World's Coldest Marathon Underway

At the bottom of the world, 49 brave souls run 155 grueling miles

One of the more unusual ultra-marathon events in the world got underway this past weekend with the start of The Last Desert marathon in Antarctica. The event annually draws a group of very dedicated runners who travel to the bottom of the world to compete in an endurance event in one of the more extreme environments on the planet.

The seven-day, six-stage race is the fourth and final event in the 4 Deserts ultra-marathon series. In order to compete in the Last Desert, the 49 competitors, from 27 countries, first had to finish at least two of the other three events. Those races are held in the Sahara, Atacama and Gobi Deserts and are equally as grueling as this one.

The Last Desert course covers 250 km (155 miles) that are spread out over six days of racing. During that time, the athletes will visit such locations as the South Shetland Islands, Jougla Point, Petermann Island and Deception Island, each forming a dramatic backdrop for what promises to be one of the most difficult endurance challenges they will ever face.

Simply getting to the starting line is an endeavor. The competitors first had to fly to Ushuaia, Argentina, where they boarded a ship to sail across the infamous Drake Passage, a place that is known for its rough seas and unpredictable weather. With that crossing complete, they were then free to begin their week-long test of endurance, during which they are running more than a marathon each day in conditions that include plenty of ice and snow that can be up to a meter deep.

The Last Marathon will run through Sunday. At its completion, the entire group will once again sail across the Southern Ocean to return to Ushuaia.

All in all, it's a pretty amazing event. I have a great deal of respect for these men and women and their obvious love for running long distances in what can safely be called less than ideal conditions.

This story first appeared on The Adventure Blog.