Teresa Strad went to Antarctica to run a half-marathon. Considering the farthest she had ever run in one go during training was three miles, the endeavor would have been a challenge even without the white-out, below-freezing weather conditions. Undaunted, Ms. Strad completed the half-marathon. Then she kept running.
Ms. Strad went to Antarctica to run 13.1 miles, but she ran 26.2, completing her first-ever full marathon, the 2015 Antarctic Ice Marathon.
After 8 hours, 59 minutes, and 40 seconds, she proudly ran through the finish line with a couple of stuffed toy penguin companions and the Cayman Islands flag.
“Before I left, I thought … do your best and go for it,” Ms. Strad said, “because at the end of the day, it’s all in the mind. If you’ve got the ability and the stamina … just get up and go and do something you really want to.”
“I legged it, and did it,” she said.
As she recounts her trip to the icy continent, it’s clear that for Ms. Strad, completing the marathon was just one part of an unforgettable adventure that began last year when she decided on a whim after leafing through a travel book that a marathon in Antarctica would be the perfect addition to her bucket list.
After months of preparation, Ms. Strad traveled to Punta Arenas, Chile, with her husband and a friend, a few days before the marathon was scheduled to take place on Nov. 19. There, all the marathoners – about 50 – met for the first time.
Ms. Strad, who was a nurse for 30 years, said most of the other runners were seasoned athletes. Some were in Antarctica to be able to say that they had completed marathons on all seven continents.
Due to poor weather conditions, the group was delayed. Finally, they boarded a windowless cargo jet – a Russian Ilyushin 76 – for the four-and-a-half-hour flight from Chile to Antarctica.
The first glimpse of the continent was amazing, Ms. Strad said.
“It’s completely white. They land on blue ice, nature’s homemade runway. We get out, we’re just in awe of our surroundings. Beautiful blue skies, the mountains … I fell in love with it straightaway.”
After the group made it to their base camp, rows of colorful clamshell-shaped tents set up against a backdrop of dramatic mountains – which were 1.2 miles away but seemed much closer – there was a safety meeting in the mess tent. They were told not to go beyond the red flags around the edge of the camp.
“Between us and those mountains is a crevasse field,” Ms. Strad said. “So apparently, someone actually took out one of the snow bikes past the red flags, and … lost the bike down a crevasse. He was so lucky.”
The race, postponed by a day, was now set for noon on Nov. 20, but on the evening of Nov. 19, the competitors were told that the race would begin earlier, as bad weather was predicted to roll in.
Race organizer Richard Donovan had asked Ms. Strad if she might consider running the full marathon, but she did not make up her mind about whether to attempt it until right before the race began. She teamed up with a new friend and they decided to run together.
The bad weather that was predicted came in quickly.
“It was white-out. You couldn’t see in front of your face. You couldn’t see the mountains … it was getting cold.” Ms. Strad said.
She said she was lucky because while other racers were struggling with their gear, her goggles never froze or fogged and her clothes kept her dry. At around mile 7, the pain began.
“My legs were killing me, the muscles were aching, my joints were aching, I’m thinking, ‘Why am I doing this? Why am I here?’”
As she finished the first half of the race, however, Ms. Strad said she got past her “pain threshold.” After a five-minute break and a hot drink, she set out to finish the race.
A few times, though, she stopped her friend. She wanted to absorb the silence and stillness that surrounded them.
“There’s a saying – sound of silence. But there is no sound to silence,” Ms. Strad said. “You close your eyes, and I still do it now and I can remember it now … it was amazing.”
Ms. Strad said that during the final five miles of the race she was exhausted, more mentally than physically.
“It wasn’t so much the effort of getting to where you were supposed to be at the end, but it was the psychological aspect of it,” Ms. Strad said. “It was like being in a room that was white walls, white doors, no windows, nothing, floor and ceiling all white, and you had no idea where you were.”
As she fought through the last few miles, Ms. Strad thought of her father who died five years ago, and she asked for his help in getting to the finish line.
Finally, the end was in sight, but she stopped to take out her penguin companions.
The penguins, one named Mr. Waddles, will be given to the children at the Nadine Andreas Residential Foster Home, one of several causes for which Ms. Strad is raising money.
She hugged her running companion, and together they dashed the final 500 yards.
“We ran like there was no tomorrow,” Ms. Strad said. “Got through the finish line, looked at each other, hugged each other and just sobbed our hearts out.”
“We couldn’t believe we did it,” she added.
The feat impressed the other runners too. When Ms. Strad walked into the mess tent later that day, everyone stood up and cheered.
A runner from the U.K., who had finished the marathon in less than four hours, told her: “I can’t believe what you did … you’ve never run a half-marathon before, and you’ve just done the full.”
Paul Webb from Great Britain came in first in the men’s marathon, at 3:35:25, while Silvana Camelio was the women’s winner, finishing in 4:40:01. Ms. Strad tied for 9th place out of 11 female marathon competitors, but other runners told her that her story was one they would remember.
Ms. Strad said she is not accustomed to being in the spotlight, and does not feel comfortable there, either. She was also nervous about meeting so many new people. But just as she pushed herself to finish the marathon, she said she pushed herself outside of her comfort zone. She left Antarctica not only with a medal, but with friends from all over the world.
Someday, Ms. Strad said, she would love to return to Antarctica. “It’s just an amazing place, absolutely incredible. I would say to anybody, if you ever have the opportunity to go, just do it, because there’s nowhere on this earth that you’ll ever see or feel a place like that, ever.”
Ms. Strad is accepting donations for the NCVO, the Humane Society, CARE, Canine Friends and Feline Friends, and One Dog at a Time. The donation account at Butterfield Bank is #1361589040019. It will be open until the end of December.