In below zero weather, most people would be indoors, snuggled up on the couch under a cozy blanket with a cup of hot chocolate.
But that’s not the case in Maria Shircel’s world. She’d rather be running a marathon outside.
The 60-year-old Clarksville realtor is on a mission to run across the world, and Antarctica is her last stop.
After decades of long-distance running, Shircel has participated in more than 200 marathons in nearly 50 states and at least 20 countries on 6 different continents.
On Jan. 27, she is planning to join the Seven Continents Club finishers list as she prepares to run a 26.2 mile marathon in the coldest, windiest and driest of all Earth’s continents.
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Shircel came to the U.S. from the Philippines in 1979.
She relocated to Hawaii, and during her time there, she met a woman in her 70’s who looked half her age.
She found herself wondering what the woman’s secret was.
“I noticed she was running all the time,” Shircel said. The woman told Shircel that she loved running through the lush tropical rainforests and valleys of Hawaii, enjoying the view.
Shircel was inspired to run and bike ride and fell in love with it.
She moved to Tennessee and ran her first marathon in 1998 in Memphis. She has run more than 100 half marathons, at 13.1 miles apiece, and more than 40 full marathons.
Whether it’s been a five or 26 mile run, Shircel has been training tirelessly for the moment to complete her seven continent milestone.
‘If I finish it, I bet I can do anything’
And she’s spent years perfecting her training routine.
“Monday, I have an easy run,” Shircel said.
“Tuesday I work on speed. Wednesday I work on hills. Thursday … I cross-train.” Shircel told The Leaf-Chronicle. She works out every day for at least three hours.
And she’s been training for the Antarctica marathon for more than a year.
The event has been canceled for the past two years due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
In the meantime, she’s been participating in other marathons.
From Brazil to Iceland, Shircel has visited more than 20 countries in her quest.
In 2018, Shircel ran a full marathon in New Zealand, an experience she described as her favorite so far, despite it being the most challenging.
“I wasn’t completely prepared,” she said, noting the unexpected weather and running conditions. There were steep hills, rain and snow, and Shircel struggled, but she finished the marathon after seven hours and 16 minutes.
Time didn’t matter. The only thing that did matter was the fact that she’d done it.
“If I finish it, I bet I can do anything,” she said. “It was a wonderful feeling.”
Shircel’s most recent international marathon was in 2019 in Zimbabwe, where she finished in 3 hours and 54 minutes.
But, overall, she doesn’t run for the competitive edge, she said.
Argentina to Antarctica
Shircel will be one of 200 runners to participate in next week’s marathon. The event is sold out.
She will be wearing several layers of clothing, water resistant shoes, a face covering, gloves and goggles to protect her from the continent’s extreme weather conditions.
Antarctica’s average annual temperatureranges from about −10 degrees on the coast to −60 degrees in the the highest parts of the interior.
Shircel left the U.S. on Jan. 20, and she’s expected to return in early February.
Her itinerary has her flying to Ushuaia, at the southern tip of Argentina. There, she’ll start the journey to Antarctica aboard the Ocean Victory ship, according to the Marathon tours and travel site.
Over the course of several days, the ship will sail through the Beagle Channel across the Drake Passage, through the Shetland Islands before reaching King George Island – where the marathon will start.
Her trip will span 16 days and include training runs in addition to the full marathon, where she’ll come face-to-face with Antarctic glaciers, icebergs, penguins and more.
From clothes to travel, marathon expenses have totaled to more than $11,000, according to Shircel.
But when she finishes, she knows it’ll be worth every penny.
She described her entire journey, with every trip and experience she’s had around the world, as a once in a lifetime opportunity that she couldn’t pass up.
“I love the scenery,” she said. “I am very passionate about running … it’s a part of me.”
There are times she has been exhausted, but throughout her journey, she has learned to create better life habits, skills for longevity, technique and discipline.
“Whatever you spend your time (on) the most, you’ll get good at it,” Shircel said. “It makes me feel good. It makes me feel like I want to do more … I am able to learn more.”
After Antarctica, Shircel said she wants to meet more people, including aspiring world record holders, and she is planning to continue competing in ultramarathons – defined as any distance longer than a standard marathon.
So, how long will Shircel continue to compete? When will she retire?
“Until I couldn’t walk,” she laughed.
Alexis Clark can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 931-217-8519. To support her work, sign up for a digital subscription to TheLeafChronicle.com.