore clothing similar to what I’ve been wearing at home for training runs.  In addition to my running clothes, I also had to wear waterproof outer gear while going ashore in the zodiac.

At 12:48 PM, there was an announcement that it was time for wave three runners to go to the mud room.  That’s about when I expected to get called, so I was already in my running clothes.  When we got ashore, I had to take off my waterproof layers, change from boots to running shoes, and stuff the clothes I wasn’t wearing into my dry bag.  They had tarps near the starting line where we could leave our boots and our dry bags.

MT&T set up portable latrines, but they had limited capacity.  We were asked to void our bladders before leaving the ship.

Everything we brought ashore had to come back to the ship with us.  We couldn’t use paper cups, plastic bags, or anything else that might get blown away by a strong gust of wind.  We couldn’t have gel packets or anything with a wrapper that might blow away.

The starting line was at the Russian research base.  Our course was an out-and-back route on a dirt road that connects the Russian base to the Uruguayan base.  One circuit of this route was about 4.37 miles.  To complete a marathon, I had to run six laps.

We got started at 1:30 PM.  That’s later than the time that was originally planned, but I was relieved that we weren’t starting later.  When I heard how late the first wave started, I was afraid our wave wouldn’t start until 2:00.  With a 1:30 start, I was reasonably confident I could finish and get back to the ship before sunset.

It was late summer in the southern hemisphere.  This road can get really muddy in the summer, when the temperature gets above freezing.  To keep the road from eroding too much, the researchers have dumped lots of rocks on the road.  I always had to watch my footing carefully, especially going down a steep hill.

To get from the Russian base to the Uruguayan base, we had to cross two or three high ridges.  Between these ridges there were lots of undulations.  We were constantly going up and down hills.  At first, I tried to run the hills, but take them at a slow pace.  On the steepest sections, I had to walk.

Most of the other runners were using the downhills to recover.  I’m getting pretty good at downhill running, so I used them to make up some of the time I was losing on the uphill sections.  I switched to a short rapid stride, so I could pick up speed without beating up my quads.

We each had to provide our own fluids.  I brought three bottles with a sports drink that I mixed aboard the ship.  I left two bottles in the start/finish area.  There were two spots along our route where we could leave a bottle.  On my first lap, I carried a bottle with me and left it where I saw other bottles.

The jacket I was wearing was a little too warm for the conditions.  I started the race wearing a hat and gloves, but I had to take the gloves off as I warmed up.

There were signs for every mile, but each sign was only relevant if you were on the right lap.  There were also a few extra signs for our amusement.

Near the far end of the course, I came over a ridge and saw the Uruguayan base.  The day before, I had seen this same base from the water.

Instead of running down to the base, we turned a corner and followed the ridge.  There was a large sign painted like the Uruguayan flag.

As I reached the turnaround, I was greeted with, “Welcome to Uruguay.”

As I started back, I found I was still getting hot.  I had to take my hat off and put it in my pocket.

I ran without a hat for about a mile, but then my ears got cold.  Then I put it on again.  My hat became my release valve.  I took it off when I got too hot and put it back on when I started to get cold.

There were puddles and muddy patches in the low-lying areas.  It wasn’t too hard to avoid them, but you sometimes had to go all the way the side of the road.  This isn’t a course where you can run the tangents.  To keep your feet dry, you sometimes had to go a little out of your way.

As I neared the end of a lap, I came over a ridge and saw the Chilean base, which is just past the Russian base.

I had to come around a bend before I saw the buildings of the Russian base.  Then I could see the finish area.

Two of my bottles were next to the course, just before the turnaround.  Each time I finished a lap, I drank about a third of a bottle.  Then I went around the turn and crossed the chip mat.

I was curious to know how long the first lap took.  On such a difficult course, I expected to take five hours or more.  To be on pace for five hours, I would need to finish a lap in 50 minutes.  I was surprised to see that my first lap was 45 minutes and change.  I was almost on pace to finish in 4:30.  I knew that pace would be unsustainable.

I’ve done lots of races that were multiple laps.  Usually, it gets easier after the first lap, because you’ve seen the whole course, and you know what to expect.  This course had so many hills, that I couldn’t remember them all after just one lap.  From one end of the course to the other wasn’t much more than two miles, but it felt more like four.  It was a long and exhausting trek.  Each lap had about 500 feet of elevation gain.

One of the runners was dressed as a rhinoceros.  He’s an activist raising awareness about rhino poaching.  There was a camera crew recording his race as part of a “Save the Rhino” documentary.

There were also two runners dressed as penguins.

By end of my second lap, the wind started to pick up.  I had to keep my hat on for the rest of the race.  My hands got cold, and I had to put my gloves on again.  I was expecting the wind to pick up in the evening, but it wasn’t even 3:00 yet.

My second lap was a minute or two slower than my first lap.  I was still running all but the steepest parts of the hills, but I wasn’t racing the downhills as aggressively.

In my third lap, I had to do more walking on the hills.  Going out, the hills were steeper.  Coming back, they were more gradual, but much longer.  I had to take walking breaks near the end of the long gradual hills.

I felt like a slug compared to the faster runners.  I wasn’t even halfway through my third lap when the two fastest runners lapped me.  Eventually, a few more runners would lap me.

My third lap was much slower than the first two.  It took 51 minutes.  Overall, I was still on pace to break five hours, but my most recent lap was slower than that pace.  If I continued to slow down, I wouldn’t break five hours.

In each remaining lap, I found the hills to be more tiring.  I did my best, but each lap was about two minutes slower than the previous lap.  After four laps, it was obvious that I wouldn’t break five hours. 

The wind kept getting stronger.  In my fourth lap, my hands got so cold that I had to stop and put on a pair of shell mittens over my gloves.  It was hard to believe that I was running without gloves earlier in the race.

I knew that last two laps would be brutally cold.  The hills were no longer my biggest concern.  The rest of the race was more about enduring the cold.

I had another concern.  The time limit was six and a half hours, but only if conditions remained safe.  If the wind got too strong, the captain might order everyone to return to the ship.  If the wind started whipping up big waves, conditions could get unsafe for returning to the ship in the zodiacs.

In my fifth lap, I was fighting a headwind on the way out.  Going up the big hills with a headwind was too tiring.  I had to do more walking.

I was anxious to finish that lap and start my last one.  I was pretty sure if I started the last lap, I would have a chance to finish it.  If they decided to pull runners from the course, they would do it as we finished a lap.  As I got closer to the end of that lap, I still saw other runners going out to start another lap.  That reassured me.  I eventually finished that lap, and started my final lap.  It was going to be brutal, but I was pretty sure I would get to finish now.

I usually took a small drink from the bottle I had stashed when I passed it on the way out.  On this lap, I waited until I was on the way back.  I knew I’d have to stop on the way back anyway to pick it up and bring it back.  I didn’t want to stop twice.

Going out, I had to walk about half of each hill.  I did my best to make up time on the downhills, but I was getting tired.  On my way back, I couldn’t run uphill very far without taking a walking break.  I tried to limit my walking breaks to only 10 seconds each, but I had to take multiple walking breaks on each hill.

When I picked up my bottle, I drank enough to empty it.  I had to carry it for more than a mile, so I wanted it to be as light as possible.

Another runner commented that it was starting to snow.  At first it was only a few stray snowflakes.

By the time I finished, my hands were starting to get numb.  I knew getting ready to return to the ship would be difficult.

When I crossed the finish line, I wasn’t able to stop my watch, but I later learned that I finished in 5:09:04.  On most courses, I would be disappointed with that time.  On this course, I was happy with it.

I had to retrieve my bottles, open my dry bag, put on my parka and waterproof pants, change from running shows to boots, pack things back in my dry bag, and seal it.  Most of those things were impossible, because my hands were useless.  The volunteers were great.  They helped me every step of the way.

By now it was snowing hard, and I was getting wet.  I had fortunate timing.  Several other runners were ready to leave at the same time.  I was able to board a zodiac right away, and we were on our way to the ship within minutes.

I was also fortunate to start my last lap before the captain told us to return to the ship.  I know at least one runner who was pulled from the course after finishing his fifth lap.  It may seem unfair that we don’t all get six and a half hours to finish, but that’s the reality of running in Antarctica.  Weather can change quickly, and everything we do is subject to having safe weather conditions.

The ride back was cold, and it was snowing hard.  When I got back to the mud room, I didn’t even try to put my shoes on.  My cabin was close to the mud room, so I walked back in my socks.

It took time to get out of all the layers of clothes I was wearing.  I didn’t take the time to hang them up.  I piled everything on the floor and hurried into the bathroom to run warm water on my hands.  It took several minutes of warming up my hands before I restored the blood flow.  Then I took a long hot shower and changed into dry clothes.

A lot of runners pose for a picture at the finish line with their medal.  I couldn’t afford to take any time for that.  I had to settle for taking a picture of it after I returned to the ship.

By the time I was dressed, most people were already at dinner.  After dinner, everyone went to the bar.  I partied until I needed to go to sleep.  I crashed hard that night.

Thursday, March 16

I woke up at 6:20.  That gave me just enough time to shower and get dressed in time to go up to the observation deck.  We were scheduled to arrive at Deception Island at 7:00, and I wanted to be there when we arrived.

Deception Island is a caldera, so the island is shaped like a ring.  On one side, there’s an opening that’s just 500 meters wide.

My roommate was still sleeping, so after breakfast, I went to the lounge to work on my computer.  I knew there was going to be a morning outing, but I didn’t know what time it would be.  I was caught off guard when I heard my group getting called to go to the mud room.  Rather than pack up my computer and rush to my cabin at the other end of the ship, I decided to keep working on my computer.

I knew this outing included going ashore at Whalers’ Bay to do the “polar plunge,” but I had no interest in plunging into ice cold water in a swim suit.  I didn’t realize this outing would also including cruising in zodiacs to a place where we could see seals.  When I saw the photos my roommate Andrei took, I regretted missing out on that.

After everyone got back, we bad a BBQ lunch out on the deck.  I wore as many layers for lunch as I normally did for going out in a zodiac.

In the afternoon, we went ashore on Half Moon Island.  They dropped us off at a beach, where we saw penguins and seals.

We hiked up to a trail, where we could see a large colony of penguins at the top of a ridge.

At one end of the trail, a chinstrap penguin walked out to meet us.

Then we hiked to a different beach where we were picked up and brought back to the ship.  While we were hiking, we saw more seals.  After seeing seals on these two beaches, I didn’t feel as bad about missing the morning excursion.

That was the last time we left the ship.  That evening, the ship left the South Shetland Islands to begin the voyage across the Drake Passage to get back to Ushuaia.

Friday, March 17

We spent the day at sea, crossing the Drake Passage.  The swells weren’t quite as big as they were the first time we crossed, but they were still big enough to make the ship roll noticeably.

For safety, the fitness center was closed.  I wasn’t able to do any workouts for the rest of the trip.  I had to settle for the exercise I got walking around the ship and up and down stairs.

Instead of separate breakfast and lunch buffets, we had a brunch.  For people who were up early and didn’t want to wait until 10:30 to eat, they had a small early bird breakfast in the lecture room.  I spent most of the morning in the lecture room, visiting with other runners.  Everyone on the ship was a runner or the spouse of a runner.  I got to know a lot of them.

One of the expedition guides was a Geologist who has spent years doing research in Antarctica.  After our brunch, he gave a lecture on what it’s like to be a field scientist in Antarctica.  In the afternoon, another researcher gave us a lecture about life on an Antarctic base.

Later in the afternoon, we had the awards ceremony for the marathon.  They give awards for the top three men & women overall and the top two in each age group.  I wasn’t expecting to be competitive, but I took first place in my age group.  My award will be a plaque, and they’ll mail it to me after everyone gets home.

They also had medals for everyone who finished running marathons or half marathons on all seven continents.  There were about 30 finishers of seven continents.

At our daily recap, we learned the schedule for the next day, and we also learned the history of women in Antarctica.

Saturday, March 18

Saturday was another “at sea” day as we continued across the Drake Passage.  In the morning, I took a tour of the ship’s bridge.  Then I attended a lecture on the history of Tierra del Fuego.

There were two lectures in the early afternoon, but neither of them interested me.  Instead, I used that time to do some exercises in my cabin and start packing.

Later in the afternoon, several items from the races were auctioned.  The auction included mile markers, the finish line banner, the finish line tape, the ship’s chart of our voyage, and a Canadian down parka that was used by Antarctic researchers.  Proceeds from the auction went to Oceanites, which is a non-profit organization that does Antarctic research.

In the afternoon, we started encountering bigger swells.  For the first time, the ship was rolling more than it did on our first crossing of the Drake Passage.  I never got seasick, but several other runners did.

Before dinner, we saw a slideshow of pictures taken by the professional photographer, and we learned the schedule for our disembarkation in the morning.

Sunday, March 19

We had to get up early to disembark in Ushuaia, so they started the breakfast buffet early.  The staff brought our bags out to the pier, but we had to put them outside our cabins by 5:00 AM.  We had to be out of our cabins by 7:00 and settle our accounts in time to disembark by 7:30.

When it was time to disembark, they took all the baggage directly to the airport, but dropped us off in town and picked us up two hours later.  It was raining, and none of the stores are open on a Sunday morning, so I would have preferred to just to straight to the airport.

Several of us went to a café that was open.  We spent the next hour and a half drinking coffee or hot cocoa, but mostly we just wanted a place to sit down indoors until it was time to board our bus to the airport.

We had a charter flight to Buenos Aires that got us there in the late afternoon.  My flight to Atlanta was out of the same airport, so I stayed in the airport until it was time to board that flight.  Several other runners were on the same flight.

I slept for almost six hours on my overnight flight to Atlanta.  That’s the most sleep I’ve ever had on a flight.  Usually, I can’t sleep at all.

Monday, March 20

When I arrived in Atlanta, I had to go through passport control and customs.  Those things are both fairly quick, but I had to pick up my checked bags before I could through customs.  That can take awhile of other international flights are arriving at the same time.

I had originally booked a layover of about two hours, but that was before Delta changed the flight schedule.  When the dust settled, I only had an hour and a half to make my connection.  The international arrival process.in Atlanta requires you to retrieve your luggage before getting into the customs line.  Then you have to go through security again.  Those two things can consume most of your connection time.

I was concerned when the flight was delayed 20 minutes because of a cargo loading issue, but we made up time in the air and actually arrived in Atlanta ahead of schedule.  The slowest part of the arrival process is usually waiting for your bags, but mine were among the first off the plane.  It was the quickest international arrival process I’ve ever had in Atlanta, and I got to my gate before boarding even started.

Closing thoughts

There were a few things on this trip that didn’t go according to plan, but there were also some things that went amazingly well.

Just a few days prior to this trip, my sciatica was so bad that I couldn’t run without having pain in my right leg.  When I arrived in Buenos Aires, I expected my leg to hurt after sitting so long on the flight.  It didn’t.  I barely noticed it all that day, and I don’t recall having much discomfort during the three days in Buenos Aires.

I felt even better on the ship.  Until race day, I was completely pain-free.  The first time I noticed any discomfort was during the second half of the marathon.  Even then, I had a little soreness in my lower back, but I didn’t have any pain in my right leg.  If my leg hurt, I wouldn’t have been able to run the downhills as fast.

We also dodged a bullet on COVID-19.  Last year, one person on this trip tested positive in Buenos Aires and wasn’t able to travel to Ushuaia and board the ship.  Nine other people tested positive after boarding the ship and had to quarantine for the rest of the voyage.

For most of the trip, it seemed like we were going to get through the entire trip unscathed.  Some people got seasick, but I wasn’t aware of any other illnesses.  It wasn’t until I was talking with other runners after flying back to Buenos Aires that I learned that two passengers had symptoms toward the end of the cruise and were isolating in their cabin.

Race statistics:
Distance:  26.2 miles
Time:  5:09:04
Average Pace:  11:37
Lifetime Marathons/Ultras:  477
Countries:  44
Continents:  6