Thursday, January 6, 2011

Christmas morning was warm for South Pole standards (–12f). Warm enough, that I got away with wearing three layers on my torso rather than four and no balaclava. About 40 of us – dishwashers, scientists, Cat drivers, doctor, carpenters, ice drillers etc. – gathered at the starting line with rudimentary xeroxed numbers pinned to our jackets for the annual Race around the World – a 2.1 mile race around the South Pole Station.

The course normally laps the pole two or three times – giving the slower runners/walkers a chance to bail after a lap. With various interesting landmarks scattered about the station, I suggested to the course designer, Megan, that she make it a single lap course and include these landmarks. She handed me a map and said, “you design it.” Together we came up with an interesting course providing a nearly comprehensive tour of the entire station.

At ten o’clock left we left the starting line from in front of the main station and made our way out towards what is called the clean air sector (where the cleanest air on earth is studied) and then past the quiet sector (where seismic activity is recorded). From there the course made it’s way through the waste berms before ascending the ski hill, a 40’ tall mound of snow, collected from around the station. We passed by a wall of large empty spools out near the End of the World… yes, proper noun.

The End of the World is the edge of the station in the direction of New Zealand, where year after year of snowdrifts get pushed out a mile… now a mile and a half to keep the station relatively even. I train out here constantly, running out to a warming shack and beyond where you can really feel the immensity of the Antarctic Plateau – cold, brutal and powerful. It is a Rothco painting of blue and white. The blue has light streaks of white in it and the white reflects the blue. It makes me feel the same way the Grand Canyon makes me feel – insignificant, yes, but also alive and carefree. But nearly halfway into a race, I’m not contemplating any of these things. I’m just running.

Through a collection of excess tin arches, left over from the building of parts of the station we made our way alongside the runway where day after day large, Air Force LC130s and small Baslers come and go bringing cargo, food, scientists, mail and beer and taking with them trash, dishwashers and other scientists.

As is tradition, the race is not just open to runners but to skiers, snowmobiles, snowcats and other heavy machinery as well. Motoring along beside me for the final 1/2 mile was Bruce on a snowmobile, towing a sled with a couch full of spectators and another snowmobile towing a skier.

We turned onto the runway, towards South America then turned once more towards the South Pole where the snowmachines bowed out just before the finish.

I won the race in 13:32 – two seconds slower than the time I had predicted for the course. In addition to having my name on the “scroll” (think of it as the South Pole Newspaper where everything from flight information and daily happenings to temperature and a quote of the day are looped through 24/7), I won a free trip to the coast of Antarctica for the Antarctica Marathon on January 16th.

The marathon has been going on for over a decade – an out and back, past emperor penguins, sea ice and Mount Erabus (one of the tallest active volcanos in the world), which is all well and good, but in this micro-society where six, ten hour days are the norm, most consider the biggest perk of it all to be the three days off from work… yes, even if you do have to run 26 miles on snow and ice to earn it.

Now with only ten days remaining, my long runs are over and only the stretching and tapering remains.


Jim P. said...

Really enjoying your reports from down South. Great stuff. Congrats on the big win...and the pending trip to the coast.

I had the good fortune of visiting the Antarctic Peninsula ten years or so ago. Strolled up a few rocky knolls for the views, but never even contemplated getting to run for 26.2. Enjoy (and good luck!).

GZ said...

That snotsnicle shot at the end is epic.

I don't think I can grumble about the cold for a while.

Kurt said...

Super stuff. Love the posts and good luck at the marathon.

Jim Philips said...

Well, It is more related to perception that anything else. I would be freezing there. I don't think that any bookmakers online peers can handle that temperature.