Shadyside Jewish resident Sheila Snyder recently returned from Union Glacier Camp, located 600 miles from the South Pole, where, with a group of fellow international travelers, she ran the 2019 Antarctic Ice Marathon. Prior to departing Pittsburgh International Airport for a series of flights leading to Earth’s southernmost continent — stopovers included Atlanta, Georgia, Santiago, Chile and Punta Arenas, Chile — Snyder, 25, had never run farther than 13.1 miles. In fact, her intention when arriving at the full-service private camp was to run the half marathon distance, like she did in Brooklyn months earlier. But plans changed after Snyder met Canadian octogenarian Roy Jorgen Svenningse.
“Roy is 84 years old and we stopped to get water together, and he kind of looked at me and he’s like, ‘You’re doing well,’ and I was like, ‘Thank you. I just finished a half and I think I’m going to call it quits,’ and he was like, ‘I’m doing the full. You know what would be really awful is if you look back and you start running, and you’re like, I’ve done all these races, but I didn’t complete a full marathon in Antarctica.’ So I kind of just kept going,” recalled Snyder.
Challenging conditions threatened Snyder’s convictions, as temperatures hovered around 5 degrees Farenheit with 31 m.p.h. winds.
“At times it felt like I was being pushed backwards, especially because of the snow and the ice,” said Snyder. “It was kind of like running on sand, except it was slippery and cold.”
Snyder wore La Sportiva trail running shoes and relied on layered clothes and hiking gear to weather the 26.2 mile route. Though windbreaker pants, glove liners and ski mittens helped, being on a course where runners remained largely out of view from one another created a “surreal” experience, she said. “At times I was like, ‘Wow, I’m in the middle of nowhere by myself in a place that’s totally desolate and freezing temperatures.”
Union Glacier Camp is located below the Ellsworth Mountains and is accessible by a 4.5-hour chartered flight from Punta Arenas, Chile. The private camp is operated by Antarctic Logistics & Expeditions LLC and is open November through January, when the weather is least oppressive.
Average windchill temperatures during the Antarctic Ice Marathon are –4 degrees Fahrenheit, according to race organizers. The course is nearly 2,300 feet above sea level.
“I wasn’t physically ready for this event. I didn’t really train for it,” said Snyder. Nonetheless, “I kind of felt like I was mentally ready. I just kept telling myself that I’m going to complete it after I talked with Roy, and then I ended up completing it.”
After finishing the race in seven hours, 22 minutes and 36 seconds, Snyder donned a “Stronger Than Hate” emblazoned hat above her baklava.
“I just felt like I was doing it for Pittsburgh,” she said. “I feel like we’ve overcome so much as a community and as a city, so it was kind of emotional.”
Snyder, who works for her family’s multifamily housing real estate division, was encouraged by her mother to take part in the experience.
Doing so was an opportunity to come “full circle,” explained Snyder: “Six years ago, I actually got a blood infection while I was in college. I was really sick, so sick that I could barely walk, and I had to take a semester off from the University of Michigan.”
Finishing the marathon was another opportunity to top expectations, explained Snyder, a mountaineer who in recent years has summited Aconcagua, Kilimanjaro and Mt. Blanc.
“I’m not a runner so this for me was a huge challenge, and I actually didn’t really tell anybody about it because I was kind of unsure of how it would end,” she said.
Snyder placed 10th out of 15 women. Lenka Frycova of Czechoslovakia took first in the division with a time of 4:40:38. William Hafferty of the United States placed first for the men, and set a new course record with a time of 3:34:12.
Snyder returned to Pittsburgh on Dec. 16, nine days after heading off for unknown adventures. With the marathon now behind her, she is eager to explore new challenges and perhaps tie them to fundraising efforts: “I’d like to contribute in some way.”
Charity runs, walks and rides, in which individuals solicited others for nonprofit support, raised more than $1.39 billion in 2018, according to The Peer-to-Peer Professional Forum.
Apart from isolated stretches along a frozen course, much of Snyder’s Antarctica stay was spent with fellow travelers who also traversed a barren land in search of personal goals.
What Snyder learned from her “once in a lifetime” experience, she said, is that “when you put your mind to something, you can really do anything.” PJC
Adam Reinherz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.