Booth ices global feat

GLOBETROTTING grandfather Michael Booth has completed his marathon round-the-world running mission.

When the 59-year-old trudged through ice, slush and mud to cross a finish line on King George Island, just off the Antarctic Peninsula at the southern end of Drake Passage, surrounded by impressed Russian scientists and disinterested gentoo penguins, clad in two layers of thermals, thick cycling gloves, a beanie, neck-warmer and Essendon jumper, he became the eighth Australian, and first Tasmanian, to officially complete a marathon on all seven continents.

Appropriately, crossing the line with him was David MacFarlane, who had first inspired his passion with distance running nearly a decade earlier, while presenting his medal was wife Christine, who had shared the seven-year global odyssey.

It was a quest which took the Booths from Hobart to South Africa, the US, Greece, China and Brazil before Antarctica. It may have cost many thousands of dollars, but yielded a lifetime of memories to go with the athletic achievement.

``After the first couple I realised it was a way for Christine and me to take some really nice holidays and see the world,'' Booth explained.

``Through this we've been on an African safari, seen Niagara Falls, been around the Acropolis and Greek Islands, been to Hawaii, seen the Great Wall of China and ancient city of Beijing, swum at Copacabana Beach and watched penguins in Antarctica. 

``Really the marathon just fills one day in a two-to-three week adventure.

``It's been a challenge and an adventure, but it's also just been a lot of fun.''

The father-of-four and grandfather-of-five's enjoyment of his travels should not belittle his impressive accomplishment.

Since 2002, when MacFarlane introduced him to long distance running with a 46-kilometre trek from Dove Lake to Pelion Hut on the Overland Track and out down the Arm River Track, he has amassed 27,803km of running.

Every step is meticulously catalogued by the methodical accountant, along with accompanying information ranging from lessons learned, such as ``South Americans do not know what a hot chocolate drink is'', to items found, such as ``$25 in a child's purse which I donated to charity then claimed the tax deduction''.

The 2003 Cradle Mountain Run and Three Peaks Race launched Booth's distance running achievements but it was completing the 2007 Comrades Marathon over a total of 89km from Pietermaritzburg to Durban in South Africa which was the springboard for his global quest.

A passion was becoming an obsession.

Booth was already well on the way to completing a marathon in every Australian state and territory, a feat he achieved in Adelaide two years later in an excellent average time of 3 hours 38 minutes.

Comrades - which remains his furthest, and proudest achievement - had opened his eyes.

``When I did my first marathon I thought `I'm enjoying this and think I'm suited to it' but after Comrades I decided to try and do one on each continent.

``It was not something I rushed into because finance dictated that it was stretched out over those years.

``I honestly did not think I would achieve it because the logistics of Antarctica seemed so far-fetched.

``After Boston, which was my third continent, I was confident that I would do at least six of the seven, but it was not until David and I had our entries confirmed for Antarctica 2014 that I realised it was actually going to happen.''

Twelve years after beginning running together in Tasmania, the pair again turned to their home state's terrain and climate to prepare them for their ultimate achievement.

Kitted out in what they believed to be worst-case-scenario running gear, they headed to Liawenee and Mount Barrow last winter, braving ``perfect training conditions'' of altitude, sleet, ice, gales and a wind-chill factor of -14 to discover that neck-warmers and waterproof running shoes might be in order.

After seven years of planning, four years of anticipation and two years on a waiting list, Booth, MacFarlane and their wives, Christine and Michele, flew from Sydney to Santiago, Chile, and on to Buenos Aires and finally Ushuaia in Argentina, the southernmost city on Earth and capital of Tierra del Fuego.

They boarded a converted Polar research vessel for the 600-nautical-mile, 60-hour trip to King George Island, the largest of the South Shetlands, on which lay a marathon course along gravel and ice roads that connect the scientific research bases of Uruguay, Chile, China and Russia.

The night before the run, Booth systematically organised his clothes, chocolates (wrappers removed in accordance with the 1991 Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty), drink bottles, GPS and thoughts.

``I did realise that deep down I did not have a full idea of what to expect,'' he recalled. 

``Cold and windy to be sure, but beyond that I had zero expectations that I could I run a sub-5:30 marathon in these conditions.''

Thom Gilligan, founder and owner of Marathon Tours and Travel of Boston, warned runners they were in for a temperature of -2 with 35km/h winds and snow.

Setting off from the Russian Bellingshausen Station, Booth said he was feeling tired by the 25km mark. 

``I think the 20 hours in planes and 60 hours on a ship had caught up with me,'' he said. 

Booth's absorbing written account of his global quest said two of the lessons it taught him were ``When you think all hope is lost, there is still hope'' and ``Inspiration comes from amazing sources''.

It was as he waned in the freezing temperatures that his inspiration arrived.

``Christine and I sponsored, for Antarctic research, mile marker no. 11 in honour of our daughter Alison, who died of a brain aneurysm on 11/11/11, and we were able to have her name on it,'' he said. 

``As I approached it, albeit walking, for the final time, two runners were also at the marker but heading in the opposite direction. I chatted with them and told our story of the marker. They listened intently and we then parted company. 

``About 100 metres from the marker I realised I was running, and running quite well. On reflection, it was the inspiration from Alison and the shortbread biscuit Christine gave me 20 minutes earlier.''

Booth caught up with MacFarlane around the 37km mark and the long-time running partners fittingly finished together - the former's 67th marathon and the latter's first - in 5:39, joint 46 out of 129 finishers.

``The sense of accomplishment came over me as I ran under the banner to complete the race,'' Booth said. 

``Christine took our time, placed the medal around my neck and gave me a kiss and big hug. I think deep down she was relieved it was over. I had survived and conquered the Antarctica Marathon.''

Back home in slightly warmer Riverside, Booth has commissioned a trophy to commemorate his achievement consisting of rocks taken from, or representative of, each continent and topped with an image of the original Athenian soldier who ran from Marathon to Athens to announce victory over the Persians.

Having become a permanent member of the exclusive Seven Continents Club, he is delighted with his Antarctic effort, especially considering the less-than-ideal preparation of flying half way around the Earth and spending three days on a ship doing nothing but eating and sleeping. 

``Until I crossed the finish line, it was not a foregone conclusion, but at no stage did I think I would fail,'' he said.

``Only something beyond my control could have stopped me. I hit the wall earlier than most marathons, but then I came across Alison's marker.

``I've always been a glass half-full type of person so I never despair, even when I've hit the wall.''

As for what his next quest will be, Booth has shelved an idea to run 50 marathons in each American state in one year but is keen on completing what are classified as the marathon majors. Having done Boston, the others are London, Berlin, Tokyo, Chicago and New York.

He has sons in Hobart and Mooloolaba so plans to do at least the Cadbury and Sunshine Coast marathons each year and beyond that has three simple goals, all perfectly planned.

``I just want to keep on running,'' he said.

``I'd love to run 100 marathons. I've got 33 to go. Well, I'm 60 next month so if I do three or four a year I should finish by about 70 and don't care if each one is taking me five hours.

``I'd love to run the Hobart Marathon with my son and grandson, who is seven at the moment and showing promise, having completed the Cadbury 5km run in January.

``And I want to run around the Earth. The circumference is 40,075km and I've done 27,803 which is 69.377 per cent . . . but that doesn't include the 20km I did before work this morning.''

Over the line . . . Michael Booth and David MacFarlane cross the finish line of the Antarctic marathon.

Over the line . . . Michael Booth and David MacFarlane cross the finish line of the Antarctic marathon.


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