Running in Antarctica
Editor's Note: Wade Hathhorn, at the time a member of the Portland Running Company Race Team, ran a half marathon in Antarctica in 2016. He wrote this account of the experience for portlandrunning.com. It's easily the most exotic race location to which anyone has taken the PRC jersey. Do you have a story of a running vacation that can top this?
The backdrop to this story is that I married this fabulous woman back in August. I was aware of her exploits, including runs on every continent and two full Ironman finishes. The walls of the garage are filled with her medals.
I had my own running stories that included a finish at Boston in 2013 just before the bombings and a return the following year to rejoice in the spirit that kept “Boston Strong.” I was also aware that her pursuit to complete marathons on all seven continents had been cut short by poor weather conditions in a prior trip to Antarctica and that someday she’d actually like to finish the final leg of that quest.
Little did I know the call to do so would come only months into our marriage.
Our trip would take us into the world’s southernmost city in Chile, where would we wait for a weather window to fly into Antarctica. Once there, we would prepare for an overnight stay and a marathon. But we would also have time during the weeklong stay in Chile to allow for runs on two continents.
We arrived in Punta Arenas, Chile on a Saturday. At that time, Tuesday and Wednesday looked like our best bet for getting to and from Antarctica safely. With Sunday open, plans were made to run a half marathon along a waterfront course just across from our hotel.
After easing our way through the half together on Sunday morning, we noticed a bus was parked in front of the hotel. The race director handed us a medal and said congratulations on finishing the half but get packed we are leaving for Antarctica in 20 minutes!
In a matter of hours, we found ourselves inbound for King George Island, Antarctica.
As we approached the gravel runway, you could see lots of icebergs and treacherous terrain. By then, it was late afternoon and it was cold, really cold.
I remember looking back as the plane took off on its return to Chile and thinking we’re now alone at the end of the Earth. It was surreal.
The group quickly gathered gear and headed for camp about a mile away, where we paired up with tent mates. I would later refer to this as the “North Face Hotel.”
We were given a briefing on the bathroom situation, which made regular porta-potties look luxurious.
Dinner was next, and we huddled in our tent to enjoy a modest meal of meat and rice. We then settled in for the night, listening to the wind pound the sides of the tent. The plan was to wake around 4 A.M. and begin running an hour later.
I slept maybe 30 minutes.
The morning came quickly, and we all got ready. My wife and I were layered in clothing fit for a winter expedition. It was about 15 degrees, but the wind chill had to be near zero.
We all gathered at the start for a ceremonious countdown. I looked over at my wife and knew we’d come here for one thing and short of tragedy we were going to make that happen.
The course consisted of a trail that extended between the Chilean and Chinese research facilities. Six laps made the marathon and three the half. The course included a section of heavy snow and ice, with a long stretch across rocks and melting ice.
We ran with the ocean on one side and rough rocky terrain on the other. You could see icebergs, continental ice, and rock-covered snow. And yes, there were penguins and seals. We stopped several times to take pictures. It was the quietest place I’d ever been.
There were monitors at each end of the course with water and our camp near one end with food and snacks. After several hours, we’d finished the half, and I took the opportunity for a classic finish photo in my PRC singlet. My job quickly turned to caring for my wife as she attempted to run 13 more miles and finish the marathon.
I would run with her out the long end of the course to the Chinese base and then stop and get her warm soup and juice at camp, while she completed the other end.
It took the better part of the day, but she finished.
I was so proud of her. Seven continents conquered. There were a few tears but a lot of hugs and kisses.
We then headed back to the plane and back to our hotel in Punta Arenas. What had seemed like a marginal room was now a palace with a soft mattress and hot shower. Life was good.
We had created a footnote in my wife’s life that would stand forever, and I had completed two half marathons, on two continents, in two days.
After hanging out in Punta Arenas for a couple of days, we returned to the U.S. and actually did the Surf City Half Marathon in Huntington Beach, CA, the following weekend. I guess that makes three half marathons, on three continents, in two weeks. Let’s just say it’s good to be home!
We were blessed with so many memories of such a crazy trip. Here’s to my wife. She rocks my world.