I am back in Cape Town after being in Antarctica for three days and it all seems like a dream.
I met Richard Donovan in Cape Town South Africa to make our journey to Antarctica. Richard is the organizer of the Antarctic Ice Marathon and the North Pole Marathon. He has the credentials to measure the course and officiate it for me, coincidentally he is also the first person to run 7 ultras in 7 continents in a single calendar year, so when I told him about wanting to do it in seven months he was eager to help me. He decided to enter Antarctica by flying to Novolazarevskaya Station, a Russian, formerly Soviet, Antarctic research station. The station is located at Schirmacher Oasis, Queen Maud Land, 75 km from the Antarctic coast. The reason for choosing this place is that it has the best statistics on plane leaving and arriving on time, if there are delays the delays are usually of only a couple of days.
We left for Antarctica Jan 28th , in the plane besides us there where 30 other scientists making their way to different research facilities, most of them belong to the first zero emission research station, Princess Queen Elizabeth Antarctica that is opening soon. We arrived in Novo runway at 4 pm, the weather was a balmy -3C but word got out that the weather was about to turn, so Richard hurried to mark the course so I could get going as soon as possible.
For safety reasons I was to run a 2.5K stretch going north and come back for what it will be a 5k loop. Because of the snow on the ground and the incline the loop was energy zapping.
So at 8pm Jan 28th the race officially begun. I wanted to make it in under 24hrs, it seem an accurate estimate of how long it will take me. I have run a 100K before in less than 13 hours but this was right after Brazil and I couldn't bear wearing shoes because my toe was now exposed since the toenail came off in Brazil.
Richard lent me his 10 1/2 size Salomon trail runners since I couldn't stand any friction on my toes.
At about 2am the weather got worse, poor visibility due to the snow falling and blowing and it dipped to about -15C not really cold but cold enough for me to cover from head to toe since the wind felt bitterly cold
By 6am I had done only 45K, I was tired and cold when Richard told me to take a break because the course had become too difficult to monitor and he needed to find and alternative route.
I went to bed feeling guilty but I also knew that there was still a chance to do it in less than 24 hours. So a few hours later after breakfast I started running again around 11am. It sure felt like a Club Med race considering in Brazil I only managed an hour and half sleep and a few bites here and there over the course of 50 hours but I also understood that this was about safety.
The next 55K went fast if a bit boring, I run back and forth along the airport runway, my ankle had now become swollen due to the fact I was wearing horribly ill fitted shoes. In spite of it all, 23 hours 35 minutes and 02 seconds later I finished 100k.
It was right after I finished running that I got to really get to know Antarctica, I walked into the cafeteria to find out a group of individuals that where clearly not scientist just by looking at their badly frostbitten faces and fingers, that and the fact that they smell a lot worse than me and I just finished running 100k
It turned out, these where the competitors of the first ever South Pole Race, six teams battled for 6 weeks on cross country skis to be the first team to the Pole, among the competitors there were UK TV personality Ben Fogle, UK Olympic gold medalist in Rowing James Cracknell, but there was one person that captivated us all, also competing Mark Pollock, an Irish blind adventurer and author of the book “ Making it happen”
Mark is very well know in the endurance sports circuit, Having gone blind in the space of two weeks in 1998 Mark rapidly learned how to adapt to changing circumstances, that made him, incredibly though and delight to be around. He is witty and very modest.
I spent the next day getting to know more about all the competitors, I listen to their pain and suffering hey had endured in the last 6 weeks, most of the participants where there in the name of a charity. Sitting there I couldn’t help but to feel amazed and incredibly lucky to be sharing a meal with such an amazing and intimidating group. I mean these 6 teams endured so much the last 6 weeks all in the name of a charity of their choice. I felt a bit humbled by them, Rachel one of the two females competing notice I was a bit uncomfortable when they asked me to share my story, it seemed silly to tell them how hard it had been for me in Brazil, and how tired I felt to run 100k more in Antarctica, how I for the first time since I started running, I had not enjoyed running . Rachel looked at me and said, in my opinion what you are doing is more difficult, you are running a greater distance we had done ,and basically we just walked for 6 weeks. Looking at all of them, frostbitten faces and fingers, sunken eyes, gaunt bodies, it was really obvious that they had done more that just gone for a walk, but I appreciated that they included me as one of them.
That night I called home, I wanted to talk to my kids, I was thrilled to tell them all about how cool it was to be standing in Antarctica, the research stations, the South Pole races, but just as they answer the phone Hans, my 10 year old told me very excitedly that he had shaved 3 seconds of his swim time on freestyle, just like that, nothing mattered, not Brazil, not Antarctica, nothing mattered more at that moment than to hear my kids talk about their triumphs and dreams. I have been going all over the world just to reinforce what I already know, the best place in the world for me is home. Just like Nelson Mandela once said, the world is truly round and it seemed to start and end with those we love.