“I didn’t expect how hard it would be to progress through the snow and ice. I did my postdoc in Minnesota, so I thought I knew what cold is — but I didn’t,” says Eyal Shimoni, the sole Israeli competitor in the recent Antarctica leg of the Racing the Planet 4 Deserts Ultramarathon Series.
Shimoni, 58, anticipates becoming the third Israeli ever to finish the series, covering a total of 1,000 kilometers.
Having completed 250k (155-mile) treks in Antarctica’s White Desert, in the Gobi Desert of Mongolia and in the Red Desert of Namibia, he’s training for the final race in Chile’s Atacama Desert next September.
In his blog about his week of running trails in Antarctica in December, Shimoni noted “the snow, the ice, the shaking gusts of wind, step after step, loop after loop. Penguins, albatrosses, seals, whales and orcas. Endless daylight and vast expanses of ice.”
The 43 participants’ home base was a ship. They were taken via Zodiac boats to mapped-out land points on each day of the ultramarathon.
Shimoni says the sheer magnitude of the landscape made him feel “like somebody from a rural kibbutz being dropped into Manhattan.”
‘Beyond anything I could imagine’
Shimoni started running rather late in life. In fact, even walking was not to be taken for granted. Because of a rare medical condition, he couldn’t step on his left leg for three years of his childhood.
“Being able to stand on the starting line of 4 Deserts was beyond anything I could imagine when I was a boy of eight,” says the former Technion professor of food engineering and biotechnology.
He discovered his love of running on the dirt trails of the hills beside his home near Yokne’am in northwest Israel.
“After my first Tel Aviv Marathon, I realized I am not a good runner but I enjoy it,” he tells ISRAEL21c.
“I started looking for trail races and discovered the ultramarathon world. You run beyond marathon length, mostly on dirt roads, so it fits me and my capabilities. You go at a slower pace over a longer time, and I like that it allows you to spend more time in nature.”
Participants in Racing the Planet’s 4 Deserts series can choose which segments to do.
“The number of people who completed all four segments in the past 20 years is 302. Some people do it in one year – that’s called a grand slam — and some, like me, do one race a year or even over 10 years,” says Shimoni, who trained for 18 months before his first ultramarathon, the Gobi March, in 2019.
He’s using these grueling races not only to challenge himself but to challenge others to donate on his behalf to Yadid Lachinuch (Friend of Education), which facilitates elders serving as volunteers in Israeli elementary school classrooms.