Tackling 26.2 Miles Through the Antarctic Tundra
By Dan Beldy
My friend Erich Sauerbrey had a childhood dream to see Antarctica.
We met as classmates at the Naval Academy (’86). A few years ago Erich heard about an Antarctica Marathon put on by a company called Marathon Tours, which organizes adventurous travel packages for runners to the world’s most remarkable destination marathons and half marathons. They operate in all seven continents.
Erich floated the idea with our other friends of running a marathon in Antarctica after the annual Navy/Army football game in 2012. We all thought it was a good idea, surprisingly (never underestimate the persuasive power of alcohol). There was a three-year waiting list, so the four of us signed up and sent in our deposits back in 2012 for a race this year.
We decided early on the event would be more than a great story. We wanted to raise money and awareness for a veteran organization. We could think of no better organization to align with than The Mission Continues. I had met President Spencer Kympton and founder Eric Greitens at separate events in the past, so I shared our idea with Spencer: we were going to run 26.2 miles in the harshest conditions possible to help fundraise for The Mission Continues.
He was more than supportive and connected us with key members of his team to support our efforts along the way. For us, it seemed appropriate that we raise awareness for all the great work they are doing, and when you think about the challenges many veterans face on their return to civilian life, the challenge of running a marathon in Antarctica gains some perspective.
The four of us (Erich Sauerbrey, Jeff Steiner, Doug Wagner and myself) flew into Buenos Aires in early March and met our fellow runners from around the world. Then we took a flight down to Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego — the world’s southernmost city. There the four of us joined 90 other runners aboard the Akademik Sergei Vavilov, an old Russian “research” (read: spy) vessel and spent 2½ days at sea, crossing the Beagle Channel and Drake Passage. Our first stop was Shetland Island, which was loaded with penguin rookeries and seal colonies.
The Antarctica Marathon was the following day. We boarded small boats first thing in the morning in choppy seas for a hard 9 am start time. We were reminded several times by the tour company in advance that it was a challenging course where most runners could expect to add at least one hour to their best marathon time.
I would describe the race as running 26.2 miles in a hilly muddy rocky creek bed with sleet, snow and 30–40 mph wind gusts thrown in for fun.
We ran a course that circled the research stations of Uruguay and China. There were several moments during the run when we’d shout out to each other “The Mission Continues!” to keep us focused and motivated.
We also sponsored mile marker 12 in the name of The Mission Continues to provide additional awareness and motivation for all runners. After the race, we got a chance to discuss more about The Mission Continues to the entire ship at an awards ceremony. And Mile Marker 12 is in route to The Mission Continues headquarters in St. Louis as we speak as a token of appreciation from our team.
Running for a cause like The Mission Continues definitely helped all four of us stay motivated throughout the race and kept us moving toward the finish line. As an added celebration, the next day each of us took a polar plunge with several other runners just a few feet from a small iceberg with water temp at 32 F.
With the run behind us, we were able to spend some time enjoying the stunning beauty of this special place in the world. A memorable stop was Wilhelmina Bay, one of the most beautiful places on Earth. The bay was full of humpback whales cruising for krill. There were so many whales it seemed as if you could walk across the entire bay on their backs. The next day we left the “White Continent” to re-cross the Drake Passage and head for home.
Our goal was to raise enough to support one fellowship at The Mission Continues. To date we have raised over $13,000 and are now aiming to top $20,000 by October of this year (2015).
Our fundraising page is still active, so please visit and consider a contribution.
We were honored and proud to dedicate our marathon run to The Mission Continues, and we are very grateful for the support we received from our donors and the support we received from The Mission Continues along the way. We are also grateful for the tireless work and effort that The Mission Continues provides every day to empower veterans to serve our great country in new ways.
Photo Credit (Top): “Mount Jackson, Antarctica” by euphro — Flickr: SE of Mt Jackson ridge. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons