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Scientists run World Half Marathon at sea

24 March 2016

Scientists running on ship

University scientists set to run the World Half Marathon aboard a ship in the Indian Ocean

As thousands of runners and elite athletes descend on the Welsh capital this weekend to run the IAAF/Cardiff University World Half Marathon, two scientists from the University will be taking part in the landmark event over 8,000 miles away in very different surroundings.

Professor Ian Hall and Professor Steve Barker, from the University’s School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, will be running the gruelling 13.1 miles as part of Team Cardiff on the helideck of their research ship off the coast of South Africa.

As the runners set off on Saturday (26 March) afternoon against the backdrop of Cardiff Castle, Steve and Ian will simultaneously embark on their run and will be tasked with circling the ship’s helideck 328 times whilst dealing with the rough conditions that the Indian Ocean could potentially throw at them.

The two scientists have been raising money on behalf of the Goedgedacht Trust, a South African charity that transforms the lives of children growing up in rural African communities by offering them a path out of poverty.

The money raised by Steve and Ian will be used to install solar panels at one of the safe houses that the charity runs for children escaping domestic violence.

The JOIDES Resolution ship has been the scientists’ home for the past two months as they’ve been immersed in a research expedition as part of the International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP).

The team have been drilling deep into the ocean floor off the coast of South Africa in search of evidence to explain the role that one of the world’s largest ocean currents – the Agulhas Current – has played in climate change over the past five million years, and how it affects the world we live in today.

In their time away from collecting sediment cores from the ocean floor, Steve and Ian have been experiencing the breath-taking sights off the coast of South Africa during their training runs on the ship’s deck, and taking advantage of the ship’s treadmill when sailing conditions have taken a turn for the worse.

For Ian, an experienced runner who has participated in numerous half and full marathons in the past, running on the ship has posed a fresh and exciting challenge, whilst Steve, a ‘not-so-frequent’ marathon runner, has had to adapt to the conditions and the mileage fairly quickly.

Ahead of the race, Ian Hall said: “I’m really excited about running. It will be a unique challenge for both of us. Of course, a lot will all depend on the weather – if the ship is rolling like it has been in the training runs, then it gets pretty rough dealing with so many corners on the helideck. You certainly feel that you could run off the edge of the ship if you lose concentration, and the steel deck isn’t the best running surface.

“We’ve had an intense two months aboard the JOIDES resolution, working long hours on what is a 24/7 operation. Although comfortable, we are inevitably very tired and fresh food has become something of a rarity, so all in all it’s not the ideal race preparation.

“The Goedgedacht trust does such amazing work with vulnerable children in rural South Africa. Their dedicated commitment to alleviating poverty and promoting sustainable development will be a huge motivation for us as we tackle 328 laps around the helideck.”

Steve Barker said: “The two main challenges during the run will be the weather and the ship’s movement, but I’m really looking to it. Training outside has been a challenge at the low latitudes as the heat and humidity make it very uncomfortable. In addition to this, the ship tends to lurch just when you’re running around the corners, so you have to be careful not to run off the side of the ship.

“Although I’ve been mainly training on the treadmill, where it’s easier to hold on if the ship lurches, I’ve tested out the helideck over a couple of hundred laps and it has been fine – plus the amazing views make it all the worthwhile.

“Beyond training, life on board the JOIDES Resolution has been surprisingly comfortable and the material we are collecting is pretty amazing – so it will be a very fulfilling trip.”

The Cardiff University-sponsored IAAF World Half Marathon Championships take place on Saturday 26 March with thousands of runners following in the footsteps of 200 elite athletes including double Olympic champion Mo Farah.

More than 200 staff, students and alumni from Cardiff University are running as part of Team Cardiff, while up to 300 staff and students are playing vital roles as volunteers to support the event.