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For A Real Marathon Vacation, Run To The Phone

Sun., July 30, 1995, midnight

For runners and other athletes, the word “vacation” might mean something totally different than it does for our more sedentary friends.

With time becoming ever more precious and vacations few and far between, a lot of us just don’t want to spend our week or two of time off from work regaining the 5 pounds we’ve worked so hard to keep off all year, or losing the athletic ground we’ve struggled to maintain.

Thus, active vacations are becoming more popular, and a number of travel agencies have sprung up that specialize in just such excursions.

Marathon Tours & Travel, for example, a company based in Boston, recently organized a trip to Antarctica to run the first marathon ever held there - a grueling trek on King George Island that involved running across glaciers and past city-block-sized icebergs.

To get to the starting line, Marathon Tours president Thom Gilligan said the group had to travel across Drake Passage, known to be one of the roughest bodies of water in the world. But despite a few cases of seasickness, Gilligan said some of the participants found the situation amusing.

“We went to the first marathon in Antarctica and we had to take two boats across some very rough water. The fact that my name is Gilligan struck some people pretty funny,” he said.

“I thought the Antarctica trip was very successful in that it was so remote. People are really looking for more exotic, extreme runs,” said Gilligan, who has run 51 marathons.

But “exotic” doesn’t have to mean “outrageous” for those seeking active vacations. Running-related trips are also available to such destinations as Honolulu, Bermuda, New York City, Stockholm, Switzerland, Italy, Greece, Ireland and dozens of other more civilized places.

And for those who want to combine cultural influences with running, Gilligan also takes a group to the northern Bordeaux region of France each year to run Le Marathon de Chateaux du Medoc.

“You run through 50 vineyards, and there is wine all along the way,” he said. “You run through some really famous chateaus, and at 20 miles there are oysters and white wine.” He added that 75 percent of all the participants dress in costume for the race.

When Gilligan organized his first running-related trip 17 years ago, he said a few people signed up, but interest in the sport wasn’t generally high.

Now, however, he said about 7,000 runners travel through his agency each year and the excursions draw amateurs and professionals alike. He also publishes a newsletter three times a year that is distributed to about 12,000 people.

“Among runners, we’ve had just about everybody travel with us at some point,” he said.

“I think it’s a tribute to running that there are so many opportunities for runners to travel and see the world. You can break through the touristic veneer that most travelers have and deal more with the local people.”

For more information about Marathon Tours & Travel, call (617) 242-7845, or write to 108 Main St., Boston, MA 02129.

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