RESOLUTIONS come easy – actually fulfilling them does not. If you’ve any fitness-related undertaking on that list, take to heart this tale of how this 56-year-old CEO based in Singapore traversed over 370km in 2018 alone through both the plains of Mongolia and, most recently, Antarctica. It’s certainly one of the reasons he looks model-sharp in a suit when we called on him.
Alain Esseiva not only marked his tenth ultramarathon with this latest conquest – he motivated colleagues and employees to mirror the run on shores and routes around the world. If that gets you in the mood to explore the now-trending ultramarathon route – here are his tips to jumpstart your preparation and planning phases.
Fresh off the boat that was the home base for the gruelling, Last Desert race in Antarctica, Esseiva speaks to AugustMan.com.
Q: Welcome back – tell us about your race. What are 3 main highlights that set it apart from the rest?
I had a great race and an experience that I will never forget. In total I ran 127.61KM across five stages, as the race had to be cut short at the beginning of stage 5 due to poor weather. (AM.com: The full distance was to be 250KM barring harsh weather conditions.)
I travelled from Singapore to Argentina, making my way to the port of Ushuaia at the southernmost tip, before boarding a ship for the 2.5-day journey to Antarctica.
Antarctica is a truly magical place and there are so many highlights it is hard to know where to start! Here are three that come to mind:
01: The environment
Antarctica is an overwhelming place, a world of ice, snow, granite and water where human beings really do not belong. This feeling really starts on the boat, where we experienced winds of over 50 knots and a huge swell that made us feel absolutely tiny and insignificant, especially when we passed icebergs the size of skyscrapers.
02: The wildlife
The wildlife is unique and magical. While at sea we passed Humpback whales and Fin whales and a wide range of birdlife. One of the best parts about running in Antarctica is passing the penguins who are incredibly interesting animals and very curious, often walking up to us to take a closer look.
03: My competitors
There was an eclectic mix of ultramarathon runners during The Last Desert, including a blind competitor who completed the course with the help of a guide, and an amputee. This in itself was incredibly inspiring for me and really made me understand firstly how lucky I am, and secondly how I really have no excuses not to chase my dreams. The winner was a very outstanding individual, seemingly gliding over the snow to grab first place.
I would also like to add a note of thanks to the Alpadis Group team, who ended up raising SGD$5,000 for the Ocean Conservancy. We set up an initiative in which, for the duration of my race in Antarctica, Alpadis Group employees were to run the equivalent distance collectively, and Alpadis Group would donate SGD$20 for every KM run up to SGD$5,000.
The team ended up running a total of 314.21KM, including running along the Great Wall of China, the beaches of Labuan (Malaysia), the streets of Singapore and Hong Kong and mountains of Switzerland. A superb effort!
Q: Would you consider this one the toughest so far?
I would say it is definitely the most memorable and unique race I have completed so far. It was also very tough, as in addition to tiredness you also had to deal with the biting wind, snow and cold. However, while tough it was made slightly easier for a few reasons.
Firstly, for safety reasons we spent the night back on the ship every evening, unlike other races where we slept under tents. Secondly, just the sheer magic of the place ensured that boredom was never a factor. When running for hours on end across a desert this can be an issue, but in Antarctica you are surrounded by mountains, icebergs, snow and wildlife which really helps to keep you switched on.
Q: Any truly ‘dark’ moments during the race?
The hardest moment was most certainly day four. During this stage the weather closed in and changed continuously. It was always pretty cold but started with strong, icy wind and a lot of snow and kept changing throughout the day, gradually getting worse and worse.
In Antarctica the weather dictates everything and we just had to follow it. It was also the day the Expedition leader decided that we (would) have (to) shorten our adventure and that we (would) leave earlier on day 5 due to very adverse weather condition on the Drake passage.
Q: Could you share 3 tips with someone who’s intending to go next year?
01: Bring a good camera
This is definitely a must and it is worth spending money on a camera that will capture the beauty of Antarctica.
02: Be prepared to run in snow
One of the harder parts of the race was the fact that you are constantly running in snow. This is a lot harder and it is quite difficult to prepare for, especially those that live in cities and are used to running on tarmac.
03: Bring good equipment
While the race is very well organised and is safe, you still should bring good quality equipment, from jackets and thermals to facemasks. The weather is unpredictable and you need to prepare yourself for the worst.
Q: This marks your tenth big one – what’s next for you?
For 2019, I am currently looking at two potential races, Kazakhstan Action Asia, a 100km race over three days, and Eiger Ultra Trail, a 101km race in the Swiss Alps in less than 32 hours. Longer term I am looking at the possibility of heading to the North Pole, but this is certainly more of a 2020 project.
Images: From race authority via Alain Esseiva.