Jan | 6

Reflecting on Running an Ultramarathon in Antarctica

Last year, we told you about our friend Kyle McCoy’s preparation for the “Last Desert” ultramarathon in Antarctica. The run was part of the 4Deserts race series, which challenges runners to race ultra distances across some of the world’s most famous deserts.

Kyle’s run is officially in the books and he’s kicking off his new year with some reflections on his experience. Spoiler alert… it went really, really well!

You’ve run all/several of the 4Deserts races before. What made you want to check them all off your list and to finish with this run in Antarctica?

Correct, 4Deserts requires that you complete at least two of the other three desert races (Atacama, Sahara, Gobi) in order to qualify for Antarctica.  When researching the race I immediately decided I’d like to do all four and so planned accordingly.  I was drawn to the overall challenge and I have a personal goal of seeing at least 100 countries in my lifetime so this certainly aided in that bucket list item.

What did you hear from other runners about taking on an ultramarathon in Antarctica?

The Antarctica race is only done every other year.  Over time I had met other competitors in the 4Deserts series, albeit few, that had already done Antarctica.  They told me that the race format was different in that you’re never totally aware of how long you’ll be running on any given day as the race is so dependent on the weather conditions.  They mentioned the snow was tough in that we had to “break trail” the first loop or two each day.  On the other hand, I knew I could look forward to a warm meal and bed on the main boat each night as we came offshore and onto the boat.  So, the way I viewed it, this one was a series of six individual races as opposed to one large cumulative race – at least that’s what I told myself. . .

kyle mccoy ultramarathon antarctica, antarctica ultramarathon 4deserts, 4deserts ultramarathon kyle mccoy, kyle mccoy wins ultramarathonWhat were you most looking forward to before running this race?

I was most looking forward to seeing Antarctica. . . the continent has such a raw and wild appeal to it.  I was also looking forward to seeing the wildlife – we saw killer whale pods hunting, leopard seals, elephant seals, thousands of penguin and some of the largest birds I’ve ever seen.

Were there any parts about it that you were feeling apprehensive about?

Yes, I was worried mostly about how I would react to not knowing how far I would run each day.  They gave us a general sense (e.g. “Expect to be out there all day”), but in reality I knew the weather could cut any day short very quickly (and usually has in past races).  In our case, we had great weather so that meant really long days.  On the first day I covered about 57 miles, had 12 hours break, and then followed this up with about 35 miles on day 2. . . and so on throughout the week until I reached 250 kilometers.  I would have reached the distance on day 4, but the weather finally cut us short and so I finished early on day 5.

How did you approach your training for this type of run specifically? Did you do any snow running or did you travel anywhere cold to prepare?

I basically did the same thing I always do for this type of race: I ran back to back long runs with a backpack (10lbs. in it) on the weekends and tried to run every day during the week.  I live in Seattle and work full time so this was sometimes challenging.  I did a few faster marathons (NYC and Wenatchee (Wash.) both in sub-3 hours) with no real taper so that I could simulate stress of the race.  I didn’t specifically run in snow because it was too early in the season here and there was no snow!

Describe getting to Antarctica and your first few miles running there.

Getting to the starting line is crazy!  I flew from Seattle to Dallas, then Dallas to Buenos Aires, Argentina, then BA, Argentina to Ushuaia, Argentina (Southernmost city in the world), then took a 2.5 day boat ride to the Antarctica peninsula.  That boat crossing is considered some of the roughest water in the world, but luckily it was smooth for us (at least on the way there).  Once we were there we got off the big boat onto little zodiacs and went onshore.  Once onshore we had a briefing and then we were off running on mixed snow and ice for the next 12 hours on day 1.  That day I was on runner’s high basically the entire time.  The scenery was beautiful, I was in great shape, and I was leading – so it was a phenomenal day. . . one that I’ll never forget.

What were the high points and low points of your race?

My high point was on day 1 as described above.  My lowest point was on day 3 where we were running 1.2km loops (less than a mile) and I did this 55 times. . . one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.

Looking back, what did you take away from running in Antarctica?

This sounds a little corny, but we’re natural explorers and we’re literally born to run – this couldn’t have been more evident to me than while I was in Antarctica.

What would you tell someone who’s thinking about running in Antarctica?

First I’d recommend trying the Atacama Crossing in Chile.  Logistically it’s an easier race to try.  Most folks that do this first immediately become hooked on the race.  Then the series sells itself.  You’ll want to do all four, and I couldn’t be more adamant in recommending this race series.

What will your next adventure be?

In late February I’m signed up to do the Iditarod Trail Invitational race. . . on a fat tire mountain bike.  Last year I did 130 miles on foot, pulling a sled, but this year I wanted to mix it up so I’m racing on a fat tire bike and going farther into the Alaskan backcountry!


All photos courtesy of 4Deserts.com / Myke Hermsmeyer

About Derek
I’m a runner, a writer, and a shoe lover who enjoys morning coffee, travel, singing in the car, and getting legitimately lost on trail runs. Three things I can’t live without: bubble tea, Fridays, and my Brooks PureFlow’s.

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