In a chilling setting that might seem unusual for a runner, Associate Professor Donna Urquhart, an ultramarathoner and pain scientist, is gearing up for an extraordinary challenge – attempting to set a Guinness World Record for the longest polar ultramarathon in Antarctica. This unique endeavor is set to take place in December, and it promises to test both her physical endurance and mental fortitude.

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Antarctica, known as the coldest and windiest place on Earth, presents a formidable environment for any adventurer. Urquhart’s goal is to surpass former politician Pat Farmer’s record of 1157 kilometres from Union Glacier camp to the South Pole, a feat achieved during his Pole to Pole expedition.

While Antarctica’s temperatures generally hover between minus 5 and minus 10 degrees Celsius, they could plummet below minus 20 degrees. The relentless winds, sometimes reaching speeds of 100 km/h, can intensify the cold. Urquhart acknowledges that preparing for such extreme conditions in Melbourne has been an immense challenge.

Her journey to prepare for this record-breaking feat led her to an unexpected place: a cold-storage shipping container in Truganina, specially cooled to minus 40 degrees Celsius. TITAN Containers, a company that rents portable cold-store containers for various purposes, including freezing food, vaccines, and cold-testing engineering components, has become a major partner in her world record quest.


Donna Urquhart, a pain scientist at Monash University, has dedicated her career to researching the intersection of pain, freezing temperatures, and ultramarathoners. Her studies have included experiments where ultramarathon runners and a control group immersed their hands in icy water until the pain became unbearable. Surprisingly, all 20 ultramarathoners endured the pain for the maximum period of three minutes, while the control group averaged just 58 seconds. Her research has explored the psychological reasons behind the higher pain tolerance observed in athletes, particularly ultramarathon runners.

“I want to answer the questions: how far can humans go? How far can we run in a polar region? What are our limits? I am not a professional runner; I am a mum with a family who works and juggles training with life. I think many of us reach our limits because of our minds rather than our bodies,” says Urquhart, emphasizing the importance of mental resilience in achieving extraordinary feats.

In addition to her record attempt, Urquhart aspires to inspire more girls and women to participate in sports. She plans to be a role model and offer workshops that integrate mental strategies with physical skills.

Donna Urquhart’s approach to ultramarathons involves a unique mindset. She focuses on the present moment, analyzes the source of her pain, and adapts her strategy accordingly. Whether it’s adjusting her running form, nutrition, or mental visualization, she aims to stay in control of her physical and mental state.

As she continues her training in the freezing container, Urquhart acknowledges that it’s too late to prepare her body physiologically for Antarctica. Instead, her training now revolves around practicalities like how to manage tasks with gloves and mittens, ensuring her energy gels don’t freeze in subzero temperatures, and selecting the right attire to avoid overheating. She emphasizes that staying a little bit cool is key to preventing sweat from causing hypothermia in such extreme conditions.

While Antarctica’s harsh environment poses formidable challenges, Urquhart firmly believes that her most significant challenge will be her own mind. She understands that with mental control, she can keep going even when faced with the harshest conditions.


Follow Donna Urquhart’s journey as she aims to break records and push the boundaries of human endurance in Antarctica. Stay tuned for updates on her preparation and the incredible adventure that lies ahead.

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