Washington Nationals V.P. Gregory McCarthy to compete in Antarctic Ice Marathon

McCarthy trains at the Nationals' track for this weekend's race in Antarctica, the only continent where he has yet to run a marathon.
McCarthy trains at the Nationals' track for this weekend's race in Antarctica, the only continent where he has yet to run a marathon. (Dayna Smith For The Washington Post)
By David Montgomery
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 11, 2009

On Saturday, weather permitting, Gregory McCarthy of Washington will stand on the bottom of the planet, toeing a lonely starting line in the snow, and in the utter silence and majestic whiteness of that place, he will commence to run a marathon.

The average temperature of the inland Antarctic race course is about 5 degrees Fahrenheit. The snow and ice are hundreds of feet deep. There is no life, except for the human visitors. A cold, constant and potentially deadly wind blows from the South Pole, hundreds of miles farther south.

Surely they have their reasons, these 18 men and three women, for running in the fifth annual Antarctic Ice Marathon or -- for the hardiest -- the Antarctic 100K. At a minimum, when it's all over and if they survive, they will be able to say they've done it, and that is something.

McCarthy's reason is sort of existential. It has to do with getting older, taking stock, thinking about one's place in the indifferent stream of time. What distinguishes a man? There is the good he has done, the difference he has made, the love he has shared. At 48, the vice president of the Washington Nationals has all that covered. But a little persistent part of him yearns to etch one small mark in eternity that is unique.

"I've been running out of things I could ever be the first to do," he says.

If McCarthy crosses the finish line in Antarctica, he will have run marathons on all seven continents. Only a few hundred people have ever done that, according to those who keep track.

It's a select group, but still a crowd. Could McCarthy be the first Washingtonian?

Veteran local runners contacted by The Washington Post have not been able to think of anyone from Washington who has run marathons on seven continents. Some, like Jeffrey Horowitz, have run in Antarctica, but not on all seven. Others from the region, like Jerry Langan, have run all seven continents, but live outside the city. Still, no one can say with certainty that no one from D.C. has done it.

"I'm loath to say I'm the first," McCarthy said during his final week of preparations. "I'm at least the first from Ward 2! Or Logan Circle! Or my street!"

He laughed. All this "first" business can get a little nutty. Define a challenge narrowly enough and you will be the first to conquer it.

The world of extreme endurance events is full of creative record-setting. Climb the highest peak on each continent. Run across each entire continent. Run a marathon in every state. Be the youngest person. Be the youngest woman. Someone not only ran marathons on seven continents, he did it in 29 days. Then someone else did it in 5 days 10 hours.

McCarthy is different from most of the insane ice runners. He is neither a mountaineer, skier, cold-weather researcher or extreme athlete of any kind. Just because he has run 13 marathons in his relatively brief running career means nothing. Running a marathon is no longer special. Once a year, every city that matters in the world is overrun with runners on that city's marathon day. Nowadays anybody can run a marathon, and anybody does.

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