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Athletes & Explorers

Sep 20, 2012

Running on Ice: the marathon in Antarctica

59-year old Mala Honnatti competed in the Antarctic Ice Marathon, a unique event in the ice-covered southern continent.

WRITTEN BY

Madhuri Chowdhury

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The Antarctic Ice Marathon takes place just a few hundred miles away from the South Pole. The temperature at the time of the race is usually -10C to -20C and the course is solid ice, interspersed with soft snow in places. Mala Honnatti’s been on enough Himalayan treks to be able to handle freezing weather, but she admits that it was difficult adjusting to the cold.

The central thing about Mala is that she doesn’t let anything stop her.

“I come from a family where the women mostly stay at home,” says Honnatti. In sharp contrast, she turned out to be an outdoors and fitness enthusiast and started jogging and taking karate classes while working at a bank in Belgaum- a town in the Southern Indian state of Karnataka.

At the time, trekking and mountaineering were just ‘dictionary words’ to Mala. She told her family she was going on holiday with friends to North India, and instead, went on her very first trek at age 32. Mala became an avid mountaineer and it was in 1993 that a setback first turned her attention away from the peaks to the ground beneath her feet. She wanted to be part of a pre-Everest expedition. But, that didn’t work out. Mala puts it as a major setback and prefers to keep the subject at bay, “you know how it is in India,” she says. “With the IMF and the selection process here…” she adds, trailing off.
Despite the blow, she’s sure that not fighting for a place in the expedition was the right decision. “There was no point in harbouring hard feelings, especially when you’re a small group on top of a mountain,” she says. It was this experience that forced her to find a distraction. She decided to start running marathons. The odds didn’t look too good, because she was already nearing 40 at the time.

Mala ran her first marathon at the age of 40.

After training hard for six months, like an “Olympic prospect” she completed her first marathon through New York in 3 hours and 27 minutes. Her coach told her that he could have made her a world-class runner, had she come to him when she was 20.
Mala is running proof that it’s never too late. In December 2011 she participated in the Antarctic Ice Marathon, along with 40 other people from 15 countries.

Antarctica is blessed with constant sunshine, but the disorienting feeling 24 hours of daylight can induce didn’t faze Honnatti. The most difficult part of this journey for her, was simply finding the funds to go. The registration fee is €10,500 which includes a round trip from Punta Arenas, Chile to Union Glacier in Antarctica, as well as food and accommodation. Mala wrote to numerous corporations, magazines, newspapers and TV channels, to no avail. What she finally did was take a mortgage out on her jewellery. As she explains it, “the jewellery was just sitting in a safe.”
Mala Honnatti was the sixth competitor to cross the finish line (out of nine marathon finishers) and timed 7:11:26 in the women’s category.

To find out more about the race and to register go to www.icemarathon.com

Photo © Mala Honnatti

Place: New Delhi


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