Edmonton

Edmonton runner, 84, becomes oldest person to run marathon in Antarctica

An octogenarian from Edmonton ran his way into the record books earlier this month, becoming the oldest person to finish a marathon in Antarctica.

Two continents remain on Roy Svenningsen's marathon bucket list

Roy Svenningsen, 84, recently became the oldest person to finish a marathon in Antarctica. The Edmonton resident has a goal of running at least one marathon on every continent. (Madeleine Cummings/CBC)

An octogenarian from Edmonton ran his way into the record books earlier this month, becoming the oldest person to finish a marathon in Antarctica.

Roy Svenningsen, 84, finished the Antarctic Ice Marathon on December 13.

The race, held annually at the Union Glacier exploration camp, is the world's southernmost marathon and one of just two marathons in Antarctica.

Athletes often encounter frigid temperatures during the 42.2-kilometre race, but Svenningsen said the cold wasn't his biggest foe that day. He bundled up for the run, donning three layers of clothing, wool socks and goggles.

"It went quite well to begin with," he told CBC's Rod Kurtz Monday in an interview.

But then illness struck.

Listen to Roy Svenningsen talk about running a marathon in Antarctica on CBC's Radio Active:

Meet the 84-year-old Edmonton runner Roy Svenningsen who just returned from a marathon in Antarctica! The Antarctic Ice Marathon is the Southernmost marathon on earth. 8:49

About halfway through the race, Svenningsen began to feel weak and ill. He followed a doctor's recommendation and stopped for a soup break, but a few kilometres later, nausea and stomach trouble returned.

"From that point on, I just said, I've got to finish this thing!" he told CBC.

Race director Richard Donovan ran with Svenningsen for the last five kilometres, encouraging him to focus on finishing, not speed.

"He was just the greatest guy," said Svenningsen, who crossed the finish line in just under 11 hours and 42 minutes.

Svenningsen had hoped to complete the course in fewer than eight hours.

Long time running

Svenningsen ran his first marathon in Calgary at age 29. In 1964, before the running boom in the 1970s, few people ran marathons and some who started didn't finish them.

"I happened to be one of the lucky ones and finished!" he recalled.

Roy Svenningsen dons special gear during his trip to Antarctica for the Antarctic ice Marathon in December, 2019. (Roy Svenningsen)

Since then, the Saskatchewan native has finished more than 50 marathons, including races in Venice, Munich, Glasgow, Las Vegas and Lagos. He posted his best time, 2:38, in Helsinki, Finland.

Svenningsen's work in education, and later, in the oil industry, took him around the world.

Now retired, he logs many of his miles in Edmonton's river valley, between Emily Murphy Park and Hawrelak Park.

Svenningsen aims to join what runners call the "7 Continents Club" by running a marathon on every continent. 

Two places remain on his marathon bucket list: South America and Australia.

"I expect to do those in the next two years," he said.
 

About the Author

Madeleine Cummings is a digital journalist with CBC Edmonton.