The Coolest Race on Earth

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What would induce hundreds of people from all over the world to spend thousands of dollars each and two weeks of their lives just to run a marathon in Antarctica? Especially one with a reputation as the toughest marathon on Earth?

            John Hanc may have the answer. When he turned 50 he gave himself the birthday present to end all others--a trip to the end of the Earth to run his most unforgettable race.

            The Coolest Race on Earth is both Hanc’s story and the story of the Antarctica Marathon, first held in 1995 and now an annual event that sells out years in advance. It’s full of humor, adventure, and inspiring characters--including a wheelchair-bound competitor, three record-breaking grandmothers, and an ex-Marine who described the race as “the hardest thing I ever did in my life, next to Vietnam.”

            Muddy, cold, hilly, the race is by all accounts horrible--up and down a melting glacier twice, past curious penguins and hostile skuas, and finally to a bleak finish line. Even the best runners take longer to run the Antarctica Marathon than any other.

            Yet the allure of marathon running combined with the fascinating reputation of the Last Continent has persuaded runners to brave a trip across the world’s most turbulent body of water, the Drake Passage, to a land of extinct volcanoes and craggy mountain peaks, lost explorers and isolated scientists, penguin rookeries and whale sightings, all for a chance to run those crazy 26.2 miles. The Coolest Race on Earth brings the world’s most difficult marathon to life in a book that’s not only a ripping read, but also a deeply funny meditation on what makes people run.


John Hanc is a contributor to Newsday and Runner's World, the author of The Essential Runner, and the coauthor of Racing for Recovery: From Addict to Ironman and Running for Dummies. He has completed 24 marathons around the world and placed 17th in the 2005 Antarctica marathon.


"While it may seem as simple as putting one foot in front of the other for 26.2 miles, the world of the marathon is a complex, funny, strange and fascinating one. . . . John Hanc shows us just how far that world extends and reminds us how compelling and admirable—and okay, zany—are those who go the distance."  —Runner's World Magazine

"No pomp. No generalizations. Just a friend with a great little story to tell. Witty, informative and inspiring."  —Benjamin Cheever, author, Strides:  Running Through History With an Unlikely Athlete

"John Hanc takes us along on an adventure you will never forget. A book that will haunt your thoughts and run with your mind."  —Toby Tanser, author, More Fire: How to Run the Kenyan Way and The Essential Guide to Running the New York City Marathon

"With Hanc as our trusty guide, we emerge from the tale of the trek feeling as if we were there—although we suffered no bouts of seasickness and have not a speck of mud or penguin dung on our boots."  —Mark Will-Weber, author, The Quotable Runner and Run for the Diamonds: 100 Years of Footracing in Berwick, Pennsylvania

"A must read for any adventure-minded runner, or for those just looking to get a taste of what it's like to run a marathon on the most desolate continent on earth."  —Dean Karnazes, marathon runner and author, Ultramarathon Man: Confessions of an All-Night Runner

"Full of humor, adventure, and inspiring characters."  —