Father and daughter take on 26.2-mile Antarctic Ice Marathon

Published 11:24 am Sunday, December 26, 2021

Local father daughter John Hixson and Lauren Phillips recently completed the Antarctic Ice Marathon. Hand-in-hand the two made it to the finish line of the 26.2-mile race across Union Glacier, Phillip’s first marathon and the completion of Hixson’s “marathon on every continent” goal.

“It’s been a fun experience. Originally, 12 years ago I had a goal to run a marathon on every continent and I did! Antarctica was my last…Running Antarctica was really fun and exciting, but getting to do it with her (Phillips) was the real joy,” Hixson said.

Hixson’s now completed more than 20 marathons. The 60-year-old began long distance running when he was 40. 

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“A friend of mine said, ‘Do you have any hobbies?’ And I thought, ‘I don’t have any. That’s terrible. I work too much.’ So, I said, ‘Well, I want to run a half marathon.’ And I did. And then, ‘I want to do a full marathon.’ I did the training and I heard about The Seven Continents Club which is a group of less than 400 people who have done this around the world.”

Hixson got his daughters interested in running by the enticing idea of traveling the globe to do it. “He said, ‘If I did it, he’d take me to these cool places,’” Phillips said.  “I was like well, I like ice cream and cake so this is a great excuse to eat more of it! It’s great because we’d travel as a family and then we’d run as a family.”

Antarctica was Phillips’ fourth continent to race on and her first full marathon. “He’s ending his journey and I’m just starting. Now, he gets to come along,” she said.

Training for Antarctica has some similarities to training for other marathons, the two said, with a few exceptions. “Once a week you have a longer run than anything else. It starts at nine, 12, 15, 18 miles…You gradually build,” Hixson said.

“But with this they recommend you do that slower because the race took a lot longer. You’re running on Union Glacier which is about a mile and a half thick of glacier ice down and hundreds of miles wide and it’s got snow on top. It’s like running on loose sand.”

Hixson and Phillips finished in just under seven hours, “probably two to three hours more than it would take on a normal marathon,” he said.

But a quick time is not the aim or culture of the Antarctic Ice Marathon, Phillips said. “That was the one thing we all promised each other—that we’re not going to ask how long it took. So, all of us would go around high-fiving saying, ‘You finished!’  

“Your goal was to finish because in 20 years people are going to ask, ‘You ran in Antarctica?’ They aren’t going to ask our time, hopefully,” she said.

The elements of Antarctica make the race both a unique challenge and an unforgettable experience. At a “warm” seven degrees, the two ran in essentially layered ski gear that had to be taken on and off throughout the journey, peeled off frozen shoes when it was all done, ran overnight from 5pm to 2:30 in the morning and took in the vast quiet of the white landscape devoid of plant or animal life.

“Let’s say you went to the woods here in Southwest Louisiana. You might not hear any cars or people or anything but you’re going to hear wind blowing in the trees, animals and stuff like that. You heard nothing…It’s literally breathtaking silence as you look across just a landscape of white. It’s truly breathtaking and amazing and nothing like anything I’ve ever seen or experienced,” Hixson said.

Sixty participants from 21 countries completed the marathon, another unexpected joy of the trip, Phillips said. “All parts of the world, all types of languages and we all have this one thing in common. It was fun to have that bonding experience with strangers and you’re able to come together and accomplish a goal.”

With Hixson “transitioning” to the next phase of his athletic journey and Phillips planning her next races, the two smiled at each other genuinely happy to have shared the experiences together. “It’s a real joy and especially to be physically fit enough at my age,” Hixson said.

“I’m going to try to do the New York marathon and Tokyo, Japan. All my trips are going to revolve around it. But I’m going to drag my dad along this time and my family,” Phillips said.