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About as extreme as you can get – the Antarctic Ice marathon

Christmas is just around the corner and most of us will probably be thinking about knocking the old body into a bit of shape before the abuse that is about to come… sound familiar? Far too much alcohol, way too much food, far too much of a good time… So a bit of abstinence and some serious exercise should stand us in good stead…

Some forward thinking souls from the four corners of the world will already be fully prepared for their flight tomorrow to…. Antarctica, and why not? Their pre-Christmas warm-up starts on 12th December with the sixth Antarctic Ice Marathon. And if that’s not extreme enough, others of this hardy bunch will be preparing themselves for the 100km ultra-race which sets off on the 15th. It’s called “The world’s coldest 100”. The whole challenge should be over by 18th December – weather permitting.

At 14 million square km, Antarctica  is the fifth-largest continent and is almost 1.5 times the size of the United States. It covers 10 per cent of the earth’s land area yet remains its most inaccessible and remote land mass. Fewer than 200,000 people have ever visited the region. About 98% of the continent is covered in a thick continental ice sheet and the remaining 2% is barren rock.

It is the coldest, windiest, highest and driest continent on the planet. The lowest temperature ever recorded on earth was -89°C (-129°F) at the Russian Vostok station in Antarctica in 1983. At this temperature steel will shatter and water will explode into ice crystals. The continent also experiences regular Katabatic winds, reaching 300 km per hour (185 miles/hour), that blow out of the continental interior and make the Antarctic coastal regions breezy. Antarctica has an average altitude of about 7,000 ft, with the South Pole situated at almost 10,000 ft. Furthermore, there is little precipitation and the air is very dry. Indeed, the Polar Plateau is regarded as a desert and experiences similar precipitation levels to the Sahara Desert. The average annual precipitation in Antarctica is only 50mm (2 inches).

This marathon and ultra-race takes place approximately one thousand miles further south than any other marathon event that takes place on the Antarctic Peninsula. As an extreme sports site, this race fits nicely. It will be a formidable challenge for all participants – and for the organisers too!

The Antarctic has a famous no-pollution policy so ALL waste has to be removed. ALL of it. It adds a whole new facet to marathon organisation. But nothing that Adventure Network International (ANI) are not able to cope with. This is the company that runs the event and the Patriot Hills camp. ANI combines with Polar Running Adventures which is primarily operated by three-time polar marathon runner Richard Donovan. A native of Ireland, he is also the organiser of the annual North Pole Marathon and established the Antarctic Ice Marathon to enable marathon runners to complete a marathon on all seven continents. He himself is an international endurance runner.

In addition to completing marathons in both the Arctic and Antarctic, Richard has successfully participated in other extreme locations such as the Sahara and Atacama Deserts, the Andes and Himalayan mountains and the Amazon Jungle. In February 2009, he set a new record for running marathons on all seven continents when he completed his World Marathon Challenge in 5 days 10 hours 8 minutes.

The eight-day itinerary will see competitors fly by private jet from Punta Arenas, Chile, on December 10th to the marathon location at Patriot Hills. A marked course of 26.2 miles will already have been prepared and snowmobile support, aid stations and medical personnel will be at hand for the duration of the race.

The 100km Ultra-Race is reserved for only the toughest endurance athletes. The 100k (62.1 miles) distance will seem endless, run under a sun that never sets against the backdrop of Patriot Hills and the Ellsworth Mountains. This race presents the opportunity to complete a 100k event on the frozen continent and creates the prospect of a 100k Seven Continents Club for global ultra athletes.

Normal worries and concerns about participating in a marathon are accentuated in the Antarctic. As one competitor, Richard Seaton, said:Will my goggles steam up the moment I step outside into the cold? Is it a problem that I can’t feel my feet inside three layers of woollen socks? And how am I going to use my “pee bottle” using this much clothing?”

In 2006 there were only 9 runners in the marathon making it the world’s most southerly marathon, possibly its windiest and most expensive and, certainly in 2006, the world’s smallest too. This year registration is reserved for 20 people on a first-come first-served basis.

“Oates was right,” said Seaton, ” I was out there for some time. My 5.39.35 is a personal worst by some way. I’m not troubled at all. The joy of this event is not how fast you run it, but simply that you run it at all.”

People who have run this marathon in addition to marathons on all other six continents will now be acknowledged via the new Seven Continents Marathon Club.

The only thing you have  to take into account is that you run the risk of not returning to the bosom of your family and friends in time for Christmas if the weather turns on you – but it will be the whitest Christmas you will ever have experienced!

If you’d like to seriously consider this event for next year please Click here to complete Application Form Online.

And good luck to all who are taking part in this fabulously challenging event.

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