Antarctic Ultramarathon Underway at the Bottom of The World

Ultramarathon runners are a unique breed to say the least. They have an uncanny ability to keep running for miles on end and they often choose to do so in some of the most remote and challenging places on the planet. Take for example the 49 competitors who signed up for this week’s Last Desert race. That event covers 250 km (155 miles) over a six day period, essentially averaging out to about a marathon a day. That daily grind alone would be enough to test all but the most hardened of endurance runners. But the fact that this race also happens to take place in Antarctica adds a whole new dimension to the challenge.

Just getting to the starting line for the Last Desert ultramarathon is a bit of an adventure. The competitors come from 27 different countries from around the globe, but all of them had to fly into Ushuaia, Argentina, one of the southernmost cities on the planet, prior to the start of the race. From there they boarded a ship and crossed the perilous waters of the Drake Passage, a narrow strip of ocean that separates South America from Antarctica. The region is well known for its turbulent seas and unexpected storms, and even in the 21st century it can be a difficult crossing when bad weather strikes.

Throughout the week, the racers have been stopping at various locations in and around Antarctica to run individual stages of the race. Those places have included the South Shetland Islands, Deception Island and the Antarctic Peninsula, amongst others. While out on the course, the runners have remained completely self supported, carrying all of their gear, water and emergency supplies with them at all times. This is a bit different than most other races, but there aren’t a lot of places to set up aid stations in the Antarctic.

If you fancy yourself a long distance runner and are intrigued with the possibilities of entering the Last Desert, there are a few things you should know before signing up. The entry fee for this year’s race was $11,500, which is obviously out of the budget for most marathoners. Also, the race is part of the 4 Deserts series of ultramarathons and in order to compete in this one you need to have completed at least two of the other three events. That means if you want to run in the Antarctic, you’ll also have to run across the Gobi, Sahara or Atacama Deserts first. If that seems like a daunting task, you can at least rest assured that you’ll have plenty of time to prepare. The Last Desert race isn’t scheduled to take place again until 2014.

By Kraig Becker

[Photo Credit: Racing The Planet]