Three area residents run a marathon at the bottom of the world

02/10/2014 12:00 AM

02/17/2014 11:47 PM

Running a marathon is grueling enough in Kansas City.

Try doing it on slippery rocks and mud in 25-degree weather with 40 mph wind gusts while keeping your eyes peeled for penguins.

Three Kansas City area runners recently completed a marathon on King George Island, Antarctica. That alone is not unheard of. People go to Antarctica every year to run marathons.

But Chau and Michael Smith of Oak Grove and Kermit Trout of Overland Park turned around and did a second marathon just four days later in Punta Arenas, Chile.

For Trout, it was his second marathon attempt in Antarctica after being forced to quit achingly close to the finish line last year when the weather suddenly turned ugly.

“What are you going to do?” a disappointed Trout asked himself at the time. Try again.

For the Smiths, the back-to-back marathons were part of a quest to run the 26.2-mile race on all seven continents.

On Jan. 26 — summer in Antarctica — they got on a plane in Punta Arenas, at the bottom of South America, at 1 a.m. for the flight to King George Island. Upon landing about 3 a.m., the Smiths, Trout and 65 other runners had to immediately begin the race. There was only an eight-hour window before the plane had to return.

“That wouldn’t normally be difficult, but you have to add an hour and a half (to your usual time) because the footing was so treacherous,” Michael Smith said.

There is not a 26.2-mile-long course on the island, so the runners had to make six loops up and down a “road” that links several international research stations.

At 100 pounds and 5 feet tall, Chau Smith was almost blown over by the wind. With no trees and few other barriers, the wind seemed to come at the runners from all directions.

But Chau finished in 6 hours, 45 minutes and 13 seconds. Her husband finished in 7:20:32.

“I just felt so emotional, I started to cry,” Chau said. “We were just in the middle of nowhere. The last place on Earth.”

But what a place.

“You don’t see much until the sun comes up,” said Michael Smith, “but you’re running along the coast and you look out and there is this huge bay, and across the bay there are other islands and beautiful glaciers in the distance. A few ships floated in the bay. It was gorgeous.”

With the weather being so unpredictable, however, the marathoners were advised to focus on the run and not be too distracted by the surroundings.

“When you see the penguins, don’t take pictures,” Chau Smith said she was told. “Just run and get out.”

Trout learned that last year. He was on his sixth and last loop when the weather turned and the marathon had to be aborted.

“We flew back to Punta Arenas and there was a course laid out there, so the rest of us finished the marathon,” Trout said. “But we did the last portion of it in Chile as opposed to Antarctica. The race director said that counts.”

Like kissing your sister counts.

So Marathon Adventures invited Trout and the others back to try the White Continent Marathon again this year.

“This year we had perfect weather,” said Trout, who took a lot of pictures with his smartphone. “It’s quite breathtaking.”

Trout, 66, is a retired engineer from Black & Veatch who has run marathons in all 50 states. He finished his Antarctic run in 5:35:41.

Michael and Chau Smith have each run dozens of marathons, but never two so close together.

“This was the first time we had attempted anything like this,” Michael Smith said. “It was exhausting.”

Michael Smith, 71, is a semiretired social worker at Research Medical Center. Chau Smith, 64, owns an alterations and dry-cleaning business in Independence.

Chau qualified for the Boston Marathon last year but was unable to finish because of the bombing. She is going back back this year and has already qualified for 2015.

The Smiths decided to combine marathon running with travel. They did their Asian marathon on a course that included part of the Great Wall of China. Their European race was from Marathon to Athens in Greece, where the original marathon was run in 490 B.C., during the Persian Wars.

They are considering a marathon in Tanzania that incorporates part of Mount Kilimanjaro and another along Australia’s Gold Coast near Brisbane. That would complete their goal of a marathon on each of the seven continents.

Michael Smith introduced Chau to running after they got married in 1983. She initially thought it was the most boring sport but discovered it relieved stress and made her feel good.

“I got hooked,” Chau said. “I just love to run.”

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