Five Australian runners have raced across Antarctica and into the record books, braving sub zero temperatures, 80 km/h winds and some meddling penguins to become the first team in history to complete the 4 Deserts, the world’s leading endurance footrace series.
The team, which includes Sydney amateur runner Greg Donovan, his son Matthew Donovan, 61-year-old Ron Schwebel, Jess Baker and type 1 diabetic Roger Hanney, crossed the finish line after running nearly 150 km over seven days across the Antarctic wilderness.
Running the equivalent of a marathon each day, the team became the first in the world to achieve the 4 Deserts ‘Grand Slam’, having already completed ultramarathons in the Atacama Desert in Chile, the Gobi Desert in China and the Sahara Desert in Egypt this year.
Known as Born To Run, the extraordinary mission was started by Greg Donovan to raise funds for type 1 diabetes research after his own son, Stephen, was diagnosed with the potentially fatal type 1 juvenile diabetes at age 14.
The team had to overcome a series of setbacks and obstacles to complete the final leg of their 4 Deserts journey, starting with their stopover in Argentina. Youngest team member Matthew Donovan became violently ill with suspected food poisoning in Ushuaia, only days before the start of the race.
Once on the ice of Antarctica, the team had to run through deep snow, treacherous winds and plummeting temperatures.
Conditions were so bad that stage 2 of the race had to be postponed due to 80 km/h winds and large pack ice along the shore. The race was also interrupted several times due to penguins making their way across the course.
“There were some horror sections where you didn’t know if your foot would sink up to your knee with every step,” said Greg Donovan.
The Born To Run team started their race across 10 locations in Antarctica, dubbed ‘The Last Desert’, on 25 November, joining a field of more than 50 runners representing over 20 countries.
Only 11 runners had achieved the 4 Deserts ‘Grand Slam’ leading into the race and never before had a team successfully completed the series, named by TIME Magazine as one of the ‘Top 10 Endurance Competitions’.
Crossing the finish line together in 16th place, the Born To Run team also collected records for the youngest (Matthew) and oldest (Ron) runner to complete the ‘Grand Slam’.
“There were moments when I was wondering why we did this, as the temperatures plummeted and I was left staggering from side to side in the snow. It was an incredibly gruelling journey, but in every step we lived our motto of fitness for fighting diabetes,” said Donovan.
Now on their way back to Australia, the team are not stopping at four deserts, having pledged to race across five deserts on five continents in aid of type 1 diabetes research.
Donovan recently launched the Born To Run Foundation and a major new endurance running event, the Big Red Run, to be in held in Australia’s Simpson Desert in July 2013 to raise funds for type 1 diabetes research.
“More than 130,000 Australians are living with type 1 diabetes, with six new cases diagnosed every day, so I wanted to do something big to support the search for a cure,” said Donovan.
Based out of Birdsville from 8-13 July, the Big Red Run will give runners and walkers the chance to tackle the iconic red sands of one of the world’s most remote deserts, participating in either the Big Red Run, a 250km six-day stage race, the Born to Run 100km or the Big Red Dash 42km.
Coinciding with National Diabetes Week, the Big Red Run will become the major annual fundraiser of the Born To Run Foundation, with all money raised going to type 1 diabetes research projects.
To make a donation to the Born To Run Foundation or for more information visit: www.borntorun.com.au