Antarctica is the most inhospitable continent on Earth. Cold and dry, like a desert covered in ice more than a mile thick with mountains that rise more than 10,000 feet above sea level, it's not the ideal place to run a marathon.
But Dr. David Baras, 58, a St. Petersburg physician, will join approximately 50 other runners from 20 countries Wednesday for the Ninth Annual Antarctic Ice Marathon.
"I won't be setting any personal records," said Baras, who will be nearly halfway to his goal of becoming a member of the Seven Continents Marathon Club after completing the Antarctica race. "I just want to survive."
Baras left Saturday for Punta Arenas, Chile, then flew to the race base camp at Union Glacier, about 650 miles from the South Pole.
"Everything is provided as part of the race package," he said. "It is not like you can book your own hotel."
The Ice Marathon route is 13.1 miles. Competitors make two loops and can stop at manned aid stations at five points along the course. The temperature will be a balmy (for Antarctica) 20 below Fahrenheit. And the sun will shine all day and all night.
"The biggest problem for a Florida boy will be the elevation," Baras said. "We will be running at 2,100 feet. It is hard for somebody who lives and runs at sea level to train for those conditions."
Baras has been dreaming of this trip for years. He estimates the adventure will cost him about $15,000 and a week's worth of lost wages.
"That is if we fly home on time," he said. "They told us to be prepared for delays. The winds can be pretty bad down there."
Baras was told to prepare for strong winds. It is not uncommon for Ice marathoners to fight a 15- to 25-mile headwind. But it is the region's legendary Katabatic winds, which can roll down slope from the Ellsworth Mountains at hurricane speed, that are the most dangerous.
"You have to be ready for anything," Baras said. "I guess that is why more people don't do it."
Baras, who specializes in muscle-skeletal sports medicine, runs two 26.2-milers a year. He has run more than 20 marathons, including the challenging Muir Woods Trail Marathon in April.
"I am usually a sub-four-hour kind of guy … just a middle of the packer," he said. "I am not competitive … my goal is always just to finish."
Baras completed his European race — the Dublin Marathon — and hopes to have an event at Easter Island fulfill the requirements for Oceania.
For Africa, he'd like to run the marathon in Ethiopia but hasn't decided whether to go to Japan or Korea for an Asian race. South America is still under consideration.
"But I figured that by doing Antarctica now I'd get the hardest one out of the way," he said.
If successful, Baras will earn a spot in the Seven Continents Marathon Club. To date, 96 marathoners (roughly 20 Americans) have achieved this goal.
"I guess my secret is that I never overtrain," he said. "If I get hurt, or feel like something is coming on, I take care of it quickly. This is a long-term project. I still have to work to pay for all of this traveling."
He said his wife, two daughters and son are supportive of his quest.
"I know it is crazy," he said.