Running a marathon is not easy. You have to be physically and mentally ready, and flexible with the things you can't control, like the weather. Now imagine doing all that in one of the coldest places on earth.
WCAI's Kathryn Eident talked Billy Hafferty, a Sandwich High School and Massachusetts Maritime Academy graduate who did just that—he ran 26. 2 miles in the Antarctic Ice Marathon last month, setting a race record.
Eident Billy, thank you for talking with me and congratulations on your accomplishment. And you set a record in this marathon that you ran in Antarctica.
Hafferty I did, yeah. Thank you. I have to say, it was quite unexpected. I didn't even really know what their record was before going into it. It wasn't even on my radar. I was just going down there to support one of my clients. And I finished, and they were like, "I think you broke the record". And then the race director went and checked. And he was like, "Yeah, you broke the record by 35 seconds."
Eident What is this race—it's a marathon—but it's in one of the coldest places on earth. Tell us what it's like.
Hafferty It was a pretty special few days. The whole sense of time down there was pretty wild. You know, the craziest feeling I had down there, because it's summer down at the South Pole, the sun doesn't set. It appears to go beneath the horizon, but there's no horizon at the South Pole. So, the sun just did this weird circle above your head for the whole day. And, it's just something I would never be able to... I'm struggling to put into words just because it's like I got this weird, you know, very profound feeling of like looking out into space, you know, from this planet. You know, I was like really standing on the planet, which I don't know—I don't know how else to describe any better. It really is a very profound feeling.
Eident So how many people participated in this marathon?
Hafferty It's somewhere between 55 and 60, which is a lot lower than typical marathons.
Eident It is. But remember now, it's Antarctica. So, 60 people running across the ice is—I think that's just incredible.
Hafferty Yeah. What was really special about this race was everybody was together from pretty much the start. You're all on the same flight. You know, the flight is just for people going down to Antarctica from Chile for this race. So, you get to meet pretty much everybody over the span of two or three days. And then it's a four-loop course so that people that you're kind of doing circles around, some of the people you've seen once or twice on the course, you get to slap them on the back and say, "Hey, nice job, see you at the finish," and the camaraderie with them was something special.
Eident And, you mentioned that you did this to support a client. Tell me more about why you ended up in Antarctica running a marathon.
Hafferty Yeah. So, a really, really strong runner that I started coaching about a year ago, she lives in Cambridge, and this was her 38th marathon. And, she wanted to run a marathon on every continent. Maybe a month or two into training in Boston, she was like, "I really want to do Antarctica this year."
Eident What is it like to train for something like this? Did you have to change up your routine, or add things for more endurance, or to deal with the cold, or the ice?
Hafferty The ice—there's nothing really you can do about the ice. You just wear some grippier shoes and try not to slide all over the place. But what was interesting was that it's such a dry desert. The snow's like really light sand. And so it's almost like you're either slipping, or trying not to slip, or you're ankle deep in this really soft white powder that you can't seem to get any grip on. There are just so many unseen factors that went into this race. It was a very hard mental game.
Eident I imagine. You know, you mentioned the wind and the bitter cold. Right? Negative degrees? What kind of gear do you wear for that? You mentioned that you just need grippy shoes. But what about keeping yourself warm and protected from, like, frostbite?
Hafferty It's actually an interesting dynamic because you don't want to layer up too much. There are a couple of people that layered up too much and then started to sweat. You go into the headwind and you actually you get more of like a windchill factor and everything kind of starts to freeze. So, you try to play the balance of not sweating so much but keeping your body warm. I had three layers on. I had a base player, a wind breaking layer, and then a shirt above that.
Eident You really are multitasking, I imagine, between staying up on the ice and snow, dealing with that cold, and then actually trying to make a good time with your run and keep a good pace.
Hafferty It was very interesting when you're going into the headwind... You know, one effort level is like, you know, an 8:30- or nine-minute mile. And then you make one small change in direction, and the same effort level, you're running at seven-minute miles. It's just the wind at your back totally takes you for a ride.
Eident You're graduate of Sandwich High School; did you run in high school, and are there places on the Cape that you like to train or run?
Hafferty Yeah, yeah, yeah. My parents live in Sandwich. I didn't run in high school. I was captain of a football team, my senior year, and I thought the cross-country guys are crazy when they would go off on their, like, three-mile runs. And I say to myself like, "Oh man, those guys run three miles every day. They're wild, like, how do they do that?" And after college, I got into it myself and my first run was like a half a mile. I was like, "Oh, man, I'm going to do that again tomorrow." And half a mile turns into a mile turns into a 5K and anybody can start doing it. I firmly believe that.
Eident Well, Billy Hafferty, thanks so much for talking with me about your experience. And good luck with future races.
Hafferty Alright Kathryn, bye now.
This transcript was lightly edited for grammar and clarity.