Lisa Richardson loves marathons so much that she’s gone to the ends of the Earth to run them.
In 2015, the 41-year-old Hastings woman ran “The Southernmost Marathon on Earth,” the Antarctic Ice Marathon, on a glacier in the Antarctic continent.
This month, she ran the North Pole Marathon, the world’s most northerly marathon, on the sheet of ice floating over the top of the world.
“It was really hard,” Richardson said of the North Pole race, which was run in temperatures that ranged between minus-23 and minus-40 degrees F. Richardson finished in 12 hours, 15 minutes and 53 seconds. She came in last place along with another American, Cristina Loth, among the 13 female finishers.
“It was tough. That course was tough,” Richardson said. She said runners had to cope with snow that was knee-high in some places and they had to jump over small cracks in the ice. “I fell several times.”
Hypothermia, frostbite and polar bears were also possible hazards in the race.
Summing up the experience on her Facebook page afterward, Richardson wrote, “to make a long story short ... there is beauty to suffering in more instances than you think, but especially this one.”
Richardson is no superhuman polar explorer or adventurer. The orthodontic assistant and mother of two has run eight marathons total since she took up the sport in 2011. Her personal best for the race is over five hours.
Running has been part of her healthy transformation that included losing 113 pounds from her former weight of 267 pounds. She also quit smoking. Her aim now is to run a marathon on all seven continents of the world in addition to the North Pole.
“She’s been an inspiration to a lot of people, including me,” said her husband, Chad Richardson.
For the North Pole Marathon, Richardson flew to Oslo, Norway, then headed to the coastal island of Spitsbergen before flying to Barneo Ice Camp, a temporary airstrip and base camp built by Russians near the North Pole for the Russia Geographical Society.
Because the weather conditions were good and there was still sunlight, the race started about 11 p.m. on April 8.
Richardson and 55 other competitors ran laps on a 2-mile loop marked out on the snow and ice floating on the Arctic Ocean. The competitors were watched by race organizers who had rifles on hand in case a polar bear showed up.
Richardson’s race day gear included multiple layers of clothing, four balaclava hats, three pairs of socks, two sports bras, goggles, lip balm and hand warmers.
She and Loth stopped in the race tent every two laps to change clothing. At Mile 8, she said, she may have stayed in the tent too long and found herself shivering because she wasn’t moving and her clothes were wet. She got some minor frostbite on her neck.
It was too cold to take pictures on the course during the race. “There was no selfie-taking at the North Pole Marathon,” she said.
As the day wore on, she saw all the other racers finishing before her in the tent, wearing their medals and eating dinner. But she had miles to go.
“I thought a lot about my daughter, how I was empowering her to be what she wants to be. I couldn’t call home and tell her I didn’t make it,” Richardson said.
A few hours after Richardson finished, the racers were loaded onto a helicopter to fly to the geographic North Pole about 30 miles away. Back in Barneo, she had dinner and went to bed. She’d been awake for 36 hours.
The next day, she and four other runners went on the course loop one more time to pick up race markers. That’s when polar bears were spotted about 20 miles from the camp.
“It was a once in a lifetime experience,” Richardson said. “It was like landing on the moon.”
Runners pay around $15,000 to a race tour operator for the privilege of running a polar marathon.
The North Pole Marathon race organizer says that fewer than 100 people have completed its Marathon Grand Slam Club, finishing a marathon on all seven continents and at the North Pole.
Richardson has also run a marathon in Poland. She’s thinking about running a marathon in Thailand for her Asian race. To cross South America off her list, she’s considering a marathon near a volcano in Chile.
“I’m not this amazing athlete at all,” Richardson said. “Anyone can do it.”