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Marathon Planned in Antarctica

January 31, 1999

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Rush McCloy hopes Vermont isn’t much different from Antarctica. He has run in Vermont and is about to try Antarctica.

``It’s summer in the Southern Hemisphere; the temperatures are 10 to 15 degrees,″ said McCloy, a 24-year-old analyst with Chase Securities in New York City. ``In Vermont, it was 10 to 15 degrees. The temperatures were fine.″

McCloy and two friends will join about 130 other adventurers in the 3rd Antarctica Marathon & Half Marathon Feb. 13. The trip and the race are organized by Marathon Tours, a Boston travel agency that specializes in runners. Although McCloy and his friends are running to raise research funds for Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, the others are in it for the pure experience.

``Running the marathon now is commonplace,″ said Marathon Tours’ owner, Thom Gilligan. ``In the ’70s, it was the talk of the cocktail circuit. Now people want to do something off the beaten track.″

It’s hard to get farther off the beaten track than the end of the continent of South America _ after which, the trouble starts.

From Ushuaia, Argentina, the world’s southernmost city, the runners board two former Soviet research vessels for a two-day voyage across the Drake Passage, whose 30-foot seas make it one of the world’s roughest bodies of water. Seasickness is not unheard of. ``We are rocking and rolling,″ Gilligan said.

After a couple of days for recovery and sightseeing among the ice floes and penguins, participants will set out across a race course that includes crossing a boulder field, a seal cove, a glacial stream and a glacier. All must finish the 26.2 miles in under 6 hours, 30 minutes. Those who don’t finish the half marathon in 3 hours, 10 minutes are disqualified.

Sound rugged? ``People didn’t go to Antarctica to have a walk in the sunshine,″ Gilligan said. Weather can turn very nasty; the last race was marked by a blizzard, and ``once you start climbing up a glacier in 40-mile-an-hour winds blowing against you, it takes the romance out,″ he said.

Just the same, it shouldn’t be scary, Gilligan added. For instance, the crevasses in the glacier should be easy to spot _ even easy to climb out of, if a runner falls in.

And good preparation always reduces the risk. McCloy has been training for five months, using the New York City Marathon as a warmup for the Antarctic expedition. In November, he and his friends Basil Seggos and J.J. Hill-Wood began running on snowmobile trails in the mountains of Vermont.

Vermont is as close as they could get to Antarctica and still be within commuting distance of New York City, where they have jobs, McCloy said. As for the boulders, crevasses and glaciers, they’ll have to adjust to those after they arrive, he said.

``I would tell them to keep their eye on the weather,″ commented Andrew Young, a research physiologist at the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine, Natick, Mass. ``You can get on a Web site and check it out. My guess is, yes, it’s cold _ but it’s probably like wintertime here in Boston.″

If the marathoners run hard, they will generate so much body heat that ``they won’t experience any body cooling even if the temperature is as low as minus 20 degrees,″ said Young, who specializes in the effects of cold on soldiers. But if it gets to minus 30, the race should be called off, he said.

The runners plan to dress for the weather, with thick thermal Spandex clothing under an outer shell, Gore-Tex running shoes, double-lined socks, gloves, headgear _ and sunglasses for protection against the wind. ``The scariest thing is lung freeze,″ McCloy said. ``When it gets too cold, I wear a mask around my face that warms the air slightly.″

Runners may also have to look out for each other, especially if they see signs of hypothermia, McCloy said. ``In this race, you are not out for your personal best,″ he said. ``If you see someone fallen, you help them to safety.″

And race organizers need to do the same, especially right after the marathon, Young said. Runners will end the race sweaty and exhausted. The exhaustion could weaken their ability to raise body heat through the repeated muscle contractions of shivering or reduce heat loss by tightening the blood vessels in the skin, he said.