By BRENT STUBSS
Senior Sports Reporter
MOST long distance runners are content with running and completing a few marathons. For Charles Johnson, his quest is to go where no other Bahamian has gone before and that is to participate in the seven continents series of marathons.
On March 24, Johnson participated in his fourth marathon in his personal quest when he did the Antarctic Ice marathon, adding to his competition of marathons in North America, Asia and Europe. On his return home, Johnson said he’s now preparing for his next continent – Africa, where he intends to run a marathon in Cape Town on October 15th, followed by Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and Australia in 2024.
“Last year in April, I completed my sixth star, which makes me a worldwide marathon runner,” said Johnson, who is one of the few Bahamians to have earned such an elite feat of runners. “The next big thing is to run the seven continents, which I am now in pursuit of.”
Looking back at the Antarctica marathon, Johnson said it was limited to about 75 persons because of the restrictions competing in the chilly and icy conditions. He was the only Bahamian to get into the world marathon tours for 2023 that enabled him to compete in Antarctica. The other was Barbara Symonette, who did it in 2022.
“To get into Antarctica, I had to fly into Buenos Aires and all of the runners had to catch a chartered flight into the last province in Argentina where they boarded a ship to King George Island in Antarctica where the run took place,” he said.
“When we arrived, the winds were up to about 50 miles per hour. We had to delay landing on the island to get started,” he recalled. “Eventually we got on the island and the day that we ran, the temperature was minus five Fahrenheit. It had winds up to 30 miles per hour.”
As for the course, Johnson said it was difficult because it was raining and they had to traverse up and down a series of hills. With no roads built, they had to manoeuvre through the pathway mapped out on a four mile course, two miles in and two miles out.
“The hills started from zero level and it rose up to 4,000 feet, so you had to run two miles in a consistently rolling hill up to 4,000 feet and then you return to zero,” he pointed out. “You had to do that six times to complete the 26.2 miles course.
“It became extremely challenging for a lot of people. Some people had to reduce their distance to the half marathon and some were unable to finish up to the half marathon. But quite a number of people, including myself, completed the race.”
Although there was a time limit of about six hours and 30 seconds to complete the race, those who didn’t got a medal for just participating. Johnson, however, said if you didn’t complete the first half of the race in one hour and 30 seconds, they pulled you out of the event.
With an average time of four hours and 15 minutes to run a marathon, Johnson said he knew he had a chance to survive on the gruelling course – where he had to run in a controlled fashion just to complete the race and not cross the pathway of the wild animals like penguins which are given the right of way to cross.
While he completed the marathon in just over six hours, Johnson said his official time was not as important as it was finishing the race because of the adverse conditions that they had to complete in. Additionally, Marathon Tours only officially recognises the times of the first male and female finishers.
In what he considered to be the most challenging race he’s ever done, Johnson remembered how they were restricted to taking just their water bottles and they were advised that they could not urinate or spit while on the course.
“I was able to complete the race. Once that was done, all of the runners returned to the ship and the process of getting on the land was just as amazing as the run itself,” he said. “It was so cold, you had to wear a waterproof suit and once you got there you had to strip down to your running clothes.
“The technique of running in that type of environment was also unique. I knew I had to literally run in two layers of clothing and I had to cover my neck and head. Fortunately, it was cold, but it didn’t affect my running. There was one spot that was so mucky, I think I went into about six or seven inches of mud and left a shoe behind. I had to return and push my foot back in just to get it out.
“It was a wonderful challenge and you had to really be physically fit to overcome the challenge,” Johnson said.
During the course of his marathon career, Johnson has now ran about 42 international marathons, including all of the major events in the United States, including Miami, New York, Boston, Chicago, along with Tokyo, which has earned his six stars to be classified as a world class marathoner.
The only Bahamian who has ran in more marathons than Johnson is Shavonne Blades, who currently holds the record for completing 50 marathons. Sixty-six-year-old Johnson, a senior manager at JS Johnson, said he will continue to run marathons as long as God gives him breath and he has the funding to make the trips.