We hope you’ve been reading about the incredible adventure of Lieutenant Colonel William Conner—the 40-year-old Hawaii-based Marine who raised money for the Semper Fi Fund on March 9 by running a marathon … in Antarctica.
Bill’s fundraising goal was initially $17,750, to honor the USMC being founded in 1775. He raised his goal to $53,250 (17,750 x 3) and as of this writing is just over $46,000. His other goal was to reach 239 individual donors; he has 261 donors, but quite a few people have donated multiple times and he still needs about 25 more people to reach 239 unique donors. (Contribute to Bill’s fundraising efforts here.)
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We caught up with Bill about a week after he arrived back in Hawaii from his Antarctic excursion. He’s probably still thawing out, but he graciously took some time to answer a few questions about his remarkable experience.
What was your finishing time?
My final time was 6:01:12 which is by far my slowest marathon ever. I am very disappointed in my time; I know I’m capable of running much faster. This was also the fourth time I had worn boots and utes [utility uniform] for a race. The race director’s slogan for the Antarctica Marathon is “The Last Marathon,” a spinoff from Antarctica being known as “The Last Continent.” For me it has special meaning, as it will be the last marathon for me wearing boots and utes.
What was the most unexpected thing you experienced during the marathon?
I was not expecting the course to be that muddy, and was actually expecting it to be a little colder. This year’s race should have been named “The Antarctica Mud Marathon.” I have run several Mud Runs in the U.S. that have not been that muddy. There was also a small stream at the one-mile mark that kept growing throughout the race. We all had to jump over that stream six times; every time it seemed like the stream grew, and by the sixth time I just ran through it.
What was the toughest part of the marathon?
Overcoming my pulled calf at mile six and running through all the mud and slush. My calf immediately tightened up, and I was not able to run up the hills; it made for a very long day. However, quitting was not an option and I limped forward on the course and persevered.
When you reach points in the marathon that are really challenging you physically, what do you think about that helps you break through the wall and keep going?
I dedicated this race to three Naval Academy classmates and friends who have died in combat in Iraq or Afghanistan several years back: Major Megan McClung, Major Doug Zembiec, and LCDR Erik Kristensen, who was also a fellow crew mate on the Naval Heavyweight Rowing team for the four years at the Academy.
So when I pulled my calf at mile six and started feeling sorry for myself, I thought, “What would Doug, Erik and Megan do?” There is only one thing you can do, and that is keep pushing forward. Quitting is not an option. There was a strict 6:30 cutoff and I was watching the clock very carefully—I didn’t want to travel all the way to Antarctica and get a DNF [did not finish]. I also did not want to injure my calf further, so I was trying to be very careful.
Toward the end of the marathon, I was trying to get under 6 hours and I started to pick up the pace. Once I got within couple of yards of the finish line, I thought I had torn my calf. I never experienced a pain like that before—and had I felt that earlier in the race, I would not have been able to finish. I stood there composing myself and trying to keep myself from going down to the ground, because if I did I am not sure I would have gotten back up on my own.
I had a couple of words of encouragement from one of the race staff to the effect of, “Don’t let an old Army NCO go out there and get you!” That got my attention. I ended up limping across the finish line—proud that I had finished, but disappointed in my time.
During the race I was also thinking that Megan would have really enjoyed running in this race. She had done the USMC Marathon and other Ironman races, and I think she would have eventually found her way to Antarctica for this marathon. She had a great spirit of adventure.
What did you learn about yourself from the experience?
The biggest takeaway for me is to never give up—keep moving forward and you will eventually reach the finish line. Also, Antarctica is an incredible place, truly the world’s last frontier. Though you can’t really tell by the race pictures, it is also the most beautiful continent. Once you got further south, the abundant icebergs, glaciers, whales, penguins and seals were awe inspiring.
Would you do it again?
Absolutely. It was a life-changing experience getting a chance to go to Antarctica and actually step foot on the continent and walk among all the penguins and seals. However, I have other things on my bucket list I need to check off before going back. I’m trying to run a marathon on all seven continents, and I still have three continents to go: South America, Australia and Africa. I think Africa is going to be my next continent; I have a couple of ideas for races there.
Bill has been an amazing supporter of the Semper Fi Fund over the years and his efforts have raised close to $120,000.00 towards our mission. From bicycling across the country, to Iron Man competitions and marathons, Bill has literally been running all over the world to help our veterans and their families.
Bill’s dedication and support of the Semper Fi Fund’s mission has been nothing short of amazing!
Thank you, Bill, for always going that “extra mile!”