My name’s Charlotte Waller; I’m aged 26, I like to keep fit, I love takeaways and wine, I hate reality TV…. oh and I’ve completed two marathons in extreme conditions in 10 days for WWF.
Running any marathon is an incredible achievement and a tough feat that requires months of preparation. Training for and then running in two very different marathon environments adds a whole other dimension to a challenge. Here’s my story.
Marathon #1: Antarctic Ice Marathon
On 20 November 2013, my Dad and I travelled to Union Glacier for the Southern most marathon in the world. The journey took me into the interior of the Antarctic to run 26.2 miles in conditions reaching minus 40 degrees.
After four flights,10,000 miles and approximately 4.5 hours after boarding an Ilyushin cargo aircraft, I arrived in Antarctica. During the flight a screen is placed at the front of the passenger area linked to a camera at the front of the plane, so you can see out at all times – that includes take off, your approach to the continent and that all important landing on the blue ice runway. Flying blissfully over the ice is nothing short of spectacular.
Arrival onto the white continent is very special – no picture can truly do Antarctica justice, its simply breathtaking. Stepping off the plane into a world of white and ice and sub-zero temperatures is a surreal and wonderful experience.
On race day there was a great atmosphere among the 54 runners – everyone was well fuelled from the incredible food out there (they have a team of fantastic chefs – frankly, I ate better out there than I do at home!). The race had a start time of 10am, the sun wasn’t out and the temperature was minus 20 – as race director Richard Donovan said, we were “going to get a taste of real Antarctica.”
The marathon lived up to all expectations and it took me a grand total of one mile to begin to struggle. In this part of the Antarctic, conditions can be so harsh that even the penguins don’t go there! The race was incredibly difficult; trails are groomed but you’re still running on soft snow, and at minus 20 we had to cover our faces entirely to prevent frostbite.
Sunglasses are mandatory as even a few hours in the snow with the naked eye can result in severe snow blindness. The right clothing was understandably essential and you were checked in and out of various checkpoints around the 13.1-mile course run twice to ensure everyone was kept track of.It was hard going from the outset.
Running in snow with masks on and in those temperatures you are unable to breath as freely as you would normally, and because of the head gear your sunglasses steam up. This steam then freezes so you are unable to see properly, this means you slip and slide on the snow raising more challenges for competitors – it’s a terrifically tough race and as a wimpy runner that likes the flat, I found it impossibly hard. Saying that, I did come in third place – something I’m still not bored of telling anyone that’ll listen.
Union Glacier Camp
Union glacier camp where we stayed – which incidentally moves 20 metres a year – is situated in the Ellsworth Mountains on a glacier. Client tents are two man tents with a sleeping bag. The inside of the tents rarely go above freezing and any water you may have beside your bed overnight will freeze.
Sleeping bags obscure the bodies beneath them entirely and many sleep with full kit on – as they go down to minus 40 degrees. Although there’s 24-hour daylight and tents are heated by the sun, they do get cold. The toilets were bracing! There is a loo for each type of waste and no flush – all waste is removed from continent at the end of summer. Showers were limited to approximately one bucketful of water (approximately one minute) every three days.
There are approximately 60 staff at camp ranging from client services to meteorologists to doctors to chefs to safety managers. They were all incredible! They made camp a fantastic place to be and were always putting on activities and entertainment. There were about 60 of us runners in total and everyone clicked and there was some wonderful camaraderie.
It’s too cold to stay outside for any substantial amount of time so you become acquainted with doing very little. Routine centers on mealtimes between which you can watch movies, chat and read. The personal tents are too cold to do much else apart from sleep in with the sleeping bag circulating your body heat through the night.
Of course, Antarctica doesn’t have its reputation of hostility for nothing. Shortly after we arrived the weather closed in. The wind hit 25 knots (about 30 miles per hour) blowing through the camp, so as well as being loud through the night the wind-chill from that brought the temperature down to minus 50. Antarctic storms can last weeks and it was at this point we realized we were interminably stuck.
Antarctica is an incredibly powerful place in which humans and human technology are ultimately powerless. This continent will let you leave when it decides it wants to, and there’s not a thing you can do about it. We were scheduled to stay on the ice for five days, but it was only on day 10 when the bad weather cleared that the huge logistical talents of the staff finally got us out!
Marathon #2: Costa Del Pacifico Marathon, Chile
The with my Antarctic journey at an end, it was time to warm things up. I hitch hiked a lift back off the ice in a military aircraft and over to Chile to run the marathon in Santiago where it was over 27 degrees – the packing for this trip – as you can image – was delightful!
So my quest for the seventh continent with my marathon running partner-in-crime – my Dad – was under way. Unfortunately though a virus and stomach bug had been going round Antarctica, and we had both caught it.
Verging on flu like symptoms accompanied with a stomach bug made the prospect of running another marathon – just a few days later – very daunting to say the least. However, on Sunday 1 December we awoke at 3.30am, got on a bus in the darkness at 5.30am for a 7.30am marathon start on the Chilean coast.
Along with a stomach bug, a virus, two knackered knees from running in the snow and seizing quads, we started the grueling 26.2 mile course again. Both my Dad and I struggled from the outset. Not just from the heat, but carrying our ailments, but we managed to cross the finish line!
Why are we doing this?
You might be asking yourself ‘why put yourself through all of this?’ And that’s a fair question – to which there are several answers.
Finishing these two marathons has resulted in me completing a grand total of nine marathons in my 26 years on the planet. It also means I’m one of only a few hundred people in the world to run a marathon on each of the seven continents, completing marathons in:
- London, Berlin and Milan (for Europe)
- Marrakech (for Africa)
- Sydney (for Australia)
- Chicago (for North America)
- Nagano – Japan (for Asia).
Finishing these last two has made me one of the youngest women in the world to have completed this seven continent marathon challenge, and I’ll have done the whole thing with my good old Dad! Together, we’ll be the third father-daughter pairing in history to have done so!,
To date, my Dad has run 16 marathons to my current tally of seven.Despite being faster than him though, I’ll give him that.
But it’s not all about personal gain. We also have another very good reason for running these marathons. For example, the Antarctic Ice marathon sounds extreme, and it is – but it’s nothing compared to the symbol of Antarctica, the humble penguin.
Spending five days out on the ice with tents and an entire Snow n’ Rocks’ worth of winter attire is not a patch off the magnificent penguin – they live out there, with nothing but their own coat.
Humans inhabit most places on the planet, but they won’t go near Antarctica. Penguins thrive out there in the most inhospitable environment on earth, living in populations larger than our cities – I struggle to get in to a heated swimming pool. Penguins not only live, thrive and breed on the ice, but make their living catching fish in the Antarctic oceans and seas.
Not only did I wanted to raise awareness for such an amazing charity, I wanted to raise money for WWF’s Antarctic conservation work. Fundraising for this charity has been an absolute pleasure. My Just Giving page has been a resounding hit and I want to extend a big thank you to my business clients, friends and family that have been extremely generous in donating to such a good cause. I also really really wanted to see a penguin!
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