For most runners, the challenge of a marathon is getting to the end. The hardest part of an upcoming race for Christi Childs will be reaching the starting line.
It’s in Antarctica.
Childs, 28, will be one of roughly 200 runners participating in the 2019 Antarctica Marathon March 17-18 on King George’s Island, just off the coast of the Antarctic Peninsula. Two groups of racers run a day apart to limit the number of people in the environmentally sensitive area.
Although it’s not required, she is using the race to raise money for a charitable cause.
Childs is running as a way to support an orphanage her brother, Josh Dunagan, started in Nepal for victims of the devastating 2015 earthquake.
Childs has aspired to starting such a children’s home herself, but the real estate agent, wedding photographer and mother of three hasn’t been able to do that. She’s paying the $9,000 cost of the trip and is crowdfunding to raise $17,280, which she said will cover the orphanage's day-to-day expenses for a year. She finds a nice symmetry between the 26.2-mile race and the roughly $26,000 funding total.
“I’m not in a place where I can start my own orphanage right now,” she said. “But there was a quote I heard a long time ago: ‘Celebrate others whose dreams are similar to yours who are seeing their dreams fulfilled.’ I don’t want to have a stupid dream to run a stupid race just for me. If I can celebrate someone who has a dream that’s really similar to mine and who is already seeing that fulfilled, I want to do what I can.
“I think a lot of times we feel like a problem is too big to fix the problem, so we shouldn’t even try. I feel these are two dreams at the same time. I maybe can’t run my own home, but if I can sponsor a home for a whole year, that is so close to my dream. Running the marathon also is a dream. I won’t let life’s hard circumstances stop me from pursuing dreams. It’s a very personal thing.”
Childs admitted she's had some second thoughts about her upcoming adventure.
“Sometimes I think, ‘Christi, why can’t you just run a 5K and raise $500? Be like everyone else and be normal,’ ” Childs said. “But I guess sometimes I just can’t.”
“Like everyone else” is a phrase that probably seldom applied to Childs.
She grew up outside Portland, Oregon, to parents who worked in international evangelistic ministries, and when she was 14 worked at an orphanage her mother started in Uganda. She attended Oral Roberts University, where she met her husband, Trae, who grew up in Africa. They married seven years ago and have lived in Niger and South Korea before moving to Baton Rouge four years ago.
Until then, Childs hated running. But she gave it another go and found that she liked it. She ran her first marathon eight weeks later.
“Apparently, I’m built for long-distance running, but I had never known it because I’d never pushed myself to get there,” Childs said.
She has run in only one other race, a half-marathon. But she never forgot stories her father told about visiting Antarctica when she was in middle school. When she started looking for marathons and found this one, well, why not?
Put on by Marathon Tours and Travel, the race includes several days in Buenos Aires, Argentina, before participants fly to the country’s southern tip and travel by ship to King George’s Island. While they’re there, the runners will sight-see, go sea kayaking and take excursions to seal and penguin colonies. Childs' sister, Caela Dunagan, will run with her.
Mid-March is near summer’s end in the Southern Hemisphere, and Childs has been told to expect temperatures from 12-32 degrees Fahrenheit. The race is run on gravel roads that connect scientific research stations on the island. Race organizers advise runners to expect their times to be 20 percent longer than usual because of the running conditions. Training to run in such temperatures is a bit of a challenge in south Louisiana.
“I thought of some creative ideas,” Childs said. “I thought maybe I’ll ask Costco about putting a treadmill in their freezer. But I just realized I’m going to get in really good shape and call it good.”
And "good" is how she'll feel when she finishes the race.