Modern Athlete Magazine Issue 127, February 2020 - Page 33

but a superb crew that puts the plane down expertly, in spite of the icy, slippery runway surface.” The race is organise by Runbuk Inc. with the legendary Richard Donovan as Race Director, and takes place on Union Glacier, where quite a few international camps are set up in the four months of summer each year. The race is based out of the camp run by Antarctic Logistics Expeditions (ALE). Usually the plan is to fly the runners in, spend a day or so acclimatising, run the race, then fly out again having spent just two nights on the glacier. Mo says there is no cell phone reception and no other media in the camp, so most of the time waiting for the race is spent drinking coffee and playing cards in the mess tent, while getting to know the runners from all over the world, which for this race included two other South Africans, Johan and Molene Scheepers from Pretoria. “Because the sun never sets, you always feel like you have jetlag while there, because you’re out of sync with your surroundings. I found that I got tired, but struggled to sleep,” says Mo. He adds that the stark beauty of Antarctica can lull you into a false sense of security, but the race organisers and camp staff make sure all the runners understand how important safety precautions are. “There is a beautiful mountain next to the camp, but they explained it was off limits, and that we should never go past the perimeter flags around camp. The camp is on a glacier that moves 15 metres per year, so dangerous crevasses up to 80m deep form, and you will never be found again if you fall into one of those! In really bad weather they even put a rope around the whole campsite, to stop people wandering off in the wrong direction in white-out conditions.” “The other really noticeable thing there is the focus on proper sanitation, because everything, including all waste, is shipped back to Chile on a weekly basis. So hygiene is high priority, with sanitiser bottles on every counter, and we were encouraged to use them regularly. Also, before getting on the plane in Chile, we had to step into a bucket with pink liquid to disinfect our shoes. It’s just part of a world-wide effort to keep Antarctica clean.” Feeling the Freeze After the meal that first night, Mo says the runners were given a breakdown of the race route and water stations. “We would be doing four laps of 10.5km, on a snow-ploughed loop, and the race would start at noon the next day, but they suggested we do a test run at 9pm that first night, to test our gear. “I think this was brilliant, as we had hired jackets, snow boots, etc for wearing in camp, but you have no idea how cold it actually is until you put on your racing kit tights. The Top three men, including Mo, on lap two Relaxing in the mess tent before the race slower athletes can walk the whole way with thick gear on, but the more competitive runners head out in much thinner gear, so the key factor is to realise how cold it will be and prepare properly.” “That test run was a real eye-opener. About a mile out of the camp, they stopped us all to take pics of us, one by one, so we had to wait our turn, and in spite of wearing serious gloves, I almost lost the feeling in one of my hands. It was just that cold! I also realised the ploughed lap was not too slippery, but it felt like low- tide sand on a beach – it was soft, giving a bit, but not quite as soft as beach sand.” And unsurprisingly, given Mo’s competitive running background, he was also checking out the competition. “Having been with the group for a day or two, I had figured out who were racing snakes chasing the win, versus the guys just going for a finish as part of their Seven Continents challenge. I had originally thought of this race as just a fun expedition, and a trip for experience, but as the race approached, my heart rate picked up, and in the last couple of hours before the start, I was already getting my mind into racing mode.” There was one last thing Mo really wanted to do before the race, however. “They had advised us we didn’t need to take any money to Antarctica, and there would be no cell reception whatsoever, so we could leave our valuables in the safe in Chile, but I just took my phone with to take pics. When we got there, they had a satellite phone which you could purchase air time on, and my tent mate had a sat phone as well. Race day was 13 December, my youngest daughter’s birthday, so that morning my tent mate very kindly offered me the use of his sat phone to call home to wish her. That was really special.” Freezing Conditions, Hot Racing When the race started, some of the runners went out really hard, and Mo was surprised to find himself sitting back in eighth position after the first few kays. “I realised then it was going to be quite some race,” he says. Having caught the early frontrunners after the first lap, he decided to test the field to see what Mo with William Hafferty on lap three 33