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Journey to the bottom of the Earth

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A Bermudian has gone where few men have gone before.

Price Smith, the son of Henry Smith, the former chief executive officer of the Bank of Bermuda, is still in recovery mode from the accomplishment of a lifetime — a journey to the bottom of the Earth.

For Price, it wasn't only a matter of getting there to take in the sights and sounds of one of the world's most fascinating vistas; he decided that he would push his body to the limits while doing so.

The 32-year-old was among 200 brave souls who tackled the sixteenth edition of the Antarctica Marathon and Half-Marathon this month.

That he placed twelfth overall out of 140 full marathon runners, third in the 30-40 age group, was spectacular in and of itself; to survive the arduous round-trip from the designated port in Argentina before and after travailing 26.2 miles of mostly unkind conditions was something rather special and a measure of significant achievement.

His plan is to run seven marathons on seven continents, ultimately for charity. With Europe (Istanbul), Africa (Cape Town) and Antarctica struck off his bucket list, it is three down and four to go.

“Upon running [the Istanbul Marathon] I realised that what I enjoyed far more than the run itself was visiting new places, mixing in with new cultures and experiencing a new environment on the ground,” the veteran of four marathons told The Royal Gazette yesterday. “I also knew I wanted to raise funds for charity, so I decided I would run '7 on 7' with the intention of raising funds on my final continent. Simply a way to see the world from a different perspective, push myself and hopefully raise some money at the same time.”

That new perspective was provided in spades on King George Island, which is located off the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula.

“If there is an unpleasant surface to run on in this world, it featured prominently on that course, I promise you,” Price said in an extensively detailed blog that covered his journey.

“This place is beautiful, but it is simply the most inhospitable environment imaginable. It's like another planet in terms of its beauty and landscapes, but it's also like another planet in how quickly the environment turns on you.

“I didn't realise planet Earth housed a place where the conditions changed so violently, but also so quickly.”

Price's one stroke of fortune during his nine-day expedition came on the most important day of all, March 9 — because the course could cater to only 100 runners at a time, owing to a desire to leave behind minimal impact on the environment in what is a sensitive ecosystem, the race was spread over two days.

“The weather couldn't have been better,” he said in a relative sense with regard to his finishing time of 4hr 14min. “Someone up there [in the heavens] knew there was a Bermudian running.”

Price's performance earned him fourth place out of the group who were on the first boat, the London-based equity sales trader regretting not doing enough to end on “the first-boat podium” with a chance to figure closer to the overall top ten after the second boat's cargo had completed their run.

In promoting an event that twins as an expedition, Marathon Tours & Travel, the organiser and exclusive tour operator in conjunction with One Ocean Expeditions, regales prospective adventurers with stories of coming “face-to-face with Antarctic gems such as icebergs, penguins, seals and whales”.

Marathon Tours is significant in that Thom Gilligan, who has been responsible for bringing thousands of runners to the Island for Bermuda Marathon Weekend, is the driving force.

The promotion adds: “Historians and scientists will provide lectures on board ship and wildlife excursions during landings in remote areas among seal colonies and penguin rookeries and at research bases.”

What is not mentioned in as flattering terms, though, is the passage to the Antarctic continent from Ushuaia, Argentina, the southernmost city in the world — and the horrors that give rise to the “squeamish” in even the most seafaring of travellers.

After leaving Ushuaia aboard the Akademik Ioffe, a Russian former whale research and sonar location boat, the runners were taken towards the Beagle Channel across Drake Passage, through the Shetland Islands and along the Antarctic Peninsula — often in bleak conditions.

The actual marathon course is on King George Island, which is located off the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula, and has marked gravel roads that connect the scientific research bases of Uruguay, Chile, China and Russia.

The cold, the wind and the icy swells combined to make the journey a byword for survival of the fittest — and Price, despite suffering a nasty cold at the back end of his stay in Antarctica, loved virtually every minute of it.

The highlight, other than the marathon, was the zodiac cruise that took in icebergs, blue sea ice, humpback whales, minke whales, penguins and a particularly curious leopard seal “who seemed obsessed with being the centre of everyone's attention”.

Price, far more modest, does not portray himself as a star of the marathon — “I am a pretty average distance runner at best, if I am honest” — and took to it only after he was left high and dry by a friend with whom he was meant to make his debut.

He ran the race anyway and now, with three more marathons on his CV, Price joins John Buckley and Susan Kovacs as the only Bermudian-based athletes to have given Antarctica the Veni, Vidi, Vici treatment (I came, I saw, I conquered).

For more information on this extreme running adventure, visit marathontours.com and oneoceanexpeditions.com.

Price Smith proudly presents the Bermuda flag having completed the Antarctica Marathon. It is the third of seven marathons that he aims to run on seven continents
Adventurers had time to kayak through the Antarctic Peninsula as part of their package
Who goes there? The famously curious leopard seal proved a hit with all who came across it. It also provided a great photo opportunity
The site of blue ice. Quite spectacular
The wild and the wonderful: one of the smaller, but no less beautiful, Antarctic islands near Neko Harbour

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Published March 20, 2015 at 9:00 am (Updated March 20, 2015 at 9:31 am)

Journey to the bottom of the Earth

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