Race Around the World

I don't remember if I took this on purpose or not, but I like it.

I don’t remember if I took this on purpose or not, but I like it.

I don’t know when it started, but the Race Around the World was until recently memory just laps around the station or laps around the pole. It’s now maybe 80% a serious race and 20% the Bay to Breakers. A few people take it very seriously, and a few people run in costume. I should have tried to put together a centipede and maybe gotten it up to 25% B-to-B.

The normal work week at South Pole is six-on, one-off. With the 25th on a Tuesday this year there was a seven-day week, with the 24th and 25th off. That’s us desk-workers. Some folks don’t really get much off at all: kitchen staff are still cooking, if planes are flung then the cargo and materials staff have things to do, as do the fire fighters and fuelies. This week will be five days on, and the New Years weekend for Monday and Tuesday, four days on, and then Sunday off to get back to the usual schedule. That will be January, and I’m sure I’ll start to feel sort-timer by than.

Picking up numbers, writing down names.

Picking up numbers, writing down names.

Race-time is 10:00; registration for a number and an official time had been days before, but I think people were signing up still when folks were picking up numbers in the galley. There’s no reason to be draconian about these things. We had to get a special shipment of safety pins from McMurdo for pinning numbers on folks. I’m sure something else would have happened had they not arrived.

I signed up for 53, and had decided to ski the route. I’ve been out skiing here maybe three other times. Cross-country skiing conditions here are pretty bad. The boots stay in my room, to stay warm and flexible. If my skis were warm they’d just ice up as soon as they hit the snow. Of course, just carrying them through the beer can they would probably get below freezing by the time I got them outside, but I don’t need them cluttering my room. I doubt I’ve seen more than a dozen people skiing this summer, but there might have been 80 pairs of boots in the ski shack. Skiing, I probably kept a pace of a South-Pole brisk walk, but got a lot more winded doing so.

One of the bigger issues is trying to get enough breathing done to keep the oxygen flowing without freezing my windpipe. Some of the outdoor workers here have had coughs since October. Breathing through a neck gaiter or scarf helps, but it ices up and can restrict breathing, and always ends up making my sunglasses fog up as well. I skied the whole race with nothing over my mouth and did end up coughing for the rest of the day, but recovered by the evening.

We had been having ping-pong ball weather on the 23rd, and have it again today, the 26th — there’s almost no horizon, very low visibility and the ground and sky are both bluish-white — but the 24th and 25th were gloriously clear and sunny, with low wind and maybe about -12F. Perfect skiing weather.

Someone had to go out and groom a lot of this. Most of it is on existing trails, though. Vehicles are on a separate track

Someone had to go out and groom a lot of this. Most of it is on existing trails, though. Vehicles are on a separate track

The track for the race is 1.75 miles, groomed to accommodate skiers and walkers, and is not great for skiing. It’s mostly ice and kind of lumpy and bumpy. As you might have guessed, we aren’t talking waxed skis, but used and abused scale-bottom cross-country skis here. I don’t miss waxing much, and I can’t blame either the equipment or the trial; it’s pretty clear that the weak link in the skiing experience for Barry is Barry. I might be in as good shape as I’ve ever been, but that doesn’t make me very athletic.

When I started to take this, I wasn't as far back.

When I started to take this, I wasn’t as far back.


I hung back from the start to give the people who cared a chance to get a clean go, and was one of the last people from the start. I was keeping up with the trailing walkers pretty well. No glide, no kick. I did see some of the front-runners coming back from ICL as I was entering the first loop. I was tempted to cut the loop, but resisted. I wish I had been tempted to take more photos of the front-runners; I’m sure they would have appreciated that. It can be a bit of a struggle to get out of gloves enough to get out the camera and press the correct buttons, let alone actually thinking clearly enough to decide to.

I'm not sure who this is, but they are running hard.

I’m not sure who this is, but they are running hard.

At the end, all icy-bearded.

At the end, all icy-bearded.


Okay, five minutes I could manage.

Okay, five minutes I could manage.

Winners get a gift certificate to the store, a long shower, and a trip to McMurdo for the marathon. Most of us have forgotten how to take a 10-minute shower.

Winners get a gift certificate to the store, a long shower, and a trip to McMurdo for the marathon. Most of us have forgotten how to take a 10-minute shower.

There are two big events on Christmas Day: Dinner and the Race Around the World. I hope to be writing about dinner soon, but first the Race. [One of the problems with trying to keep blogging chronological is that I’ve already lost lots of events to the snowplow of time. A few might resurface, or get transformed more into “theme” postings of some kind, but some things aren’t going to make it out.]
I finished in 31:56, unofficially, it seems. For some reason my time didn’t get recorded, but I crossed at the same time as someone else. Perhaps without the photo-stops and the late start I might really have finished under a half-hour. The winning time was 12:30, with second place a close one second after. Woman’s first-place was 14:13. Aside from the fabulous prizes, the first-place man and woman get to go to McMurdo for the marathon. Historically polies have an advantage from having been at 10,000 feet for training and racing in MacTown at sea level. We’ll also be having our own marathon and half-marathon on December 31st. The record for that is 4:02:15, set by Ricky. I may try to organize a 1024th and maybe

Jeffrey works the AM breakfast line, so had to miss the Race. He's got a fine blog.

Jeffrey works the AM breakfast line, so had to miss the Race. He’s got a fine blog.


Everyone got a water-bottle, but this year austerity snuffed out the T-shirt. And I do mean everyone, runners, spectators, race officials all. Brunch after, and lots of water. It was a hoot.

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4 responses to “Race Around the World

  1. Wow, -12 F! That’s positively balmy! (Or perhaps, negatively balmy.) Can you tell the difference between -12 F and say -40 F? Are they both indistinguishably fricken’ cold? Or is it the difference between “really fricken’ cold” and “absolutely incredibly fricken’ cold”?

  2. You said you had to take off your gloves to take a photo. I wonder if an underwater case, with a button intended for gloved fingers, woud help. Also, there are cameras where you can tell the accelerometer that just tapping the thing should take a pic.

    Also: Marathon? Outside??

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