Longtime Runner’s World contributing editor and Farmindale, N.Y., resident John Hanc will freely admit he isn’t anyone’s idea of an Antarctic explorer. He’s much more comfortable in a Hilton than braving the elements aboard a Russian ice-breaker. Yet in 2005 for his 50th birthday, he joined 211 other runners at the Antarctica Marathon.
From that experience came his book, “The Coolest Race on Earth,” which chronicles Hanc’s race, the history of exploration at the bottom of the world and a reflection of what draws runners to this most unusual marathon.
So what’s it like running in Antarctica?
Muddy. The race is actually on King George Island. It’s not the mainland, and it’s not as cold as you’d think…But what makes it rough is that you just can’t move very well. At times your ankles feel like they’re being sucked into the ground. You’re either running through mud, or glacier, or scree, which are these little rocks that are everywhere. People hear Antarctica Marathon and they think cold and snow. The temperature doesn’t make this race hard; it’s the course.
You’re pretty upfront about not being much of an outdoors guy.
That’s right. I don’t want to give anyone the misconception that I’m this great adventurer. I’m definitely the type of guy who wants a roof over my head at the end of the day. And while the conditions on the Vavilov (the Russian ship that took them to the island) were somewhat Spartan, I really enjoyed it. There were extended periods of time where you couldn’t see any land. I found that quite profound.
Did you do any specific training for Antarctic conditions?
I trained basically like any other marathon. I ran the Philadelphia Marathon in November, and this race was the end of February. I wanted to make sure I was ready, since I was traveling all this way. But it turns out it was hard to peak for two races close together. I was a little burned out by the time the Antarctica race came. But regular marathon training is all you need. Just be ready to go a lot slower.
What kind of wildlife did you see?
We saw penguins…and penguins. There are birds, and we definitely saw some whales and porpoises from the ship. But I think it was more the topography of the place that was impressive. It’s cliché, but it really is like nothing I’d ever seen before. You’re constantly amazed about where you are.
Now are you going to do a marathon on all seven continents?
Everyone says, “You’ve got the hard one out of the way.” And maybe I’ll eventually get there. But it’s not a focus for me. I’d rather pick races that interest me than check items off a list…I’m really glad I did this race. I had an amazing experience and got to write a book about it. What more could I ask?
The 10th Antarctica Marathon and Half Marathon will be held on March 10. The 2010 event is already sold out, but names are being accepted for the waiting list. The 2011 race is nearly half full. marathontours.com
John Hanc (top left) completed the Antarctic Marathon in 2005. Runners travel by Russian boats (left), formerly used to track American submarines, from Chile to King George Island.