Marsden runs the South Georgia Half Marathon.

PUBLISHED: 09:59 24 February 2010 | UPDATED: 12:51 10 June 2010

On the penultimate Sunday of February Hugh Marsden, a senior member of the Exmouth Harriers, was lined up on the start line awaiting the distress flare to explode to start the South Georgia Half Marathon.

On the penultimate Sunday of February Hugh Marsden, a senior member of the Exmouth Harriers, was lined up on the start line awaiting the distress flare to explode to start the South Georgia Half Marathon.

South Georgia is a small island about 800 miles north of the Antarctic Circle and a similar distance east of the Falkland Islands. Hugh is a veteran athlete with 40 years of competitive running but he could never be prepared for what was about to come. Perhaps if he had taken note of the map he would have realised that with about 1.500 feet of ascent over 13 miles, the race was not going to be your average half marathon/fun run!

The race got underway with the usual chit chat associated with the first rush of endorphins.

The runners floated along the track to Grytviken but this feeling quickly subsided as the runners ascended the track towards the church and headed towards dreaded football pitch.

This is the area of the top bog which masqueraded as the whaling station's all weather football pitch.

Here a rickety wooden bridge with a tricky 45 degree camber to the left had to be negotiate. The track up to Gull Lake acted as the human separator and it became a two horse race. This soon became a two mule scramble as the two leaders negotiated the slope that took them up to the top of Brown Mountain.

Unfortunately Hugh took full advantage of the race marshal's infinite generosity at the summit checkpoint and made the mistake of taking that mouthful of South Georgia's finest sparkling mineral water.

For that split second of refreshment Hugh was the lone runner, having lost sight of his rival. The race instruction sheet (that had been so helpfully placed on the breakfast table) advised runners to keep right and follow the ridge down.

Not being a continental fell runner, Hugh decided to keep to the left and maintain height and that proved to be his first mistake!

After about a minute his rival suddenly reappeared below at a 2 o'clock angle some 500 metres ahead and was charging like a hovercraft over the razor sharp scree.

This lead was to get even greater as Hugh passed another check point at the lower end of the mountain. The marshal had carefully positioned articles of clothing in key positions to guide competitors off the mountain and down the steep slope. He stood there, almost naked directing runners with the style and efficiency of a sub Antarctic traffic warden.

During last year's race this position was not marshalled and one unfortunate non local runner opted to take the wrong decent and was not seen until four hours later!

He, being an ex military man, must have appreciated his impromptu battlefield tour of the Operation Paraquat landing site.

Once again Hugh followed his helpful breakfast briefing notes and scanned the lower slopes for the remains of the heavily camouflaged Argentine helicopter about a one and a half kilometres in the distance.

Eventually he decided it was far safer to look at where gravity was taking him (whilst tobogganing down the slope on his backside) and worry about the helicopter later. Once down, he was on familiar ground and managed to reel in his rival's lead on the way back to the station.

Hugh even managed to stay upright on a particularly slippery part of the coast that had caught him out on training runs.

Other competitors were not quite as fortunate; the decent into the whaling station was more like a scene in a James Bond movie! A bit like the one where Roger Moore had to escape from the crocodile farm.

In place of the crocodiles the South Georgia runners had to dice with death against their very own fur seals (intent on biting ankles off,) enormous elephant seals, swimming pool sized seal wallows, invasive biter cress, detritus left over from the whaling station and, unexploded ordinance!

The second part of the race took the runners along the well commuted trail to Maiviken Hut via the Bore Valley.

Yet again Hugh was on familiar ground and managed to close down the gap on his rival all the way to the hut turn round point where another marshal was strategically positioned. Unfortunately the marshal appeared to have lost the plot and failed to send the race leader down to Maiviken beach as instructed.

On the decent back down the Bore Valley the leader once again appeared to hover over the ground at breakneck speed crossing the finishing line in 1 hr 37 minutes and had comfortably taken 8 minutes of last years unofficial (shortened) record time.

Hugh managed to pull back a few seconds on the track back to base and was delighted to have survived the ordeal in a time of 1hr 39. Hugh took the second place in the race.

A great day was had by all on one of those rare and special South Georgia summer days.

Note: Many thanks to Hugh Marsden for sharing with us his experience!

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