Australian woman runs record-breaking 1,300km Antarctica ultramarathon

Australian Donna Urquhart runs record-breaking 1300km ultramarathon in Antarctica
(Image credit: Donna Urquhart / Instagram)

Another week, another world record broken in Antarctica. They’ll be holding the Winter Olympics there next at this rate. 

Last Friday, Australian Endurance runner and pain scientist Donna Urquhart broke the world record for the longest run in a polar region, having completing a 1,300km ultramarathon across Antarctica in 26 days.

This follows Preet Chandi setting the women’s world speed record for reaching the South Pole in late December, and Vincent Colliard setting a new men’s record for the same achievement last week. 

Urquhart’s record, just to be clear, is a world record, not a women’s record, as she has surpassed fellow Australian Pat Farmer’s previous record of 1,200km set during his Pole-to-Pole expedition in 2012.

While Farmer ran from Union Glacier to the South Pole in 19 days, Urquhart ran 10km loops around Union Glacier Camp, running up to 60km each day. Urquhart began her run on December 15 and ultimately completed 1,312.26km in 26 days.

Urquhart’s record still needs to be officially ratified by Guinness World Records.

Urquhart, an associate professor and pain scientist from Melbourne with over two decades of experience as a researcher, physiotherapist and endurance athlete, says she set out to claim the record in some of the harshest and coldest conditions on Earth to not only push the limits of her own body but also to inspire other women and girls. 

“By pushing my own physical boundaries in this world-record attempt I want to show young girls and women what’s possible when you harness the power of the body and mind,” said Urquhart. 

To prepare for the Antarctic ultra marathon Urquhart went through nine months of preparation, including running for hours in a refrigerated freezer container that was set to -10C 

“But nothing quite prepares you for actually being there and experiencing those conditions," she says. On the third day of her ultra marathon, she had to plough on through heavy snow and -20C temperatures. “The wind was howling and really strong, to the point where you don’t have the brain power – you almost just shrivel up… I realized at that point how gruelling this was going to be.”

“I’m just really proud to show what females are capable of doing," says Urquhart. “For us, as a team, this is a platform where we’re starting to raise awareness and funds to support young girls and females in sport. We’ve so far raised $75,000 and it's just the start of what we want to do in this space to support females so they can also explore what’s possible for them.

She returns to Melbourne and her 11-year-old son on Tuesday for a well-earned rest and a chance to plan what’s next

“There are huge sacrifices to do something of this size and nature, and so I want to go home and spend some time with my family, and go back to work. But I would love to do another ultramarathon and explore what that might be like in the next little while.”