In 490 B.C., Phillipides ran from Marathon to Athens to inform the Greeks of their victory over the Persians. It would prove a turning point in Greco-Persian history. The ensuing 200 years would prove vital to the development of Western Civilization. In honor of Phillipides and his contribution, the first Olympic games in the late 19th century held a marathon. The length would eventually become standardized at 26 miles, 385 yards, which is roughly the distance between Marathon and Athens.
At the completion of his run, as the story goes, Phillipides promptly dropped dead. Hardly the most glorious start to a sporting event. Exhaustion, severe dehydration and accompanying electrolyte imbalances, kidney failure – any and all of these may have played a part in Phillipides’ demise. Regardless of the ultimate cause of his expiration, the root cause does not seem a thing to emulate.
And yet, this last weekend, there was a marathon held here at South Pole. Roughly 26 miles over somewhat packed snow and ice. The originator of the sport died upon completion, but that was like, totally a long time ago. So why not up the ante and hold a similar race at elevation? In the cold? Seems reasonable?
Even on a day of perfect conditions (-8F or so and zero wind), 11 or 12 people exercised stellar decision making and opted to run the South Pole marathon. One lad decided that seemed too much, so he skied.
26 miles seems to me a perfectly good reason to drive. We don’t have many cars here, but snow machines are perfectly capable of covering 26 miles in comfort and leisure. Not being one to spit in the face of technology, I opted not to run the marathon. Seems entirely insulting to Mr Ford to do so.
Instead, I skied about a bit to check in on the runners. It felt like my duty as the on-call medical provider in light of the original marathoners fate. That and it was, as previously mentioned, a really nice day. Not nice enough to get me to run 26 miles though, that’s for damn sure.
The race was won by a wiry scientist. Followed shortly thereafter by a wiry carpenter. They looked to be in relatively good health and spirits after completing the run. But anyone still vertical would look that way through the window in the galley that faced the geographic South Pole (start and end location). Because I was in the galley enjoying a cup of coffee. Because I don’t make poor decisions, like running 26 miles when there are perfectly functional snow machines 100 yards away.
Fortunately, no one has fully emulated Phillipides and decided to die. The post-race injuries have all been entirely routine and mundane. But it still seems like a poor decision to me.