Marathon runner makes it to Antarctica to notch another continent in her to-do list

Published 12:00 am Thursday, April 20, 2017

By Susan Shinn Turner

For the Salisbury Post

The week before Easter, Jodi Morton went for a run on the beach at Emerald Isle. The month before that, she ran a marathon in Antarctica.

What a difference a month makes, she says.

“To say it was the trip of a lifetime isn’t really enough,” said Morton, 48, who lives with her husband, Darren, in Ashburn, Virginia.

Darren, 49, is a 1985 graduate of South Rowan High School. His parents, Jim and Shirley Morton, live in China Grove.

Morton spent two weeks in March traveling to and from Antarctica for the marathon. It’s not easy to get there. She flew from Washington to Houston, then to Buenos Aires. From there, her group made its way to Ushuaia, the world’s southernmost city. They caught one of two ships crossing the Drake Passage to the continent of Antarctica. Tours and trips leave from Ushuaia to both Antarctica and Patagonia, so the city is full of outfitters’ stores, she said.

Because of environmental concerns, only 100 runners at a time are allowed on King George Island, the site of the marathon. One group ran the half-marathon or marathon on March 10. Morton’s group ran the next day.

Morton, who ran track in high school, started running marathons in 2005 to get back in shape after the birth of their children. The Mortons have three children: Elizabeth, a junior at American University; Jack, a freshman cross-country and track team member at the University of Pittsburgh; and John, a high school sophomore.

Soon, Morton set a goal to run a marathon in all 50 states and on all seven continents. Antarctica was to be last on her list — or so she thought.

“Then a friend of a friend said, ‘We’re going to Antarctica; you wanna come?’ We all said yes and decided to go together,” Morton said.

Timing was critical. Registration for the race opens two years in advance and fills up quickly. So there aren’t a lot of options for runners pursuing the seven-continent goal, Morton said.

“It was definitely the hardest marathon to get to,” she said, “but Darren was very supportive. He said, ‘Go with your friends and have a good time.’”

In pursuing her goal, Morton has joined an elite group of runners. According to her research, fewer than 600 people have completed marathons on all seven continents. The Antarctica races have been run since 1995, after which the Seven Continents Club was founded.

The friends who accompanied Morton to Antarctica include Amanda Freedle of Charlotte, a frequent running partner and former co-worker; Connie Fulps of Texas; Jennifer Friend of Fairfax, Virginia; and Morton’s sister, Kathy Whitbey, also of Fairfax, who was her roommate.

Morton, who has run 23 marathons in 18 states — and on two continents — says this was by far the hardest race she’s ever run.

“We ran six loops on a 4.4-mile course of dirt roads connecting three international research stations,” Morton said.

She ran past the Russian, Chilean and Chinese stations over a course that was hilly, muddy and rocky. The race organizer told runners to add an hour to their usual finish times. Morton typically runs about 5:15, so she had 6:15 in her mind. She finished the course at 5:34:19 with a 12:45 pace.

“I was pretty darned pleased with that,” she said.

Because they were on a loop, Morton passed her fellow runners the whole time. “We kept passing each other and cheering each other on. It had a camaraderie you don’t get in other races.”

Morton said that the two things she was most nervous about were the two-day crossing from Argentina to Antarctica and what to wear on race day. The journey across the Drake Passage and back was the one of the calmest the ship’s crew had ever seen. On race day, the temperature was 32 degrees with 17-mph wind.

“When the wind wasn’t blowing, it was nice,” Morton said. She kept her backpack at the start-finish line with extra clothes. It was the first time she has ever been taken to a start-finish line by boat, she added.

She wore running tights, which were windproof and waterproof; two pairs of socks; waterproof shoes; her ever-present Sparkle Skirt; two shirts; a jacket; a hat; and gloves.

“After the first loop, I ditched my gloves and one of my shirts,” Morton said. “But I kept my hat on. When the wind blew, my ears would get cold.”

She noted that she didn’t get to do much cold-weather training because of an unusually warm winter in Northern Virginia. Temperatures were below freezing only three of her training days. But she figured out her attire nonetheless.

Morton took a selfie after she finished with a big smile on her face and the Antarctica Marathon medal around her neck.

Before and after the race, the women had lots of time for sightseeing, both in South America and Antarctica.

“I learned a lot about Antarctica,” Morton said.

To get around when they were off the ship, they relied on Zodiacs — 10- to 12-passenger boats with two inflatable tubes and an outboard motor.

“We were zipping around on the Zodiacs, which was a lot of fun,” Morton said.

They explored the continent and its barrier islands and saw lots of penguins and seals, as well as humpback whales.

Morton doesn’t expect to run another continent marathon until her son John graduates from college. She and Darren attended all his junior varsity and varsity football games in the fall, as well as Jack’s track meets and Elizabeth’s plays. They also go to N.C. State football games. Darren is an alumnus, and that’s where they met. After they married, Jodi finished school at College of Charleston, where Darren’s first naval duty station was.

In the meantime, she’ll keep chipping away at her 50-states marathon goal. She and Amanda have done three “marathon doubles,” back-to-back races in New Hampshire-Maine, Wisconsin-Michigan, and Alabama-Mississippi.

Wait, what?

“I know,” Morton said with a laugh. “We’re crazy! We’re not world-class runners. We just want to finish and get a medal. I’m an accountant, so I’m all about maximizing my investment with each trip.”

She has worked for Freddie Mac for the past 13 years. Her husband is an engineer with a contracting company following his naval career. They’ll celebrate their 27th anniversary in June. She hopes Darren can go along for the other five continents, and has asked him to pick the location and order. He’s thinking about Australia in 2018, to celebrate his 50th birthday.

“She never ceases to amaze me with the things she does,” Darren said. “It’s pretty cool to be married to her. I’m not quite as dynamic as she is. But someday we will go back to Antarctica — for a leisurely tour.”

Morton keeps all her race results on a spreadsheet. Her fastest time was 4:59: 41 at a Rock ’n’ Roll marathon in Washington.

On the last day in Antarctica, Morton and her sister had a chance to go kayaking.

“There was no sound of humans anywhere there,” she said. “There was a glacier calving, and we could hear the booming in the distance. In a few minutes, we saw ripples in the water. Everything was so oversized. It was the glory of God on display.”

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