So, you’ve decided to run the Antarctica Marathon in 2020. Or at least you’re looking into it. All your non-running friends are asking, “Wait! There’s a marathon in Antarctica?
Well, yes! And not only that, but there are actually several organized marathons on the continent! In fact, there are at least four different Antarctica Marathons and each race is organized by a different tour group:
- Antarctica Marathon and Half-Marathon by Marathon Tours and Travel
- Antarctic Ice Marathon and 100k by Polar Running Adventures
- White Continent 50k, Marathon & Half Marathon by Marathon Adventures
- Race the Jet Marathon by White Desert
Which Antarctica Marathon should you do?
Every one of these Antarctica races has its pros and cons. A few things to consider are your budget, your goals and ambitions for the marathon (for example, do you want to get a great time?), the exact location of the race, and your trip to Antarctica in general.
I had the pleasure of completing the 2019 Antarctica Marathon with Marathon Tours and Travel. I even made history as the first Indonesian to complete a marathon on all seven continents.
Becoming a member of the “Seven Continents Club” has always been a goal of mine. Read more about my quest to complete seven marathons on seven continents.
If you are thinking about doing this once in a lifetime race in Antarctica, I thought it would be helpful for you to read some up-to-date information about the Antarctica Marathon.
Keep in mind that each of the aforementioned races is different, and this post covers the classic Antarctica Marathon and Half-Marathon by Marathon Tours and Travel.
But even if you’re not doing that one, much of the information here will be helpful to you.
EDITOR’S NOTE: For 2020, the Antarctica Marathon and Half-Marathon by Marathon Tours and Travel voyage will not use the services of One Ocean Expeditions. In 2019, One Ocean began canceling all of its trips due to business difficulties. Marathon Tours will instead travel to Antarctica aboard the Ocean Atlantic, from Albatros Expeditions.
Antarctica Marathon Review
The classic Antarctica Marathon and Half Marathon debuted in 1995. This race, brought to you by Boston-based Marathon Tours and Travel, has always been popular.
There is always at least a two-year waiting list, and it is first-come, first-served.
Each ship carries about 100 runners and supporters.
As is the case each year, for the Antarctica Marathon in 2020, guests will be assigned to one of the ships and Marathon Tours has a travel itinerary specific to each ship. One ship will be one day ahead of the other.
This is because only about 100 people are allowed to be in any specific area of Antarctica at a time.
Traveling with Marathon Tours is one of the cheapest ways to travel to Antarctica. And to ensure that as many people can participate in the race as possible, you, or someone in your group, must be running the race.
Sadly, you will have to endure a 14-day package tour that includes an Antarctica cruise, with one day dedicated to the Marathon Day. The agony!
Just kidding. It’s incredible!
Antarctica Marathon Video
Running on King George Island
The 2020 Antarctica Marathon will take place on King George Island. While KGI is not technically part of continental Antarctica, it’s still Antarctica.
King George Island is home to a lot of scientific bases, run by various countries from around the world. The Russian base, Bellingshausen Station (Russian: станция Беллинсгаузен) has been host to the start and finish lines for many years.
What to wear for the Antarctica Marathon in 2020?
This is probably the most common question I get.
Antarctica’s weather and temperature are very unpredictable, and conditions can change rapidly. The Antarctica Marathon is a two-day event. One ship lands and its guests do the race. The next day, the other boat’s guests run it.
On our trip, the Vavilov runners faced extremely windy conditions with 45mph gusts. The organizers considered canceling the race altogether.
Fortunately, the wind subsided a bit, and the postponed race started 3 hours late. But it was still windy, snowy, and cold.
On the other hand, our ship, the Ioffe, landed on King George Island the very next day. Our race day seemed too-good-to-be-true! It was 33°F (2°C), with blue skies, and almost no wind.
Most of the runners on our ship shed their layers very quickly!
Layer your clothing
If you already live in a colder climate, layering is probably familiar to you. A layering system is easy to adjust. You can always take off layers and put them back on as necessary.
You need to layer for the 2020 Antarctica Marathon.
Because you will be running in loops, you can shed those layers at designated water stations. And you are on your own. You won’t be able to depend on others for help.
This is how I layered for the race:
- Long-sleeved tech shirt
- Light running jacket
- Light windbreaker
Note: You’ll want to get photos, so if you’re going to buy gear, think about picking vivid colors for your outer layer so they will contrast nicely with the snow (or dirt).
I picked light blue for that very reason. And it worked – I have great pictures from the race!
Runners should wear a running hat or headband, and simple running sunglasses should be sufficient. There is no need to invest in ski goggles, though this may be different if you a different marathon in Antarctica, such as the White Continent Marathon.
Consider getting a neck and face gaiter, which will protect your neck from wind.
And a pair of running gloves is also a must!
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Socks and shoes for the Antarctica Marathon in 2020?
Basically, any good, sturdy trail running shoe will do.
One of the most popular trail running shoe brands that runners wore during our run was the Salomon Speedcross series, which I highly recommend.
Ideally, you will wear something waterproof on your feet. My recommendation is to wear two pairs of socks – your usual running socks, and a waterproof pair on the outside to keep your feet dry.
Look into a good sock, like Showers Pass Crosspoint Waterproof Wool Crew Socks – recommended by Runner’s World.
There are many different brands. Some cheaper. Some more expensive.
Other clothing for Antarctica
Here’s our list of things to pack for Antarctica. The post isn’t specifically about running gear, but it will give you an idea for how you will need to pack for the trip in general, if you go with Marathon Tours and One Ocean Expeditions – who provide a lot of the winter outerwear.
Sanitizing your Antarctica Marathon Gear
There are strict guidelines you need to follow to set foot on Antarctica. That includes a disinfecting process of anything that you will take ashore.
Most people will prefer to wear the gear they’re already comfortable with, and probably won’t wear many new items on race day. You’ll most likely bring your comfortable (but a bit dirty) trail running shoes, for example.
All your gear will need to be scrubbed and inspected by the staff prior to your race.
Marathon Tours makes this fun with a mandatory “Biosecurity Vacuum Party” on the ship. Runners will inspect their gear in detail. You’ll remove any and all dirt, seeds, and tiny fragments of the “outside world” from every nook and cranny of your shoes.
This helps prevent the spread of anything invasive – plants or otherwise – that may threaten the endemic species of Antarctica.
Tools for doing this include screwdrivers, tweezers, toothbrushes, and plenty of vacuum cleaners.
When you’re done, you’ll dip your shoes into a biocide solution to disinfect them. Marathon Tours and the ship staff and crew take all of this very seriously.
Training for the Antarctica Marathon
Several months prior to our journey with Marathon Tours, we had a conference call. It was a quick check-in about things to know before you go to Antarctica.
One major thing that caught me off guard is how to train for the Antarctica Marathon. You need to run trails.
It’s common sense, of course. You won’t be running on paved roads. So, you must become accustomed to running trails in order to prepare for the Antarctica Marathon. I’ve always been a road runner and comfortable with pounding the asphalt with my road-running shoes.
Running trails is different than running on pavement or a concrete sidewalk. And it takes some getting used to if you don’t normally do it.
I twisted both of my ankles on my first long trail run. The next week, I twisted one of them again. Eventually, I got used to the uneven terrain.
And that’s necessary because the Antarctica Marathon route is very uneven in a lot of places. You’ll need to combine your joy of running with cold, hilly, uneven conditions.
I trained in the unpredictable winter in Atlanta. I did my trail runs in the hilly terrain of Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield from January through March. Temperatures ranged from 29°F to 64°F (-2° to 18°C)
The journey to Antarctica
In this post, I’ll skip the details of our amazing journey to Antarctica. Go here to read our post on the journey to Antarctica and check out our Antarctica packing list.
It includes the whole experience of running the Antarctica Marathon and Half-Marathon in 2019.
Race Day: Antarctica Marathon 2019
Every year, two sister ships, the Akademik Sergey Vavilov and the Akademik Ioffe, take 200 runners and supporters to a two-day running event on King George Island.
Antarctica Marathon Temperature
King George Island is the perfect place to run marathons in Antarctica because of its relatively moderate temperatures. King George Island is part of Antarctica’s South Shetland Islands and has a less harsh climate than on the continent.
Expect to experience anywhere from the upper 20s Fahrenheit to lower 30s Fahrenheit on the race day in mid-March. That’s around -2 to 2 centigrade.
That’s not too bad for the weather in Antarctica in March!
Antarctica Marathon Route
The marathon in Antarctica follows a unique route every year, so the 2020 Antarctica Marathon may follow a different route. It really depends on the conditions at the time.
If you know someone who has run the race before, there is no guarantee that you will follow the same course.
And to the extreme, in 2001, they had to cancel the landing and conducted the race on the deck of the ship!
Generally speaking, the Antarctica Marathon starts and finishes at the Bellingshausen Russian base on King George Island. The route could include a loop to several other surrounding scientific bases, such as the famous Chilean Base Presidente Eduardo Frei Montalva and Chinese Great Wall Station.
Each is roughly 2 miles (3.5 km) from Bellingshausen Russia Base.
You will run this loop 3 times to complete the full 26.2-mile (42 km) route.
Due to unforeseen logistics with the bases, our Antarctica Marathon 2019 route ran from the Russian Bellingshausen Base to the Uruguayan Artigas Base and back 6 times.
Half marathoners ran the loop three times. Full marathoners ran 6 loops. In short, we ran from Russia to Uruguay, and then back to Russia six times!
Thankfully, we were equipped with chip timing technology. Marathon Tours uses ankle bracelets to count your loops and keep track of your time.
While it sounds silly, it is so easy to lose track of how many loops you did.
Antarctica Marathon Water Stations
For water, you’re on your own. That means that you will take your own water supply to the island along with any energy supplements. And you might think that would get confusing.
But again, Marathon Tours turned this into an event on the ship. We had a water bottle decoration party on the ship prior to the race. Your goal is to make your water bottles distinct, so you can easily distinguish them from everyone else’s.
I recommend taking 3-4 water bottles for the full marathon. At least 2 liters, maybe even more.
You will drop your water off at stations along the route and pick them up on your final loop. I even brought hot cocoa in a thermos. It was a nice treat to drink something warm and sweet in the midst of the cold race!
Consider purchasing a Nalgene water bottle, if you don’t already have one. And think about bringing a travel thermos as well.
The International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO) prohibits bringing any kind of food wrapped in plastic to shore.
Obviously, this limits what you can bring as an energy supplement, like energy gel or gummies/beans.
Invest in a reusable energy gel pack. This one can hold 5 packs of Gu (or your favorite energy gel).
Antarctica Marathon terrain
Generally, the Antarctica Marathon route is a muddy course. There will be lots and lots of mud.
Dirt trails connect the scientific bases on King George Island. Heavy-duty tracks (think of a big tractor with deep tire thread) freeze and thaw throughout the day.
Nearby glaciers and snow will melt and the water will flow onto the route. There will likely be mud and water puddles that you can’t avoid.
It won’t be perfect, but it will be a big help.
Some people wore running gaiters. But honestly, they didn’t help at all.
Toilets and the Antarctica Marathon starting line
At the starting line of the Antarctica Marathon, they erect a medical tent. A doctor familiar with working with runners always accompanies Marathon Tours for the Antarctica Marathon.
Next to that is another tent that serves as a toilet. “Toilet” is a very generous description of this barrel with a toilet seat surrounded by a tarp.
Don’t expect the “luxury” or porta-potties here!
You’ll be off the ship for several hours, so keep that in mind. If you need to go back to the ship though, it’s as easy as asking. You’ll hop back onto the zodiac for the 20-minute ride back to the ship.
Antarctica Marathon Volunteers
Not everybody on board came to Antarctica to run. Many, like Michael, came as supporters. Supporters can get involved as much or as little as they wish.
The race does need volunteers, however. In fact, they are crucial to the success of the race. Generally, the Marathon Tours staff will be out on the course ensuring the safety of the runners.
The medical staff checks on every runner who crosses the finish line and periodically throughout the race.
Volunteers will help pass out medals (Michael’s job!), take lots of photos to share (there is an official photographer, too!), help runners in and out of gear, and more.
As you can imagine, you’ll be the only non-scientist people on the island, so it’s particularly nice for the runners if people to cheer them on – especially if the conditions aren’t so great.
It can be a lonely race!
A couple of guests even brought penguin costumes to take photos with runners at the finish line!
The day after participants on both ships finish the Antarctica Marathon and Half Marathon, both groups get together on one ship for the awards ceremony.
That ship hosts a big barbecue and buffet party on the stern of the boat.
Awards are given for runners in various age groups, gender categories, and to the winners of the marathon and half marathon. Special recognition is also given to runners who’ve completed a marathon or half-marathon on all seven continents.
They become members of the elite Seven Continents Club.
The Seven Continents Club was founded in 1995 when our inaugural Antarctica Marathon and Half-Marathon made it possible for runners to conquer a marathon or half-marathon on seven continents. […]
To date, 478 men and 235 women have completed this exclusive quest at the marathon distance. Additionally, 19 men and 31 women have completed a half-marathon on all seven continents.Marathon Tours and Travel Web Site
Should you run the Antarctica Marathon in 2020?
Without hesitation, my answer is an unequivocal YES!
The 2019 Antarctica Marathon was the culmination of many years of running for me and the realization of a dream.
I highly recommend running the race with Marathon Tours and Travel – whether it’s the 2020 Antarctica Marathon or a future race. They meticulously planned this trip to maximize the amount of fun we had.
Thom, Jeff, and the staff of Marathon Tours and Travel have been doing the Antarctica Marathon longer than anyone else.
The groundwork they did over 20 years is actually the reason other groups can come here to run.
So absolutely book your trip with them, run the marathon or half-marathon, and take pride in an accomplishment that few others have done.
And enjoy a celebratory drink on the ship when you’re done!
How to register for the Antarctica Marathon
Registering for the 2020 Antarctica Marathon and Half Marathon is easy.
Simply go to the Marathon Tours and Travel Race Calendar and scroll down to find the Antarctica Marathon.
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Halef moved from Indonesia to the US nearly two decades ago to go to college here. He hasn’t looked back. He’s been to over forty countries and doesn’t plan on stopping anytime soon. He’s a Landscape Architect in Atlanta, GA.