On Nov. 21, Kyle McCoy will set foot on the snow and ice of Antarctica. His first steps might be cautious, but make no mistake, Kyle will be running.
As part of the 4Deserts race series, Kyle will spend several days traversing 250 kilometers in Antarctica in what’s called the “Last Desert” run. It’s an adventure he’s prepared for by running in several of the world’s deserts and running recent fall marathons including the upcoming NYC marathon, but he’s spending most of his time these days training on the streets and in the parks of his hometown, Seattle. We asked him about his upcoming run and what it takes to do it. Take a read through this Q&A with Kyle and be sure to wish him good luck!
Describe getting involved in this race series and what motivates you.
In 2010 I raced in the Marathon des Sables, a 155 mile (250KM) multi-day stage race in Morocco. I remember reading that this was “among the toughest races in the world,” and for some reason I was skeptical. I can say, without hesitation, I was wrong. This race, and more broadly these types of races, are incredibly difficult no matter your fitness or experience level. These are essentially suffer-fests pitting each individual against mother nature in the world’s most hostile environments. After finishing, I was immediately and overwhelmingly addicted to this style of racing. I then read about the 4 Deserts race series, which is essentially 4 (plus one roving race) desert races around the world. I researched a bit more and immediately signed up for the Atacama Crossing in Chile. I was lucky enough to finish 5th of about 165 and I knew I wanted to compete in the other three. That was 2013. Since then, I’ve raced in the Gobi March in Northwest China, Sahara Race (Namibia), and soon “The Last Desert” in Antarctica.
Read about Kyle running the Gobi March here.
What attracts you to the ultra marathon distances? What do you like most about ultras?
The challenge. I think we’re all capable of going farther and faster than we assume possible. . . we just rarely, in modern society, have the opportunity to test that thesis. I also have a deep need for exploration, and the ultra-marathon allows me to cover significant ground in a shorter amount of time, and in some parts of the world that are otherwise inaccessible.
In terms of what I like most about ultras, I don’t think there’s any one thing I can point to individually. I like the competition, but also the camaraderie. I like the beauty of the setting, whether in the coldest or hottest parts of the world. And I find that I operate at my best when I’m training for, or competing in, ultras.
What is something you think people don’t often realize about ultras?
I find that most runners struggle with the notion that, to some extent, you have to toss a “pace per mile” ideal out the window. Incredibly fast and competitive marathoners often struggle with ultras because they’re forced to slow to a crawl during some sections of extreme terrain. I often tell beginners “when you think you’re starting slow enough in a 100 miler, slow even more.” In an ultra, you have 30-50 milers on the back end where you can run fast (and should) if you’re still feeling strong. But the cost of going out too fast will end a race (and has for me) all too quickly.
What are you most looking forward to about running in Antarctica?
For me, this is a once in a lifetime adventure. Antarctica is quite literally at the end of the world. It’s so extreme and so raw. I feel lucky to have the opportunity and I think of the entire thing as a great adventure. If I had to pinpoint one thing, I have this vision of myself looking down from an icy hill at 59 other runners from more than 20 countries around the world, with seals and penguins in the background, and thinking “How in the hell did I get here?”
How are you preparing? Are you doing anything specific to prepare for the distance? How about the cold and the wind?
I’m preparing by running with a pack on (with 10-15lbs) to simulate race conditions, often with back-to-back long runs. I have a full time job and a 2-year-old, so the time required can be a challenge. I run each morning before work, and then the bulk of my miles are on the weekend. I ran a 100KM trail race and I have several marathons (including the NYC marathon) on the calendar as train up. In terms of the cold weather, it’s difficult (if not impossible) to simulate those conditions this time of year in Seattle. But I’ve raced in the cold (Yukon Arctic Ultra, where it reached negative 35F) so I have some familiarity with what to expect. Most important in these types of races is gear selection, so I spend a fair amount of time researching and selecting my gear.
Have you had to rationalize running in Antarctica to yourself or your family and friends? How so?
It’s always a bit of a funny conversation. It’s hard to fully describe to people, to be honest. I typically make light of it by saying “I never claimed to be the sharpest tool in the shed.” I find most folks are very curious and I’m bombarded by a series of follow-on questions. I think people struggle with wrapping their heads around the logistics of this type of undertaking, which is admittedly understandable. My family (thankfully I have a very supportive and loving wife) are all well aware of this habit of mine at this point. Most of my friends are also aware of these types of races as I’ve raised charitable funds for local non-profits and maintained blogs during the previous races.
What gear will you take with you?
This answer would take two pages to write, so I’ll keep this one short. The race (www.4deserts.com) maintains a required packing list for each race. Needless to say, the packing list is extensive for Antarctica. Most important in these types of races is typically to travel lighter than you think you should. But in Antarctica, I won’t accept this type of risk. I’ll carry between 10-15 lbs. each day (covering usually between 20-100 kilometers), and also have a drop bag with another 20-30 lbs. in survival gear in case of extreme winds. We’ll usually be transported back onto the large research vessel (on which we’ll sleep each night), but must be prepared for a sudden bout of extreme weather, requiring us to stay on land overnight and shelter in place. The temperature will typically range between -10F to 30F, but can dip down to well below -25F. We must be prepared for all of the above. I’ll typically rely on layering for the change in temperatures, and I’ll carry two pairs of Gore-Tex trail running shoes and gaiters for deep snow.
How has training gone so far?
Training is going relatively well so far. I’m healthy and without injuries, which is most important. I’ve completed several marathons and back-to-back long runs, as well as one 100-kilometer trail race here in Washington state, with 15,000’ of elevation (give or take). I have the NYC marathon coming up. I recently finished third in the Leavenworth Marathon here in WA with a 2:55. This race is mostly about the ability to recover quickly and race again each day, day after day. I try to throw in a few fast marathons, but if I can run back-to-back marathons at 80-90 percent effort, this far better simulates the race.
How can people get involved and share their support?
I’m raising funds for the Seattle Parks Foundation, an amazing non-profit here in Seattle doing amazing work for the parks we all live and play in every day. There’s probably not a single weekend run I do that doesn’t incorporate one (or multiple) parks here in Seattle. As I log dozens of miles per week on training runs, Seattle Parks Foundation’s work to build connections between parks and green spaces throughout the city has become particularly important to me. I would be hugely appreciative if you’d consider making a donation to the Seattle Parks Foundation here: https://www.crowdrise.com/KyleAntarctica. You can also track updates on the race here: https://www.facebook.com/KyleRunsAntarctica.
Images by Marcela Gara, used with permission.