Marathon: US runner gets chance to leave cold back at 'the ice'

By Peter Thornton

Catherine Morrell is looking forward to the warmer weather. Photo / Supplied
Catherine Morrell is looking forward to the warmer weather. Photo / Supplied

After being cooped up all winter working in the bitterly cold climate of Antarctica, Catherine Morrell can't wait to feel the sensation of running in warmth.

The 35-year-old American, who has spent the past three winters (February-September) working in Antarctica, has made the trip north to run the trail at Bethells Beach.

Morrell is working as a utility technician in the preventative maintenance shop for the United States Antarctic Programme at McMurdo Station on Ross Island, Antarctica.

She searched the web for races in New Zealand and found the Speight's West Coaster.

"I love New Zealand and was eager to compete in a race there so it was perfect that this race coincided with my departure from the ice," said Morrell.

"This will be my first trail marathon which will be a nice change of pace." It seems off-road running in New Zealand has a growing reputation internationally.

Three athletes from the United States travelled to New Zealand last year to run the West Coaster.

Other events, such as the Abel Tasman Coastal Classic, attract a select number of overseas to enjoy New Zealand's rugged and beautiful cross-country trails.

Morrell, who has also spent two summers working at the South Pole station, explained that outdoor training in Antarctica was pretty much non-existent.

"Besides the extremely cold temperatures and wind chills (ambient temps of -30C to -40C and wind chills going as low as -80C), running on a mix of ice and large volcanic rocks is pretty treacherous," she said.

"Add to that the fact that it is dark from April until August and training indoors makes a lot of sense."

She has done most of her training on the treadmills in the cardio gym at McMurdo Station.

When running outside, Morrell needs to wear a number of layers to protect her skin from the cold and the sun and believes her training on the ice has helped her prepare for the hill running in the West Coaster.

The utility technician, who only last week was at a field camp in Antarctica to service a "rocket toilet" (a toilet with a built-in incinerator), has modest expectations for her performance.

But just running outside in some warmth will be a huge relief to the keen runner.

"I absolutely can't wait to hit the trail on race day," said Morrell.

"Being such a difficult course, I definitely expect it to be much harder than the road marathons I have run.

"My primary goal though is simply to finish and, hopefully, be able to run the entire course without stopping.

"I just hope that the weather is nice - I'm a bit over the cold right now."

- NZ Herald

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