Keith Whyte — ultra runner
IT will be one of the most spectacular locations for a sporting event in 2015 and an Irishman is favourite to win.
But there will be no cheering crowds roaring on Keith Whyte today. There won’t be any supporters at all.
That’s the case when you race somewhere with no permanent residents.
Even getting to the start line of the Antarctic Ice Marathon 100k is quite a trek.
“I flew out on Sunday to Madrid, then Madrid to Santiago in Chile, then on to Punta Arenas in Chile,’’ said Whyte.
“Set up base there for two days and then on to Antarctica.
“So it’ll take four flights to get there.
“I’ve talked to people who’ve raced it before about what to expect.
“But how do you really prepare for running in temperatures of -30?”
Racing in Antarctica brings its own unique challenges.
“One of the big problems is the brightness of the sunlight,’’ said the Clareman.
“It’d dazzling because it bounces off the snow.
“You have to wear goggles but they get fogged up.
“And when you take them off to clean them, your eyes can freeze up.
“But you race in all sorts of extreme conditions.
“My last race was in Doha in November at the World 100k Championships and that was in 35 degree heat.
“So there’s a difference of nearly 70 degrees between the two races.
“Obviously, the pace won’t be as intense as a 100k on the road.
“The conditions will make it a lot more energy-sapping.”
Whyte’s Doha experience tested him to the core.
“I suffer from osteoporosis. Two weeks before the Worlds, I had an MRI scan on my groin and was told not to go race in Doha,’’ he said.
“The decision was left up to me and I took a lot of anti-inflammatories and pain-killers so that I could see out the race.
“I was running along and the drugs the tablets I’d taken upset my stomach.
“I started vomiting and wasn’t even able to keep down water.
“There was no way I was going to pull of the Worlds so, for the next 40km, I decided I wouldn’t drink anything.
“It was a night race but it was still very hot
“I felt fine but hit the wall because I was running on empty.
“I managed to finish but I was very severely dehydrated afterwards.
“You’d normally lose a few toenails during a race.
“You’d feel fairly beat up afterwards.
“If you’ve won, you’re on a bit of a high so that helps.
“But you normally can’t eat for a day because you’ve taken so many gels and energy drinks.
“It takes a while to recover. You have to know your limits in terms of recovery.”
These days, we hear plenty about the demands on competitors in many sports — particularly the GAA.
But Whyte’s training schedule is eyebrow-raising.
And he has to fit it in around a full time job as a tyre fitter and raising Eva and Ryan with his wife, Bernadette.
“I train twice a day every day. In the morning before work, I’d do an easy run — maybe six or seven miles,’’ he said.
“I work from 9am to 6pm in the garage.
“In the evenings, I do anything from a 16 to 30 mile run.
“On a Sunday, I’d do a long run — over 40 miles.
“It’s tough enough, on occasion, to try and get time to fit in all in.”
What’s most remarkable about Whyte’s progress is that he was a confirmed smoker who took little exercise up to very recently.
“It was back in 2007 or 2008 I started running. I’d been smoking since I was 15 — between 20 and 30 a day,’’ he said.
“I gave up the cigarettes and swapped one addiction for another.
“Running was something to do to take my mind off smoking.
“At the start, the goal was just to get a bit fitter.
“My first race was a 10k and, after eight weeks, I ran my first marathon.
“I wanted to go to the next level so looked around to see what was longer than a marathon.
“I started running ultra races within a couple of years and made my Irish debut at 100km in 2011.”
He works at the Pat Foudy Tyre Centre in Ennis and a sympathetic employer is a big help.
“I got the call on New Year’s Day to to the Antarctic,’’ he said.
“The organisers cover the flights and the accomodation.
“But I was just back at work after Christmas and had to ask for another week/10 days off.
“We work in a small garage. There’s only three of us and my boss is very accomodating if I have a race coming up.”