A race to the bottom ... of the world

Running a marathon in Antarctica on Thanksgiving Day

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Staff Reporter

On Nov. 18, Ed Baehrend flew to Santiago, Chile, and stayed in a valley surrounded by the snow-capped Andes, admiring the city's colonial Plaza de Armas center.

From there, Baehrend, of River Forest, caught a plane and traveled three and a half hours south to Punta Arenas, Chile, a stub of land located at the Strait of Magellan, which connects the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. There, race officials will check Baehrend's arctic gear, making sure it will withstand negative 20 degree temperatures and 50mph winds. If Baehrend's gear stands the test, he will catch a flight out of Punta Arenas on Nov. 23 and fly still further south — about 650 miles — to Antarctica, the bottom of the world. There he will compete in the 26.2-mile Antarctic Ice Marathon on Thanksgiving. 

"It will certainly be the most ambitious race that I've done, technically difficult because of the cold," Baehrend said. "And it's very hard to just get to the bottom of the world." 

If weather permits, Baehrend, 56, will land on an ice float and travel to Union Glacier Camp, Antarctica, a flat scientific base located in the middle of a mountain range. There he'll run two, 13-mile loops around the camp. He'll spend three nights in a rented tent, bunk with a roommate he doesn't know, wear rented pants, and tromp around in rented boots, all of which are designed to withstand the cold. After the race, Baehrend will talk to scientists from around the world who study at Union Glacier about six months of the year. 

On Nov. 27, he'll fly back, "as long as the plane can come and get you," Baehrend said. The return trip will again depend on how fast the wind whips the snow. 

He can't wait. 

Antarctica will represent Baehrend's fifth continent, aiming to join the "Seven Continents Club," a group of about 650 adventurous runners who run marathons on, well, every continent. Baehrend joined the club after becoming a member of the "50 States Club," a club that encourages its 4,350 or so members to run a marathon in every state. Baehrend finished that challenge about three years ago. Those races qualified him for the North American component of the "Seven Continents Club." 

For his 40th birthday, Baehrend and wife Diana traveled to France to run the Bordeaux Marathon du Medoc, where they dressed in fancy clothes and indulged in wine, oysters, foie gras and more along the 26.2-mile course. That was Baehrend's European race.  

Earlier this year, he competed in the Rio de Janeiro marathon in Brazil, which counted for South America. And in March, he competed in Jerusalem, which counts for Asia.

"Everything in Jerusalem is covered in Jerusalem stone so, at night, when the sun's going down, the city looks like it's golden," Baehrend said. "It's an incredible city."

He has been training for the Antarctica marathon like he does all marathons. He wakes around 4:30 a.m. and either runs for an hour or jogs about four hours. He runs four days a week. The other three days he bikes or swims. Diana has been researching and collecting arctic gear for her husband — buying extra-large shoes with metal cleats, socks that both wick moisture and keep toes warm, a Gore-Tex jacket and more. 

"Just the idea of going to the literal tip of the earth, it's a once in a lifetime opportunity, and to help him get packed and all prepared, we're excited," she said. 

It wasn't cold enough for Baehrend to test any of the gear before the race. He offered to take Diana to Antarctica, but she told him it was too cold for her. Instead, she'll join his next races — in Australia and South Africa. 

Baehrend was planning on making Antarctica the last of his "Seven Continents." It's probably the most expensive race in the world, and the cost to travel and participate in the run made him pause. But a generous, $16,000 gift from his father, Walter, motivated him to move it up the list. 

"I've done 100 marathons in 40 years, so I'm not too worried about" this race, he said. "I was worried about getting eaten by a polar bear, but then I found out polar bears are only at the North Pole, not the South Pole. So I think I'm going to be OK."

Reader Comments

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Elizabeth Hughes O'Brien from Oak Park  

Posted: November 23rd, 2017 7:59 PM

But the penguins, Ed. They're vicious. Watch out dude.

Joe Cassano from Cicero I'll 60804  

Posted: November 23rd, 2017 5:11 PM

A great race for a great friend of mine keep strong baby

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