Imagine the Boston Marathon. Now, imagine it with 13 runners making their way up “Heartbreak Hill” on a sheet of ice and snow in temperatures that are 15 to 20 below zero.
When Curtis Moore left his home in Newburyport to accept a job in the National Science Foundation’s United States Antarctic Program, he surrendered above-zero temperatures, an official “winter” season and darkness. He did, however, bring his love for marathon running.
Running 26.2 miles in temperatures surpassing 15 degrees below zero isn’t something that most people would find enjoyable. Running on ice and snow would make for a difficult situation, and the amount of training that would go into preparing for running a marathon in the arctic would be incredibly time consuming.
But Moore’s love of nature and limited accessibility of running made it worth it for him.
“It’s a nice way to see a place,” Moore said. “I definitely like to be outside. Running is really an easy thing to do anywhere, all you need is your running shoes.”
Moore’s trip to the South Pole for work lasts from Nov. 1 to Feb. 15 -- the Arctic summer season. While the mercury can fall to 30 below zero during the summer, it is balmy in comparison to the 100 below temperatures that winter brings in mid-July.
Moore is currently in his sixth summer at the South Pole. He works at a United States station established in the 1950s that sits at 10,000 feet in elevation. The work he does is all science-based, and involves looking into space with many different types of telescopes.
“Most of the stuff that goes on at the South Pole is astrophysics,” Moore said. “We also do some ice climbing every once in a while.”
Every year, the temperature is something Moore needs to adjust to, but that is not the only thing. Also challenging is the constant sunlight.
“It is definitely interesting,” he said. “To some degree you have to keep an eye on the clock in the evening to know when to go to bed. We are here to work, but it is a little different to get up to go to the bathroom at 3 a.m. when the sun is shining in the window.”
Two weeks ago, Moore competed in a casual marathon with some of the coworkers at his station.
“We are all working here, and somebody on their own time just went out and clocked it,” he said. They named it the “South Pole Marathon.”
“I had fleece lined tights on, a pair of longer wool socks and toe warmers under my toes,” he said. “I wore pretty normal running shoes, mostly because I didn’t have too much else. I wore a neck warmer that came over my face to protect my nose running into the wind, along with long underwear and a fleece top.”
Marathon running is nothing new to Moore, for he has run 40 to 50 marathons in the United States, including the Boston Marathon nine times. While the training regiment remained largely the same, the weather restricted Moore’s preparation to a treadmill.
The art of preparing for a race is something that Moore learned under the tutelage of Newburyport High cross-country coach Don Hennigar. Training in the United States is very similar to the training in some of the world’s harshest regions.
“I think there is a lot of similarities,” Moore said. “It’s all about just being ready to race. I think most of the things I learned under (Coach) Hennigar at Newburyport could be used to prepare for the race in the South Pole. I have been training here and running everyday and trying new things like running a little outside.”
Moore was one of just five people to finish the full marathon, while eight people finished the half marathon. He was running on a track of ice and snow, which he noted made the course feel like sand because of the ice melt that was laid on the course (though the temperature is never warm enough for melting to occur). He wasn’t overly proud of his finishing time, but gave himself a break due to the circumstances.
“It took me 4 hours and 29 minutes, which is definitely my slowest marathon ever, but I’m OK with it,” he said.