Solitude on Ice: Matiwaza overcomes solitude to finish Antarctica Marathon

South Africa-based Zimbabwean Tshakalisa “Shakes” Matiwaza

IN his pursuit of a rare accomplishment, South Africa-based Zimbabwean Tshakalisa “Shakes” Matiwaza persevered through a brutally solitary run in the Antarctica Marathon, aiming to join the prestigious Seven Continents Club.

The Seven Continents Club is exclusive, reserved for athletes who have completed marathons on all seven continents, including a marathon within the Antarctic Circle on the Antarctica continent. 

There is no membership fee to join the club, which serves as the definitive and official record of those who have achieved this remarkable feat.

For Matiwaza and his companion Deon Dhlomo, the Antarctica Marathon marked their fifth continent conquered, leaving only two more marathons to complete the gruelling Seven Continent Series. 

The Antarctic Marathon proved to be an entirely different challenge compared to marathons they had experienced previously, according to Matiwaza. He described the race as an unforgettable experience.

“This was by far the toughest marathon I have run. It was mine and my running mate Deon Dhlomo’s fifth continent marathon. We have two more continents to go before we get admitted to the prestigious Seven Continents Club, after completing the Abbott World Marathon Majors in 2023. Altogether, the voyage to Antarctica was just a marvellous experience that is going to linger on in our memories for years to come,” he said.

54-year-old Matiwaza, a native of Plumtree and Bulawayo, has charted an impressive academic and professional journey. His educational path took him from Gifford High School to the prestigious Waterford KaMhlaba UWCSA in Swaziland, where he pursued the International Baccalaureate (IB). He furthered his studies at the University of Cape Town, earning a Bachelor of Science in Engineering in 1993, followed by a Master of Business Administration in 1998.

Currently residing in Johannesburg, Matiwaza is a co-owner and manager of a successful equity firm. His recent participation in the Antarctica marathon was a testament to his resilience, facing the stark solitude of the icy continent where the absence of spectators underscored the isolation of the competitors in this extreme endurance challenge.

In his own words, Matiwaza said: “The marathon course was a 14km triple loop, which first took us just over 3,5km left past the Chilean research station, Base Eduardo Frei, to the Chinese research station (Great Wall) and back to Bellingshausen, then proceeding right to Artigas, the Uruguayan station, for another 3,5km and then back to Bellingshausen to complete the loop. The course was brutal, with an elevation of 840 meters. 

In addition to its treacherous conditions, the Antarctica Marathon is a very lonely marathon in which you are on your own in the true sense of the word.

“As the number of participants is small, the field quickly spreads out and as a result for most of the course, you are running on your own, making it a very lonely run. There are no spectators on the course, except for the odd penguin minding its own business and wondering about these idiots invading its space. You have to organise your own water/hydration stations. You have at least three water bottles with your race number marked on them. 

“When the marathon starts you take one bottle of water with you that you drop at the turning point at Great Wall (Chinese base), and on passing through Bellingshausen on your return you pick up the second water bottle which you drop at the second turning point at Artigas, the Uruguayan research station. The third bottle remains at the start point, and by doing so you have created your own three water stations that you make use of as you loop the course. From a time perspective, it will take you at least 20 percent more time to complete the Antarctica marathon than your average marathon – that is, if you do complete it,” he said. 

Having run and finished the race, that feat now ranks high among his biggest achievements as a runner. 

“What a monster of a marathon it turned out to be. It was hilly, it was cold, the terrain was muddy with icy cold waters, and it was misty with some strong winds now and again. 

“For me completing the marathon represented a great achievement for one, and it was a proud moment receiving the medal from the Marathon Tours team – a bucket list had been ticked,” said Matiwaza. 

The voyage was organised by US-based Marathon Tours and Travel and it began with participants checking into the posh Alvear Icon Hotel in Buenos Aires on Tuesday, March 5 for a three-night stay. The stay in Buenos Aires helps one acclimatise and shake off the jet lag, given the different time zones participants have come from. 

While the party of 187 was largely made up of Americans, there were 20 nationalities represented in total, with 140 of them being marathon runners. 

“Time in Buenos Aires included an organised tour of the tango city itself, shake-out runs in the parks and some delicious Argentinian steak and wine, without overindulging. Early on Friday, March 8, we departed Buenos Aires on a chartered four-hour flight to Ushuaia, the southernmost town in Argentina that serves as the gateway to Antarctica by ship. 

“We landed in Ushuaia at about lunchtime and boarded the voyage ship, the Ocean Victory, which started sailing just after 18:00. The Ocean Victory is a comfortable ship with a touch of luxury. The overnight sailing took us across the dreaded Drake Passage, infamous for its choppy waters. Waking up to some seasickness on Saturday morning was not fun, with a good fraction of passengers not coping well, especially those like me who had thought they were strong and had not taken anything to prevent sea sickness. 

“We finally reached Maxwell Bay in King George Island in the Antarctica Peninsula by Sunday midday, following which the expedition party and marathon organisers went onshore to set up the marathon course, while the rest of the passengers took zodiac (rubber boats) cruises to explore the waters of the area. Monday, March 11 was D-Day. We were up for an early breakfast at 05:20 followed by zodiac cruises onshore to the Russian research station named Bellingshausen, which was the base/start for the marathon.

“After leaving Maxwell Bay on the evening of marathon day, the following 5 days saw the ship sail further south, anchoring at various points – Mikkelsen Harbour, Cierva Cove, Portal Point, Danco Island, Damoy Point, Flandres Bay, Cuverville Island and Fournier Bay – in the Antarctica Peninsula and at each station we embarked on zodiac excursions and kayaking to explore the icebergs, historical sites, hunt and watch whales, seals and penguins. The highlight was the polar plunge (barely dressed) in icy cold water at Danco Island for the abnormal – which was the majority of us. In addition, there were some very informative lectures on sea life and Antarctica and its history on board the Ocean Victory,” he said. 

Another highlight came after finishing the marathon, he was they honoured with other runners who had completed the Seven Continents Series.

“The highlight was on Friday 15 March with a celebratory award ceremony for those runners who had completed the Seven Continents Series – completing a marathon in each of the seven continents (Africa, Antarctica, Asia, Europe, North America, South America, and Oceania). The ceremony was held on the top deck of the Ocean Victory as it began its sail back to Ushuaia. 

“Runners posed for photos with their national flags in jovial spirits amid loud cheers and toasting to good champagne. Waving national flags had been discouraged at the marathon site for geopolitical reasons. We reached Ushuaia on the morning of Monday, March 18 and boarded our chartered flight back to Buenos Aires, and back to our respective shores having left only our footprints in Antarctica and taken only memories with us – Antarctica is an environmentally protected area on which you leave nothing and take nothing away,” he said. 

Chronicle

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