84-year-old Canadian becomes oldest person to run Antarctic marathon
TORONTO -- An 84-year-old Canadian man who has been running marathons for over half a century can now check one of the planet’s most challenging races off his list.
After a gruelling 11 hours and 41 minutes, Roy Jorgen Svenningsen became the oldest person ever to cross the finish line at the Antarctic Ice Marathon.
But he almost didn’t make it.
“At one point, I thought, I don’t think I’m going to do this all the way,” Svenningsen told CTVNews.ca Monday from a hotel room in Chile.
The Edmonton man spent a year training for last Friday’s 42-kilometre race. He’s been running ever since 1964, when he completed a race in Calgary. His personal goal: to complete a marathon on every continent.
Edmonton winters can be tough, but they don’t hold a candle to Antarctica’s icy winds.
“In Edmonton, we had a very mild winter. We had just a little bit of snow. It wasn’t anything comparable to the temperature or the snow that they have here,” he said.
Svenningsen geared up for the race with two layers of socks, a touque and running shoes with tiny spikes, for added traction. The skies were clear on race day, the temperature a frigid -15C.
Thanks to Svenningsen’s layers, warmth wasn’t a problem. But by the 20th kilometre, he began to feel weak. He spoke with a doctor, who recommended he drink some soup. That helped, but after another few kilometres, he felt the exhaustion come on again.
The real problem: blowing Antarctic winds and a fresh dusting of snow were adding another layer of resistance.
What kept him going, Svenningsen said, was the simple drive to cross the finish line.
“I wanted to finish it, and that was it,” he said. “I just thought I better get it done.”
Svenningsen spent the second half of the race walking and jogging. Hours later, he finally reached the final kilometre. Someone passed him a Canadian flag to cross the finish line, and his fellow runners gathered around to cheer.
He celebrated with a hot shower and a long nap.
Race director Richard Donovan lauded the Canadian man’s record-breaking feat.
"I think he’s truly an inspiration for all generations and a remarkable ambassador for Canada,” Donovan told CTVNews.ca.
Svenningsen, a retired oil worker, is now one major step closer to completing his personal goal of running a marathon on every continent. Australia and South America are his only outstanding destinations.
“I’m not going to rush into it. Both would be rather costly as well, and I’ve got to give my pocket book a little fresh air,” he said.
The Antarctic Ice Marathon is the planet’s southernmost race and is considered one of the toughest. For an entry fee of $24,800, participants are flown to and from Antarctica via Chile’s southernmost airport, fed and lodged in tented accommodations, and provided professional photos of their once-in-a-lifetime run.
Svenningsen will spend the next few days recuperating in Chile before returning to Edmonton.
The winner of this year’s race was William Hafferty of the U.S., who set an event record time of 3 hours, 34 minutes and 12 seconds. However, winning times dramatically differ from year to year based on weather conditions.
Temperatures at Union Glacier hover around -9 C this time of year. That’s much warmer than the South Pole, about 1,100 kilometres away, where the temperature Monday morning was a brisk -26 C.
The Antarctic Ice Marathon is one of two races on the ice-crusted continent. The other is the Antarctica Intercontinental Marathon, set to take place in February.