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Places worth protecting: Antarctica

Literally in the middle of nowhere, Friedhelm Weidemann runs a marathon. Vaillant accompanied him as part of the “Places worth protecting” initiative.

Through the eternal ice for the climate

In keeping with the motto “Places worth protecting”, 55-year-old ultra-runner Friedhelm Weidemann donned his running shoes in the iciest of conditions. “I’m doing this run to set an example for climate protection. If we don’t achieve the Kyoto two-degree reduction target, Antarctica will be gone one day,” he states succinctly. The two-degree target agreed in the Kyoto Protocol in 1997 aims to limit global warming to a maximum of two degrees Celsius to avoid a subsequent melting of polar ice caps, which would mean the end of the Antarctic. “You have to do something crazy to attract attention,” says Weidemann. “I want to draw attention to one of the most beautiful and most endangered places in the world: Antarctica.” So he ran 42.195 kilometres through the eternal ice at –20 degrees Celsius.

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The most beautiful marathon in the world

A Russian Ilyushin military plane dropped off around 50 ultra-runners at the latitude 79 degrees south. The contrast to the booming volume in the belly of the cargo plane could not be greater: absolute silence. Just nature. No houses, no cars, no people ‒ Friedhelm Weidemann was overwhelmed when he first set foot on Antarctica. The uniqueness of the landscape immediately cast a spell over him. Nine kilometres further on, at the foot of Union Glacier, the coldest, windiest and yet sunniest place on Earth, is where the Antarctic Ice Marathon is taking place. It’s still almost another 1,000 kilometres to the South Pole from here. Bad weather, wind and fog for days hinder the start and give participants the opportunity to get used to the unusual conditions in their own time. These are unusual in every way: every scrap of paper, leftovers, and even the dirty water from showers and toilets are taken away from the continent by the participants when they leave at the end of the race. The mountains of paper cups and banana skins, that are the norm in such races, are nowhere to be seen here either.

Breaking a sweat even below freezing

On 21 November, the time has finally come. At around 2 p.m. local time, the starting pistol for the coldest marathon in the world is fired. The sun beats down from the sky but the participants nevertheless have to change gear halfway through ‒ freezing sweat can cause dangerous frostbite. Although the temperatures do not entice the runners to drink, they have to do so every seven kilometres to prevent dehydration. The body sweats even at –20 degrees Celsius. After almost six-and-a-half hours, Friedhelm Weidemann crosses the finish line in 18th place. “That was certainly the slowest, but also the most beautiful marathon I’ve ever run,” Weidemann says afterwards. During the race, he felt like an ant on a lonely planet. The loneliness and vastness of the Antarctic ice desert is hard to imagine for Central Europeans.

De facto an extraordinary place

Antarctica is one of the most extraordinary places in the world. It is considered a natural archive of global natural history. It also strikes as a land of globally unique superlatives.

  • 80%

    of the world’s supply of drinking water

  • 2x

    the size of Australia

  • -15

    degrees Celsius in mid-summer

Running around the whole world

Boundaries are something Friedhelm Weidemann is only familiar with from an atlas. Berlin, Paris, New York ‒ Australia, United States, Asia: the native of Lower Saxony has crossed the finish lines of marathons and ultra-runs 279 times already. He fears wind and weather just as little as he does steep climbs and dark tunnels. During his marathon career, he has run 82 kilometres through the Moroccan desert, has achieved a total elevation gain of 8,000 metres at the Grand Raid de la Réunion and has crossed California’s Death Valley at 53 degrees Celsius. He has done the Elbe Tunnel Marathon, the world’s only underground marathon, participated in the Empire State Building Run-up and earned a place in the Guinness Book of Records with his marathon on the ocean liner Queen Elizabeth 2. His ultimate goal is to join the Seven Continents Club, whose members have completed marathons on all seven continents. Since last November, the sixth of these continents is now on Weidemann’s list.

Exceptional measures for exceptional places

Last year, Vaillant launched the “Places worth protecting” initiative. Implementing the energy revolution is not just a matter of policy: as a leading heating technology specialist, Vaillant sees itself as part of the solution to global climate issues. Modern, energy-efficient heating technology is one of the greatest levers in the fight against climate change and reducing CO₂ emissions. Vaillant’s internal strategic sustainability programme S.E.E.D.S. is one step in this direction. One of its goals is to reduce CO₂ emissions by 25 per cent by 2020.