As anyone who has worn frozen socks will attest, racing in Antarctica carries a whole set of new challenges compared to the sand dunes and endless salt flats of hot deserts.
"It takes more energy to run in the snow," points out Shayne Stoik. "It actually gets colder in Canada so I'm finding it fine here, so far, given it was a mild day yesterday due by Antarctica standards. "Although I wish I bought my "crazy carpet" for the hills."
Stoik is something of an expert in cold conditions; he lives in Edmonton, Canada, and after taking on the Grand Slam this year, he is happy to now be in familiar terrain. His advice is to wear a base layer on the top and bottom, sunglasses for the glare, wool socks and, "my Arc’tTeryx Alpha S.V., which is completely water and wind proof and very functional."
He adds that the state of one’s feet is of pivotal importance. "Don't get your feet wet!" he cries. "Don't get your feet wet!"
Michael Brehe of Germany says that unusually warm conditions at home this year haven’t prepared him very well. But, so far, he says it’s not as cold as he imagined. “It hasn’t really affected my performance here, perhaps because the first day seemed relatively warm for where we are. So far the cold is easy.” He adds, however, that, “it became difficult after 8pm when the temperature seemed to drop dramatically and it became very cold.”
Brehe offers some helpful hints for future Last Desert racers: “Here in Antarctica, sunglasses are very useful. I wasn’t planning on using them, but it was recommended they should be worn. I am happy I did due to the glare. Generally, clothing items that can be taken off easily and quickly are also important for me,” he adds. “Items that take too long, like pants that require shoes to come off, take too long; they break the rhythm and risk cooling down too much. I would recommend against this.”
Cooling down too quickly can bring about dangerous conditions for the body. Australia’s Roger Hanney is acutely aware of one danger in particular: hypothermia. His run-in with this condition in the past has shaped the way his team, JDRF Born to Run, have prepared for the race. “I used my hatred of hypothermia to prevent the team from experiencing it,” he says. “My role on the team was to research and organize all of the gear and ensure we keep warm.”
Strangely enough, while it’s been warm in Germany, Hanney says that rare cold weather in Australia gave his team snow to practice in. Hanney’s preparations seem to have worked. “It’s great,” he says of the race so far. “I don’t know how much racing is going on–it seems like we are on this great adventure trek. It’s interesting to be on a loop course that changes with each loop; there is a minefield effect – everyone busting through ice. With everyone already having completed races, I think we are all appreciating the awesome space.”
He adds that the greatest lesson the team has learned so far is to be careful at certain times of the day. Here in the southern pole, the slight change of the position of the sun has a big impact. “Sunset and the drastic temperature drop yesterday caught us by surprise,” he says. “And now we have learned from it.”
By Clare Morin