They would be people like Brooke Curran, 43, of Alexandria, who won the women’s race last month in weather more fit for the penguins and seals that populate the Fildes Peninsula than for the humans who wrapped themselves in high-tech apparel against the 6-degree wind chill.
“In Antarctica terms, we had good weather,” said Curran, back in the comfort of a Del Ray coffeehouse where we chatted about her adventure. By any other standard, it was miserable. “It was mud, it was hills, it was streams, it was slick, it was windy. It was sleet. It was snow. More wind.” She wore thick tights, a heavy winter running top, a wind- and water-repellent shell and two pairs of gloves with chemical hand warmers in the fingertips.
Curran has broken 3:10, but in Antarctica her 4:36:53 was good enough to defeat about 40 other women and all but the first 10 men. “After seeing that first mile or two, I decided that for the rest of the race I was not going to run up those hills. I just walked the hills. And I kept track of where everyone was. And then I watched them start to slow and start to fade. And at Mile 16 or 17, I started to make my move.”
There is no Antarctica Marathon, of course — not in the sense that there is a Boston Marathon or a New York Marathon or a London Marathon. It and other exotic races are the creation of Boston-based Marathon Tours and Travel, whose founder, Thom Gilligan, realized serendipitously 19 years ago how far Type A distance runners would go in pursuit of their goals. “These are people who take the reins and ride life hard. They’re not afraid to take some risk and live life to the fullest,” Gilligan said.
In 1993, Gilligan was quoted in a travel trade magazine saying that he could take runners to every continent except Antarctica. Two days later, an outfit that specialized in Zodiac boat tours of the area contacted him about conquering that last frontier. They decided to set it up for 1995.
“I was hoping for 30 people,” Gilligan said. “We got 110 deposits in 60 days.” Today, the Antarctica Marathon is sold out for 2013, 2014 and 2015, and accepting applications for 2016. There is now a Great Wall marathon (yes, you run parts of the Chinese landmark) and a marathon through a Kenyan game park, among others. The company has a few serious competitors in this niche market, including San Diego-based Kathy Loper Events and Adventure Marathon in Denmark.