Ever since my kids were two years old, I have enjoyed getting away with them for some quality time together, one on one – and earlier this month, my 14-year-old son, Mason, and I shared a truly epic and outrageous adventure at the bottom of the earth: We completed the White Continent Marathon in Antarctica with about 60 others from around the world.
This was Mason’s first marathon, and it was no walk in the park. As it turned out, our story became as much about getting there and dealing with the elements as about running the marathon itself.
Here are a few leadership lessons that our experience highlighted for us:
* One must always stay focused on purpose and vision. Our purpose was to have an amazing father-son experience, have Mason complete his 1st marathon and as for me to continue my quest to do a marathon on every continent. Things didn’t go as planned and that was fine. We knew what we were there for.
* “Fifty percent of success is a head case.” One must keep calm and positive, regardless of the environment. We can’t control the weather, but we can control our attitude. That leads to clearer thinking, a better experience and our overall happiness.
The race was on King George Island where some scientists representing Chile, Russia and China live with their families on a base. There are no restaurants, hotels or bars. As you can imagine, it is not easy to get there. Mason and I and our traveling companion, Jack Daly, one of my best friends, endured four days of weather delays. Like me, Jack is on a quest to complete a marathon on every continent. Antarctica was to be the sixth for each of us.
But as we waited to fly in from Punta Arenas, Chile, every day seemed like “Groundhog Day,” with another round of bad news about conditions on the White Continent.
When we finally arrived, it was like landing on the moon. The runway was dark gravel, and winds were about 30 miles per hour. There was no terminal. About an hour later, the plane took off to return to Chile, leaving us to hope the weather would cooperate so we could be picked up the next day, after our race.
We had a hilly and muddy hike of about two and a half miles to the make-shift tent area. This was definitely not a Four Seasons experience. Mason, Jack and I shared a small tent, and about midnight we tucked ourselves into our sleeping bags, designed for subzero temperatures. I hadn’t camped since college, and for Mason this was a first. Imagine your first camping experience being in Antarctica. Mason seemed to sleep just fine. Jack and I didn’t sleep a minute.
Wake-up time was 4 a.m., and the race was to start an hour later. Mason got the last warm meal before the generator blew. I ate a cold meal and Jack had some Pringles and cookies. This was definitely not the typical pre-race prep.
For the first hour and a half or so of the marathon, it snowed. I had on four layers of clothing. The scenery was spectacular – we were running next to penguins – but the course was muddy, with a lot of loose rocks and gravel.
I was pleased with my time. Despite having taken off four weeks for a torn calf, I had a surprisingly good race finishing in 4:35. Jack, who at age 66 was the second oldest participant, finished in 6:15.
And Mason’s finish was amazing for a first-timer in a marathon at his age. He finished in 6:55. It was an impressive achievement. He learned a lot about himself that day, including the importance of hydrating and fueling despite the cold weather. He learned the power of the mind and the importance of digging deep to achieve one’s goal.
After the race, we went out on a zodiac to a rookery where we saw thousands of penguins and a few icebergs. We considered taking a polar plunge but decided to pass. The water temperature was 37 degrees, and we had no hot shower nearby.
And we weren’t even certain the plane would be able to fly in and pick us up that night. Fortunately, it arrived – and spared us from the challenge of camping there a few more nights. Back on the mainland in South America, we reflected on an astounding father-son experience – and one more adventure to check off the bucket list.