While everyone else in southeast Iowa was looking forward to warmer weather, Nick Pacha went in search of one of the coldest places on Earth when he decided to run a marathon in Antarctica this past March.
Pacha, Superintendent of Parks for the City of Washington, said running is something he has only recently gotten into.
“I did kind of every sport in high school and played football in college,” he said. After college, Pacha picked up running as a new hobby and eventually worked his way up to run his first marathon in Chicago in 2006. He ran the Chicago Marathon again in 2007 and 2010 before finding a company, Marathon Tours and Travel, that did destination marathons. The founders of the company are also the founders of the Seven Continents Club, an exclusive group for people who have run marathons on all seven continents.
He quickly decided getting into the club would be his goal. Having already run a marathon in Germany meant he had two continents down so far, so he began looking further into the details when he discovered the possibility of running in Antarctica.
“I’m not getting any younger, so I thought I better knock off the harder races earlier,” he said.
A treaty in Antarctica says only 100 tourists at a time may step foot on the land. For this reason, the race only takes 200 runners a time, which creates a sizable wait list, and gives runners two separate race days to accommodate the rule.
After three long years on the wait list, Pacha was accepted and began his training. The freezing temperatures Iowa experienced this winter were good prep for his run, but the temperature surprised them all and was warmer than expected.
2019 marked the 20th anniversary for the run and these were the warmest conditions on record. He said on his race day it was 34 degrees and sunny with no wind.
“It was great,” he said. “I definitely lucked out on weather conditions.”
To get to Antarctica, he had to fly from Moline to Atlanta, then to Argentina. He spent three days in Argentina before flying to Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world. From there he boarded a Russian icebreaker and spent two days sailing across the Drake Passage to King George Island.
Once on the island, the race took place on man-made gravel roads that connect different bases on the land. Pacha said one thing that stuck out to him was the “beautiful vastness” of the area and how curious and friendly the animals were because they had not yet learned to be fearful of human contact.
This year, 20 countries were represented and Pacha came in 53rd out of a total of 116 total marathon runners. He said the once-in-a-lifetime experience was unforgettable and something he would recommend to anyone who loves both to travel and to run.
“I think (my favorite part was) just experiencing Antarctica and the vastness of it and the wildlife there,” he said. “It was a wonderful experience and I met a lot of great people and Marathon Tours and Travel did a great job. I highly recommend it.”