Secrets of an Antarctic Marathoner Carol O'Hear, who has run 25 ultramarathons, placed third in her division at last year's Antarctica Marathon. O'Hear has some advice for Jill Homer, who's training to race the human-powered Iditarod this February.
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Secrets of an Antarctic Marathoner

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Secrets of an Antarctic Marathoner

Secrets of an Antarctic Marathoner

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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So frequent visitors to our blog, THE BRYANT PARK PROJECT blog, they've probably been following the journey of a woman named Jill Homer. She is preparing for the human-powered Iditarod in February.


Jill describes herself as someone who, quote, "Likes to bicycle in her horrendous conditions." And, of course, she's not the only one with the taste for the extremes.

STEWART: Ultramarathoner Carol O'Hear has run 25 ultras, and she was the third place woman at last year's Antarctica Marathon. Yeah, a marathon in Antarctica, the coldest, driest and windiest continent, and the one with the highest average elevation.

HOLLOWAY: We have Carol on the line to see if she has any advice for our Jill, and just to see what on earth makes her want to do these things.

STEWART: Hey, Carol.

Ms. CAROL O'HEAR (Ultramarathon Runner): Hi.

STEWART: So, Carol, Runner's World's John Bingham called Antarctica the most difficult marathon experience on the planet. Would you agree with that?

Ms. O'HEAR: I definitely would agree with that. It's definitely not easy conditions. To top off just the running on the snow and ice, you actually have to climb a glacier at two points during the race. And it's about 20 degrees of elevation to get up there. And it's a very difficult race. And most people have to add on at least an hour or two to their normal marathon times.

HOLLOWAY: And that was…

STEWART: To climb a glacier? An extra hour? That's it?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. O'HEAR: Yeah. It's a place during the race. It's the second time around. It's pretty brutal.

HOLLOWAY: Carol, besides, you know, seeing a glacier in front of you, what surprises you about running in those cold conditions?

Ms. O'HEAR: I think the big thing that I really underestimated was the amount of water loss that you have from your body. You don't feel like you're sweating that much because it's so cold out, but because of the dry air, it's really sucking all the moisture out of your body. And I really got behind my electrolyte levels during the race and got a bunch of really bad cramps that really slowed me up.

STEWART: As I mentioned to you once - we've actually been e-mailing back and forth - that we've been following this woman, Jill Homer, who's training for the human-powered Iditarod. And we said, okay, Jill. What questions would you have for Carol, as someone else who trains in extreme circumstances? And Jill wanted to know, she has trouble keeping her water as - well, simply water, because of the temperatures. Did you have a similar situation at all, and what did you do?

Ms. O'HEAR: I think it wasn't as bad in Antarctica. I think she might be running in slightly colder temperatures than we had, because it was the summertime there. But what I used is some water bottles from Ultimate Direction that have a neoprene covers, like a regular plastic water bottle with a neoprene cover. And I carry that in my hand while I'm running. That way I don't forget to drink.


Ms. O'HEAR: It's always there. And I think with the neoprene cover, it both insulates the water and protects your hand from the cold of the water, as well as the constant moving of up and down kind of helps to keep the water from freezing. I also used a camelback-type of thing, a hydration pack, which also has a neoprene-type cover. And I think that being close to my back helps keep things warm. I know on the bike it's a little bit more difficult. I'm not sure if she's going to be carrying things on a sled or whatever. That would be a little bit more difficult to keep warm.

STEWART: So your advice is maybe just keep it close to your body. Use your body's warmth to keep the water…

Ms. O'HEAR: Yeah.

STEWART: …in liquid form.

HOLLOWAY: Antarctica isn't the only extreme race you've run. Can you tell us about some of the others?

Ms. O'HEAR: So, yeah, I've run a couple of hundred milers. I've run the Western States Endurance Run, which is in California, and it combines both a little bit of snow and ice running at a beginning while you're climbing over…

HOLLOWAY: Glaciers?

Ms. O'HEAR: …Squaw Valley ski area. And then you end up in the canyons, where you're dealing with 100 to 110 degree temperatures in the middle of the day, as well as 20,000 feet of elevation gain over course of the race.

STEWART: This is unbelievable. Why do you do this?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. O'HEAR: Oh, I love it, I think it's…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. O'HEAR: Once you get started doing it, it's just the people really that keep you involved. The people that do these sports, these ultra-endurance events, are just wonderful people. Even Antarctica is the same type of mentality. When I was having cramps, somebody actually stopped her race to help me kind of massage my legs out.


Ms. O'HEAR: And sacrificed her time and everything just to help me. And that's just what all of these people who do ultamarathons and endurance events really do for you.

STEWART: Now, I don't want to get too personal, but I know your husband is an ultramarathoner as well. You know, Jill's boyfriend is training to compete in the race with her. Do you - did you and your husband ever - did you train together? And how did that work out?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. O'HEAR: Well, I'm a little bit faster than he is, usually.

STEWART: Take that.

Ms. O'HEAR: But we did train together for the Antarctica Marathon because we were traveling around the world at the time, and I didn't feel comfortable running by myself in a lot of the countries. So we would just do things where we'd go out, and I would run out five minutes and then run back and pick him up. And then run out another five minutes and run back and pick him up, and that sort of thing.

STEWART: And it worked out okay? No fights?

Ms. O'HEAR: No fights at all. He's incredibly supportive of everything I do. And anyone who meets him know that he is just 100 percent a supportive and wonderful person.

STEWART: Well, Carol O'Hear, the ultramarathoner living in Boston - now studying to be a doctor, right?

Ms. O'HEAR: Yeah. I'm actually a resident at Children's Hospital.

STEWART: Carol, thanks a lot for your time, and congratulations on your many accomplishments.

Ms. O'HEAR: Thank you very much.

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