Marathon: Chariots of Permafrost

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Outside Magazine, February 1995

Marathon: Chariots of Permafrost
By Ken McAlpine

Whiteout. Headwinds that set your cheeks to slapping the back of your neck. Then a starting pistol fires and a hundred fleecy distance runners peel out across the permafrost, taking baby steps lest they slide off toward the South Pole.

Yes, there really is an Antarctica Marathon. The inaugural event, a standard 26.2-miler, is slated for the fifth of this month atop an 800-foot-high glacier. (“The first-ever marathon on the southernmost continent,” boasts race organizer Thom Gilligan, who’s arranged to transport the entire field, mostly well-to-do, middle-aged adventure-travel buffs with a few marathons under
their belts, to the starting line for $3,500 a person.) Of course, with race-day weather predicted to be in the low teens with occasional 50-mph winds, the jury’s out as to whether this thing will more resemble a traditional temperate-zone marathon or some sort of improvisational ice-dancing festival. “Open up your stride,” admits Gilligan, “and it’ll get awfully slippery out

So how should one prepare? Vance Johnson, a marathoner from Little Canada, Minnesota, says he plans to wear snowshoes, adding that the shoes’ tennis-racket-like design might come in handy if he’s attacked by giant penguin-eating skua birds. As for negotiating the winds: “If they kick up behind you,” says Gilligan, “open your Gore-Tex jacket and set sail.”

There also are more, shall we say, holistic ways to prepare. “I spent a lot of time in the frozen food aisle at the supermarket,” says one warm-blooded distance runner from California, “just feeling the cold.”

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