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Mud, Madmen, Glaciers, and Grannies at the Antarctica Marathon

by John Hanc

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 2009
ISBN: 978-1-55652-738-8
Publisher: Chicago Review

Longtime runner and journalist Hanc (The Essential Marathoner, 1996, etc.) dashes off a history-studded travelogue about his participation in The Last Marathon.

That’s what the Antarctica Marathon was called back in 1995, when Marathon Tours and Travel owner Tom Gilligan founded the race. The Last Marathon was an appealing hook for runners, who had a natural fetish for conquering exotic terrain. But Antarctica? If the brutal swings in temperature don’t sound intimidating, consider being subdued by “the gluey Antarctic mud.” Nonetheless, Hanc decided to take the challenge and enter the race on the occasion of its tenth anniversary and his 50th birthday. Only four miles into it, he writes, “I knew. This was really going to suck.” Soon, exhausted and driven by raw adrenaline, his mantra became, “Why am I doing this?” He wasn’t the only one. Some of the frustrated runners simply “slowed down, took their time, submitted to the mud, and tried to enjoy the bizarreness of the whole thing.” The race isn't necessarily about breaking records, and the actual marathon often pales in comparison to the challenge of simply getting there. In 2001, the sea was so violent on the voyage through the Drake Passage that the marathon was canceled. Undaunted, participants ran 422 laps aboard the ship. Weaving together the histories of early Antarctic exploration and modern marathons, Hanc includes sections on the battle over possession of the continent and the noticeable effects of global warming and increased tourism. Interviewing runners present and past, most of them ordinary people facing an extraordinary challenge, Hanc digs for the answer to one key question: “Why anyone would want to run a marathon in what is frequently called the Last Place on Earth?”

A good fit for every runner’s library.