Clare ultra marathon runner Keith Whyte wouldn’t be too concerned by Ireland’s current cold snap when he flies into Dublin Airport today.
Whyte is returning from Antarctica where he was crowned 100km Ice Marathon champion in a course record time of 9 hours, 26 minutes and two seconds last week.
With the mercury plummeting from -10 to -26 during the event, it is little wonder that the 33-year-old married father of two, will be relishing a rise in temperatures on his return home.
Whyte, the Irish record holder at 100km, described the race as “a once in a lifetime experience”. “Ultra marathons are what I do,” he explained last night. “I’ve done a good few 100km races in Ireland and around the world and then out of the blue, I got a call on New Year’s Day to see if I was interested in competing in Antarctica.”
Though he missed a large chunk of last season due to injury, the Ennis man, didn’t hesitate in accepting the offer. “Who wouldn’t? This was a once in a lifetime experience.”
But it was only when he arrived at the Union Glacier base camp via a Russia transport carrier from Chile that the enormity of what was ahead began to dawn.
“We set up camp out there two days beforehand. There was constant daylight, which was terrible — I went three days without sleep before the race. The conditions were what scared me most. Here in Ireland you run in your shorts and running vest but out there we had talks from doctors about the potential dangers of hypothermia while there was a special mandatory kit which we had to wear to compete and ensure we didn’t have problems being too hot, or too cold.
“There were so many other things, we take for granted here, that you had to consider before you stepped onto the course. Of course when you were running, it was a unique experience.”
The race itself was over a course of compacted snow and ice. Whyte and 11 other competitors ran five 20km laps. He took charge from the outset admitting that the opening phase came easier than expected.
But there was always the nagging feeling that a simple mistake could have tragic consequences.
He explained: “I lost a glove at one stage. I could feel the frostbite setting in. At the next station we poured warm water on it and after a few minutes the feeling came back into the fingers. If the station had been further away, it could have been more serious. Thankfully we found a replacement glove and I was able to continue.
“Any part of your skin exposed was in danger. I was lucky in that the worst injury I got during the race was very bad windburn on my face. But some of the lads who were out running for longer got snow blindness.
“The weather wasn’t as bad as I feared while I was out there. I was lucky that conditions worsened after I finished — the lads who were still out there for a few hours after me had a very, very tough time.
“In a way you got used to the cold but I found the wind was ferocious.”
Whyte took victory in a course record time, with the second-placed runner almost four hours behind. Whyte laughed: “It was the slowest 100km race that I’ve ran. My record for the distance here at home would be 7.03. That is my next target — trying to break that seven-hour barrier.”
Fellow Irishman Kevin McGeeney came home in second.