Midnight Mile

“hey doc….”

“what’s up man?”

“I think I need to come to medical. There’s this weird water stuff on my face” as he wipes his brow, breathing heavily and chuckling at his own joke. It’s not often that people are outside and sweating in the Antarctic Winter.

All things considered, it was pretty nice out. -6F and only about 31mph winds. Down here, at this time of year, that is downright balmy. Just the day before, I moseyed over the Gerbil Gym in shorts.

We gathered in Southern, which is a bar in the summer and a lounge in the winter. It has a pool table and some darts, but no alcohol. Unless you bring your own. Which people do. At which point it becomes the best type of non-bar – the one with free beer. From a starting line just outside of Southern there was to be a foot race. The Mid-Winter Mile. Maps of the route were passed around and people discussed various layering systems. You want to stay warm, but not overheat. But you’ve also got to factor in the wind. It was quite the complex discussion. There was a feeling of excitement in the air. And a mild whiff of the previous night’s alcohol.

The” previous night” was the Mid-Winter dinner at Scott Base. Some of the McMurdo residents were invited over. The Lead Physician for McMurdo is also the Lead Physician for Scott Base. So he was invited. Which meant I was grounded. There has to be one of us on-call, on-station at all times. So I had a quiet Saturday evening catching up on movies. It’s my week to be on-call anyway, so not a huge deal. However, some of the folks clearly had a good night. And were continuing the festivities this morning. Bibs with runner’s numbers were passed around along with handmade, welded flasks that the Kiwis made one night. Gotta keep warm and all. Being on-call sucks sometimes.

Once we were bibbed, appropriately layered and ready to run, we all headed outside to the starting line. The route was marked with cones with rocks piled on them. Because even a mild day down here can change quickly.  “123GO!” and we were off. Some had headlamps, because we still haven’t seen the sun in months now. Some wore traction devices on their running shoes, because it’s Antarctica and there is snow everywhere. I had no traction devices and a headlamp. Figured I’d split the difference. It’s only -6F, but the air is so dry that when it’s coupled with the deep breathing associated with running, every breath burns. I had a face mask on, which got damp quite quickly, so the inhaled air was moisturized. I certainly didn’t plan it that way, but I’ll take it. Those without face masks all had pained looks and sore throats at the end. The face mask also makes deep breathing a little more involved. Dry, painful air or having to work harder just to draw air in? Tough call.

We went up the hills, down the hills and round the power plant. It’s only a mile, but damn, that was a tough mile.

We finished at Southern. People were sweaty. They came in sweaty. I haven’t seen that before. The only other time I’ve seen that many sweaty people in one spot was at the first Terror Tykes show. One of the gals on station has some sort of sponsorship with Keen and at the end there were prizes. The winner of each respective category (male >40, <40, female >40,<40) got a Keen brand thermos. Everyone who made it through the mile got a choice of socks or a hat. I went with a new pair of socks. Afterwards, all were rewarded with brunch. Just a Sunday in Antarctica.

Also, yes, there is a medevac going on at South Pole. It is the third time one has been attempted in the history of winters at South Pole. At this point, we are involved. This is an ongoing operation and the National Science Foundation has asked that any inquiries be directed to their statement, which can be found at: https://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=138914

There are other news articles out there, but not all of them are accurate, so please take anything you read with a grain of salt.

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