Nancy Fawley holds the sign indicating the Antarctica Marathon mile she sponsored in support of the nonprofit environmental, scientific, and educational organization Oceanites.

Running on the Last Continent: Fawley Checks the Antarctica Marathon Off Her List

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Thursday May 03, 2018

It is fair to say not many people experience the adventure of traveling to Antarctica. In fact, according to the International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators (IATTO), just over 38 thousand people visited in the 2016 tour season. Furthermore, IATTO states the majority visit to solely “cruise the waters of the Southern Ocean and explore the rugged coastline,” while only one percent of them visit the interior of the continent. A fact, not surprising, due to the environment. After all, Antarctica is called the coldest and windiest place on the planet. National Geographic reports 98 percent of the continent is covered with ice. This frozen landmass, combined with the rigors of actually getting there, make Nancy Fawley’s trip to Earth’s southernmost region noteworthy. The fact that she ran a marathon while there, makes it remarkable.

Fawley, a resident of South Burlington, ran the Antarctica Marathon this March as one of 200 competing in either the full or half-marathon event. She says, “My finishing time for the race was 4:11:12. I was 12th out of 112 runners and the third female overall,” adding, “It was also my slowest marathon.” It is a comment that speaks to the course itself, gravel roads on King George’s Island that connect the scientific research bases of Uruguay, Chile, China, and Russia. Fawley, who competed in the full marathon distance, said, “We ran on snow, ice, rocks, and gravel, and through a bit of water. We passed the same runners in our group again and again so there was quite a bit of camaraderie as we cheered each other on. What surprised me the most had nothing to do with the marathon; there were icebergs in the distance that were an indescribable shade of blue.”

The runner moved to the Green Mountain State from Las Vegas three years ago to be the director of information and instruction services at the University of Vermont’s Bailey/Howe Library. It was a career move which ended up supporting Fawley’s training to compete in Antarctica. Having had to run locally in wind, snow, and sleet, she said, “As someone who has lived in extremely warm climates for 13 years before moving here, running in the Vermont winter is my least favorite thing to do, but, in this case, it served me well!”

To get to the Antarctica Marathon, Fawley reports she traveled to Buenos Aires before continuing on to Ushuaia, a resort town at the southern tip of Argentina, to board one of the Russian polar vessels that served as her home for the 10-day expedition to the last continent. She and other racers sailed through the Beagle Channel across the Drake Passage, through the Shetland Islands and along the Antarctic Peninsula until reaching King George’s Island. According to event organizers, Marathon Tours and Travel (MTT), “Great care is taken to leave behind zero impact on the environment in this sensitive ecosystem.” In this vein, they only have a maximum of 100 passengers ashore at a time. Since the race inception in 1995, MTT has raised over $200,000 for Oceanites, the nonprofit scientific organization that monitors the effects of climate change and the impact of tourism on Antarctica.

“On race day, we put on a wetsuit and boots over our running gear and took a zodiac boat to the start. We had about 15 minutes to change into running shoes on a plastic tarp before the race started,” explained Fawley. She adds, “We had to be completely self-sufficient and carry all the water and nutrition we needed for the race and afterwards. When the race was done, we quickly put our boots and wetsuits back on and were transported back to the ship to prevent any hypothermia from setting in.”

To ask why one would want to race in such formidable conditions would be a fool’s question. Athletes since the dawn of time have looked to challenge themselves, and Fawley, a current member of the Seven Continents Club (SCC), is no different. The club includes individuals who already have or are working towards running a marathon on all seven continents. According to MTT, to date, 455 men and 221 women have completed the exclusive quest at the marathon distance. For Fawley, having run marathons in Asia, Europe, North and South America, Antarctica was the fifth continent on which she successfully finished a marathon.

“I learned of the SCC about three years ago when I signed up for the Antarctica Marathon, there is about a three-year waiting list. At that point, I had already run marathons on three continents, so I thought it would be a piece of cake to aim for all seven. I love to travel, so this goal allows me to do that and see the world,” says the athlete, adding, “It will be a big achievement when I finish. Training for a marathon is a big commitment, especially when you squeeze it in to your professional and personal life.”
Fawley was inspired to run by her father. She says, “Running together was something we would do after work and on weekends when we would compete in local races.” Calling him her role model, Fawley adds, “I would always call him the night before a race for advice and he would always tell me the same things: trust your training and don’t start out too fast. He ran up to three months before he passed away from Parkinson’s Disease a few years ago. I would like to be able to continue to run for that long in life.”

Long distance running is a large part of Fawley’s identity and she credits it to teaching her patience, discipline, and confidence, all transferable skills she uses in other areas of her life, including her career. She recalls, “About a month after I ran my first marathon, which was in Dubai, I was waiting to give the opening remarks for an international conference I had taken the lead in planning. There were diplomats and members of the royal family in the audience, this was in Doha, Qatar, and I was a nervous wreck. I calmed my nerves by reminding myself that I had just run 26.2 miles. A 15-minute speech that I was well-prepared to give was nothing compared to that.”

Having completed a total of 15 marathons to date, Fawley reports that one of her favorites was her second, the Deep River Rock Marathon in Belfast, Northern Ireland. “I was able to see so much of the city, the Catholic and Protestant areas, parts of the peace wall that separate the two areas, and the murals that are part of that history, on foot while I ran the marathon. It was a special experience for me; two of my great grandfathers emigrated from small towns in Northern Ireland.”

Another memorable race was the Easter Island Marathon last June. “I was the second-place woman and people kept screaming at me to ‘Vamos!’ It was a small pool and I had never been one of the leaders before.”

Fawley keeps a consistent training schedule throughout the year. In addition, she reports, “Lately, I have also been focusing on the mental aspect of sports performance and working on visualization and positive self-talk or mantras.” With the tenacity and diligence of a high-performance athlete, Fawley says, “There are many times during a marathon when your mind and body are screaming at you to stop. Of course, that is all forgotten once you cross the finish line and you are planning your next race.” For this runner, that next race is the Covered Bridges Half Marathon in Woodstock this June. In the same breath, she continues, “And hopefully, I will run a marathon in August.”

Noting the benefits of running as a whole, Fawley says, “I am always surprised how my body responds to consistent exercise, although there are plenty of days where it does not seem like I am seeing any improvement.” She adds the ultimate advice for any marathoner, “You just have to believe in the plan and be patient.”


SOURCE: Carole Vasta Folley, The Other Paper