Dallas residents thought it was cold last week when temps stayed below freezing for nearly 90 hours, but Rick Kopf would consider that a cake walk. He recently completed the Antarctic Ice Marathon – almost 8,000 miles from his home in Lake Highlands.
By day, Kopf works as founding partner of Munsch Hardt Kopf & Harr, a commercial law firm downtown. But don’t let the pinstripes fool you. When he’s not sitting behind a desk, he’s looking for new adventures. In fact, his race at the South Pole began near the top of the world.
“Several years ago, [my wife] Ingrid and I were climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro with some friends, including one of my law partners, Chip Cavanaugh, and one of his law school buddies, Peter Reilly, who lives in Phoenix. Peter mentioned that he had run the North Pole Marathon and was interested in doing the marathon on Antarctica. Peter continued those discussions, and in a moment of weakness, Chip and I agreed to do it with him — after all, it was a year away.”
Kopf mentioned his plan to another Dallas friend, Jud Pankey, who signed up and made it a foursome.
“Chip and I had each done four marathons before, but it had been 25 years since my last one and about 20 years since I had run at all since I have a bad bone-on-bone knee. Jud Pankey was a runner, but he hadn’t ever run a marathon before.”
The four men began their training in the spring, with Kopf running in his Moss Haven area neighborhood just one mile, three days a week to start. By September, he was running around White Rock Lake and finishing the Dallas Running Club’s half marathon of 13.1 miles. Pankey and Cavanaugh joined the DRC’s structured training program, but they all fought through various injuries and pulled muscles. Kopf’s doctor administered knee injections for pain, including one on the day his plane took off for the trip.
The men arrived in Punta Arenas, Chile, on December 9 with a couple of days to check their equipment and attend the obligatory pre-race information meetings. Most of the race’s 60 runners were booked at the same hotel, but — other than the occasional father-son pairing or romantic couple — the majority were attending alone. That made the fun foursome a hot property at the hotel bar.
“We ended up with 18 to 20 people joining us for dinner every night,” Kopf says. “That was the best part of the whole trip — meeting people from around the world with amazing stories and backgrounds. One lady had run 97 marathons, one had climbed the seven summits and one had run a marathon at the Mt. Everest Base Camp. For about 20 of the runners, this was the end of their trek of running a marathon on each continent.”
The group flew from Chile to Antarctica on December 12 and landed 200 miles from the coast on the Union Glacier. The glacier is 5,000 feet thick — strong enough for a plane to land and vehicles to arrive and whisk them away to their camp.
The camp was an elaborate operation, with 50 tents for racers, 100 more for staff and 3 large military-style tents with bathroom, shower and eating facilities. The sun was up 24 hours a day since it’s summer in the southern hemisphere.
The race consisted of four miles around a 6.5-mile course carved by a Snowcat. Whereas Dallas courses tend to weave through city streets, this surface was like running on a packed ski slope, Kopf says. The guys all wore multiple layers on both top and bottom, with wind jackets, warm gloves and toboggan hats. They wore shoes with big lugs, and Kopf’s shoes had metal studs for additional traction.
Michael Higgins of Coppell, Texas, won the race in in four hours, and the guys got to know and like him during the experience. Cavanaugh finished in seven hours, while Kopf, Pankey and Reilly took 7 hours and 20 minutes. Winning the race, though, was never the goal.
“This was not a race for time; it was a race just to do it,” Kopf says, explaining the personal, sometimes solitary, nature of the race. “Runners quickly spread out after the start of the race, and by the time we had finished the first lap, we were all alone on the course. The temperature was about five degrees with a 10-mph wind when we started, but when we finished it was about 20 degrees with a 45-50 mph wind. It sure was nice that our course was essentially a rectangle and not just an out and back, so we had the wind sideways and with us, and not always in our face.”
Reflecting immediately after his challenging accomplishment, Kopf doesn’t quibble — he says his running days are over.
“The training was terrible, and I am tired of hobbling around with a bad knee,” he says. “I have done a ton of adventure type races, climbed mountains, etc., etc., but I am done running. As Peter said at one point in the race, ‘Rick, when we find the next adventure, if it includes running, I will be happy to walk it with you.’ I will take him up on that.”
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