Runners usually say the best way to explore a new place is to run through it. But Hein Wagner, of South Africa, plans to take that one step further by running the Antarctica Marathon next weekend.
Wagner, 41, of Cape Town, South Africa, will become the first ever blind runner to complete the Antarctica Marathon on March 9.
“The motivation is really my fascination with the South Pole,” Wagner said in an interview with Runner’s World Newswire. “I can’t imagine what the seventh continent looks like so I have to go there to experience it.”
In 2008, one of Wagner’s running partners suggested they try to run a marathon on every continent in the world. Wagner, an adventure enthusiast, quickly agreed and knew Antarctica would prove the most challenging.
“The cold is inevitable, it’s going to be cold,” said Wagner, but what he is most concerned about is the wind. “I rely quite a bit on my sense of hearing. If that’s in any way disabled it’s going to be a challenge no doubt.”
Wagner, who has completed eight marathons including the New York City Marathon and Hong Kong Marathon, as well as longer distances like the Two Oceans 56K in South Africa, has a personal best of 3:48. However, in Antarctica he’s hoping to just finish.
“This one is going to be slightly slower because of the terrain,” he said. “If we come in around 5 hours I’ll be more than happy but I think this is going to be quite a challenge.”
The terrain of the Antarctica Marathon is described as slushy mud with snow and ice. To train for the conditions, Wagner ran on a treadmill in a temperature-controlled room. The temperature in the room got down to -20 degrees Celsius.
Although it is summer right now in South Africa, Wagner was able to do a little winter training while on a business trip in Oslo, Norway.
“It was -12 (degrees Celsius) and it was snowing quite a bit,” he said. “It was the first time in 41 years that I’ve had a physical interaction with snow.”
Wagner said since most of his training was done on the treadmill in the temperature-controlled room, he was able to test out some of his gear.
“I’ll start with a Gortex layer on the skin, that’s top and bottom and also some protective layering,” he said. “It’s all about the layering.”
Wagner said on top of his Gortex layer he plans to wear Merino wool layers, a thermal beanie, some very warm socks, and he has two pairs of shoes to chose from - one can withstand up to -5 degrees Celsius and the other, -50 degrees Celsius.
“It’s a fine balance between wanting to be warm and you also want to be able to run,” he said.
Wagner will be running with Nic Kruiskamp as his guide. He said they’ve actually never trained together but since his regular running guide had to drop out due to injury, he scrambled to find a replacement.
“I’ve never run with Nick before but he was very keen to step in the last minute,” he said. “I’m only actually meeting Nick for the first time on Sunday.”
Wagner and Kruiskamp will run with a pole connecting them. Due to the rough terrain and possible windy conditions, Wagner said the pole will help to keep them closer together.
“It is quite different because you have to move your arm in a slightly different way and you have to be in sync,” he said. “I’m a bit more comfortable with it now.”
Wagner, is also running the marathon to raise funds and awareness of the VisionTrust, a non-profit he created in 2007 aimed at making the world more accessible for the disabled.
He said he is also looking forward to spending time in the South Pole, an area that has been “so untouched by human hands.” After the marathon, he has plans to go kayaking around the humpback whales, and while he won’t be able to see them, he’ll hear them.
“Through the eyes of my friends, to experience that part of the world will be phenomenal,” he said.