Marathon effort from runners

Cambridge athletes Hughie Castle and Chris Atkinson spoke of their gruelling events at a recent presentation at the local library.

Very little about Chris Atkinson and Hughie Castle’s experiences running marathons in France and Antarctica respectively sounds like a walk in the park.

The pair led a recent interview-style presentation at Cambridge Library, entitled Two Great Marathons of the World.  Those there to quiz them seemed split into two camps, fellow athletes keen on picking up some tips with the rest likely left wondering why they would do it in the first place.

Ultramarathon runner Chris said his participation in the 172 km world Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (UTMB) mountain ultramarathon in August, an event with 10,000m of elevation through France, Italy and Switzerland, saw him struggle to acclimatise as he squared up to the highest running he has faced.  Starting and finishing in Chamonix and circumnavigating France’s highest mountain Mont Blanc, 1757 runners finished of the 2693 who started.

The experienced Cambridge Athletic & Harrier Club member completed the race in 42 hours.  “Within five minutes of finishing I couldn’t stand up.”

He credited his extensive support crew, which included Jo Munn and Lauren Shelley in France, for getting him to the end.  Tough as it was with ‘next level steepness’ coming in waves and the constant need to refuel his body, there were moments of enjoyment in the camaraderie among like-minded runners and the breathtaking scenery.

“It was a real journey for me,” he said. “You know there will be low points, so it’s about how you manage those.  It comes down to problem solving and having a strong support team.”

Hughie Castle, who has run events in New Zealand, the Great Wall of China, and in Rio de Janiero, completed her marathon in Antarctica in March.  She joined a tour group who flew to the bottom of South America then spent two days on a cruise ship sailing to King George Island off the Antarctica coast, battling 4.8m waves at 9 second intervals and in 6.5 knot winds.

“I saw that as part of the adventure,” she said.

The course itself was six laps of a 7km loop with about 1000m elevation and temperatures ranging from around zero to minus 5 degrees C.  It took participants between the Russian, Argentinian and Uruguayan bases on the island, and due to limitations around numbers permitted on the island at any one time, the group was split up.

“Part of the clean Antarctica requirements were that we placed nothing on the ground, so there were tarpaulins laid out on which we had to place our drink bottles,” Hughie said. “Seeing penguins at the start and finish was very cool.”

Hughie’s finish time was 06.17.50.

Perhaps less enjoyable was the ride in Zodiacs back to the ship, a rough cold trip made through broken ice which threatened to puncture the hull, and a death-defying ‘polar plunge’ at the end.

“There is no terrain like it anywhere … it was a fantastic experience,” she said.

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