Runners race, raise cancer funds at Antarctic Ice Marathon
Summer doesn't mean much in Antarctica; temperatures can drop below zero, even colder with the wind chill.
But for two local men, it seemed the best time to check one continent off the list in a challenge to run on all seven, while at the same time raising money and awareness for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. On Dec. 12, Shawnee resident Mark Andresen and Mike Ketchmark of Leawood will run in the Antarctic Ice Marathon, dedicating their run to the memory of Andresen's father, who died earlier this year after an eight-year battle with cancer.
"When my dad ended up passing, I thought, 'You know what, this is exactly what would be good to raise some money,'" Andresen said. "... It's something we could do in his honor. I was driving back from the funeral when I called (Ketchmark) to say 'I'm in.'"
Raising money for leukemia and lymphoma has special meaning for both men. Andresen's father had lymphoma, a chronic cancer of the blood, and Ketchmark used to be on the board of directors for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.
Andresen owns a consulting firm and Ketchmark is a lawyer. Both belong to the 350-member Gary Gribbles Running Sports running club. They already had a goal to join the Seven Continents Club, a group of about 140 people who have run a marathon on all seven continent. Another member of their running club is a Seven Continent member.
They began their seven-continent quest last year when they ran a marathon in Buenos Aires, Argentina, knocking South America off their list. And of course, they don't have to worry about North America. Ketchmark also ran a marathon on the Great Wall of China in May, giving him a third continent.
Ketchmark found out about the Antarctic Ice Marathon while doing some research.
"Most people who go down to Antarctica to run go on a boat and run along the peninsula," Ketchmark said. "But we went online and found a race that's the only race run on the interior of Antarctica."
It's a race that has been run just twice before, a few hundred miles from the South Pole. The race will require flying to Chile, then taking a Russian ice plane to the only blue ice runway in Antarctica. They'll stay at a private, civilian base supplied by the Chilean Air Force, where they'll camp outside and wait for the weather to be clear enough to run.
For the marathon itself, a snowmobile will make a track to outline the route. Every five miles, snowmobiles will hand out water.
To run the 26.2-mile marathon, the two plan to just dress like they would for a cold weather run here. They've trained in special shoes with more traction, and they can't have any skin exposure for fear of frostbite, so they will run with ski-goggles, face masks and big, heavy gloves.
To train, Ketchmark and Andresen plan to run in cold weather as much as possible in addition to Saturday morning runs with their running club. They have been in training for the last 16 weeks and Andresen also runs every Tuesday and Thursday morning, as well as some Mondays.
Ketchmark said one American who ran in the Antarctica marathon last year ran in an underground freezer.
"We're kind of limited here, and all we can hope is it gets real cold between now and when we leave," he said.
"There's no way you can replicate that condition anyway," Andresen added.
With only 15 people competing from around the world, Andresen and Ketchmark joke that it could be their chance to be first in a marathon, though this marathon is much less a race than most marathons.
"It's not a race for speed," Ketchmark said. "Most marathoners are out trying to get a certain time; this is just purely endurance. You want to finish."
They'll need boots rated for 100 degrees below zero and sleeping bags rated for
40 degrees below zero. Typical wind chills for this time of the year are in the neighborhood of 4 degrees Fahrenheit. The plane leaves after they're dropped off, and can't come back until the weather clears. If the weather is good, the runners will be there for five days.
"They tell you that you should be prepared to be there for up to two weeks if there's a problem," Ketchmark said.
If that happens, it could mean Andresen and Ketchmark won't be home for Christmas, something Andresen jokes his wife won't be too happy about.
"She knows if I miss Christmas, I better raise a heck of a lot of money," he said.
To raise money, Andresen and Ketchmark hope to get help through Team in Training, an organization that works through marathons to raise money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.
"I've seen them for years, and I never paid attention to them, other than saying, 'Look at all these people in the purple shirts,'" Andresen said. "After my dad passed away, it really kind of sunk in that these people are doing a lot; they're raising a lot of money for a society that doesn't get a lot of attention."
Andresen's sister is also helping to keep track of the money the two men raise. They haven't set up a certain function for raising funds, only asking friends and family to make donations in recognition of their efforts. They hope their run will inspire others to donate.
"A lot of times if awareness is just there, and people think, 'You know what, I'm going to donate some money this year, and this is a good place to put it,'" Andresen said.
Donations can be made online on Andresen's blog at markandresen.blogspot.com.
The two are already looking into their future marathons -- one in South Africa called "Ocean to Ocean," and a marathon in Greece based on the original run the Greek soldier Pheidippides made in 490 B.C. from Marathon to Athens to announce the Greek's triumph over the Persians.
They're even looking into a marathon in the North Pole, though that is for the overachievers of the Seven Continent Club.
"It isn't a continent; that's called the Seven-Plus Club," Andresen joked.
As the marathon draws nearer, Andresen said he's getting a little nervous, but he feels he is in race condition and ready to go. Ketchmark agreed that it was easy to feel excited given the meaning behind the race.
"What a cool life experience," Ketchmark said. "You think about the explorers that lost their lives to get across Antarctica, and now we have the ability to land a plane down there, camp and actually run a marathon. What a way to celebrate life, what a way to celebrate Mark's dad's life, to do something like this. It makes our kids think we're superheroes, which is kind of cool, too."
Learn more about the race in which Andresen and Ketchmark will compete at www.icemarathon.com.