This is a preview article from the Dec 2020 / Jan 2021 issue of UltraRunning Magazine. Not a subscriber? Please consider becoming one

Running Around the World Naked

By: Dean Karnazes

“Bob, it’s minus-35 degrees.”

His idea was cockamamie enough, even in ideal running conditions, but in this frozen and vast polar plateau, it was beyond ludicrous. The ramifications were unthinkable. Still.

As the pandemic has shut down or greatly restricted most organized running events, the uptick in FKT attempts has been insane. Scrolling through the listing on FastestKnownTimes.com can be an endurance event in its own right (yes, there is an official website dedicated to FKTs). As an example of the growth in popularity, I covered Dylan Bowman breaking the Wonderland Trail FKT by a wide margin, thinking his record would stand the test of time. Not a week later, Tyler Green bested it.

Moving into winter, I don’t foresee the pace slowing down. More and more people will be drawn to the challenge of FKTs in unique, cold weather conditions. However, I’m not worried about my FKT record being touched. I’m sure it’s one of the coldest known FKTs, and undoubtedly the speediest.

Though I need to set the record straight. Yes, they were cold, winter-like conditions, but the escapade took place in the middle of summer. Well, at least summer in the southern hemisphere, which is winter in North America. Confusing, right?

The story goes like this. I’d signed up to participate in the inaugural South Pole Marathon where, I was told, there’d be 40–50 intrepid runners from around the globe all converging on Antarctica to run the first-ever marathon to the South Pole. There ended up being three of us. I quickly learned why so few people decided to take up the challenge.

Conditions on the polar plateau are not ideal for running. In fact, they’re downright dangerous. Just trying to get to the South Pole is a harrowing ultramarathon. When our plane finally landed 26.2 miles from the Pole, we found ourselves on a barren landscape of snow and ice that was entirely devoid of life. Penguins don’t live at the South Pole – even bacteria have a hard time surviving. And it is here, on this desolate ice field 26.2 miles from the South Pole, where we got “weathered in” (a cutesy term that means stuck with no way out). We waited several days for the weather to improve. Nothing. We waited more and still no improvements. The 12-day race itinerary had now become 25 days, and we were nowhere close to pulling off this hare-brained scheme. A couple of us attempted a training run. We made it less than a mile before returning to base camp with frozen lungs and purple fingers and toes.

Finally, the weather cooperated. Now, all we had to do was run 26.2 miles into the white, sub-zero abyss, searching for the South Pole. I stuffed three heavy-duty heat pads into each shoe and hoped for the best.

Some nine hours later, I stumbled to the finish with my teeth chattering and eyelashes frozen. The trek was an odyssey that would make the abominable snowman shutter. But I lived. Barely. All I could think about was crawling into my mummy sleeping bag and sealing it shut over my head.

Though, before I could do so, something caught my attention. At the South Pole is an actual candy-stripped barber pole – like the ones you see in cartoons – and perched on top is a large stainless steel orb. Fascinated, I went to take a closer look. I was staring at my reflection in the orb when another runner approached.

“Running a marathon to the South Pole was a first. Would you like to set another record?” he asked.

“Ah, sure, Bob. Whaddya have in mind?”

“Let’s run around the world naked.”

“Ah, Bob, I think your brain might be getting frostbite.”

“I’m serious.”

“I am, too.”

“Think about it,” he went on, “If we run around the South Pole, we’re circumnavigating the globe, just at its smallest circumference.”

I rubbed my chin. He had a point.

“But Bob,” I said, “it’s minus 35 degrees.”

“Just don’t let any of your appendages touch that stainless steel orb, and you’ll be fine.”

It was too good to pass up. So, I stripped to the buff and did an (exceedingly fast) lap around the South Pole, careful not to let any dangling extremities get too close to the orb.

Now, I hold the dubious distinction of a self-proclaimed FKT for running around the world naked. I’m sure many FKTs will go down this winter, but I’m not too worried about my own.