Iron woman

Davis resident one-ups riding a unicycle across the country with a really long, really cold run

Nothing like running a marathon in Antarctica. Water and energy bars? Check. iPod? Check. Frozen ocean? Check.

For Davis resident Gracie Sorbello, the ice-covered Southern Ocean was both a track and a scenic backdrop for her latest adventure—in a life full of them.

A 2001 graduate of Davis High School, Sorbello, 27, studied music and played field hockey for Duke University, earned a master’s degree, and along the way became the first woman to ride a unicycle across both the United States and the Great Divide. As part of her unicycle trips, she’s also raised $20,000 for The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, inspired by her uncle in Sacramento, who is sick with multiple myeloma.

She can now add to her list of adventures the 26.2-mile, frozen-tundra marathon she completed on January 16, finishing second in the women’s category with a time of 4 hours and 27 minutes.

Sorbello works at the McMurdo Station in Antarctica and decided to take part in the annual McMurdo Ice Marathon, a festive event that traverses a glacier and parts of the frozen Ross Sea. To prepare, she trained on snow and ice roads, and on a treadmill until a knee injury disabled her for a month.

“The landscape is vast,” Sorbello told SN&R via e-mail. “To the south, you can see two islands socked in ice; to the southwest is the beautiful Royal Society Mountain Range, and the standout, Mount Discovery; to the west the glaciers abuts the frozen ocean, and eventually turns into patches of open water. To the east, the icy expanse of emptiness follows the Earth’s curve beyond one’s line of vision.”

On a sunny, relatively balmy summer day of about 30 degrees, Sorbello suited up with her pink-and-black-zebra-striped running shorts, sneakers and iPod and joined 17 others in the race.

Due in part to her injured knee and shortened training, Sorbello half ran and half danced the first 15 miles or so, accompanied by diesel fumes spilling from support vehicles and the sounds of feet crunching on snow. Rock ’n’ roll played on boom boxes at aid stations. In the distance, Sorbello could see lava-rock hills and puffs of smoke from the world’s southernmost active volcano.

At mile 19, she hit a wall but kept going. “But at that point, I was closing on the home stretch and kept the finish line in mind and sight,” she said. “The camaraderie of fellow runners was irreplaceable … with varying levels of energy and enthusiasm, encouraging each other and affirming our competitors’ abilities to get through this tough event.”