In 2008, when Hein Wagner set out to run a marathon on every continent, he had to have known it wouldn’t be easy.
After all, the 41-year-old from Cape Town, South Africa, is blind, and he relies on a guide to steer him through tricky terrain.
Wagner must also have known that the South Pole, where he will head later this month for the Antarctica Marathon, would prove especially challenging.
For starters, there’s that little matter of the temperature, though when he lines up on Sunday, March 9, he’ll be more worried about strong winds.
“The cold is inevitable, it’s going to be cold,” Wagner told Runner’s World. “I rely quite a bit on my sense of hearing. If that’s in any way disabled it’s going to be a challenge, no doubt.”
The Antarctica Marathon will be marks Wagner’s ninth 26.2-miler, and with the help of his guide, he’s competed in such high-profile races as the New York City and Hong Kong marathons. His personal best is 3:48—a time he’s not likely to beat this time out.
“This one is going to be slightly slower because of the terrain,” Wagner said. “If we come in around five hours I’ll be more than happy, but I think this is going to be quite a challenge.”
And as if braving bitter cold and powerful gusts to traverse treacherous ground—“slushy mud with snow and ice,” as the course has been described—weren’t tough enough, Wagner will run the race while connected via pole to Nic Kruiskamp, a man he’s never run with or even met.
Wagner’s usual running partner had to drop out due to injury, and while the “adventure enthusiast,” as Runner’s World aptly describes him, is feeling “a bit more comfortable” with the pole that will connect him to Kruiskamp, he says it forces him to move his arm in a “slightly different way” than he’s used to.
Wagner’s tenacity and quest to finish a marathon on every continent aren’t the only things taking him to Antarctica. He’s running to raise money and awareness for the VisionTrust, a nonprofit he started in 2007, and after the race, he hopes to go kayaking amid the humpback whales.
“The motivation is really my fascination with the South Pole,” Wagner said of the trip. “I can’t imagine what the seventh continent looks like, so I have to go there to experience it.”
Photo by Andrew Mandemaker, CC BY-SA
“Our races are to our sport what Wimbledon and the Australian, U.S., and French Opens are to tennis, and what the Masters, U.S., and British Opens and PGA Championship are to golf. Each race has the history, the tradition, the honor roll of legendary champions, and a special place in the eyes of all to make them stand apart from the other events.” Mary Wittenberg