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Conquering the Antarctic marathon: a luxury watch adventure

Laurent Lecamp puts himself – and the Geosphere O Oxygen South Pole – to the test in some of the most extreme conditions imaginable

By Debbie Hathway

People who don’t wear a watch and baulk at the idea of dipping into cash reserves to splurge on a coveted timepiece are often bemused at the thrill I get out of writing about watchmaking and collecting. It’s a niche subject and we know you don’t need a watch to tell time. For me though, it’s the joy of sharing the backstory of these collectable pieces of varying sentimental and investment values, who is wearing them, and why. At the high end, they are objects of art and culture, products of the wild imaginings of passionate designers, engineers, marketers, and managers. In the sports watch category, high-performing timepieces like the Montblanc Geosphere 0 Oxygen South Pole can even save lives.

In December 2023, after months of preparation, Laurent Lecamp, global MD of Montblanc’s Watch Division and an accomplished marathon and ultra-trail runner, followed his dream and set off to compete in the Antarctic Ice Marathon. The world’s southernmost marathon, reserved for adventure marathoners and ultra-athletes, is held over the classic distance of 42.195km, and he’s been talking about it since I first interviewed him more than three years ago. 

What moves him to take on this type of challenge? Passion, curiosity, spirit of adventure, quest for discovery. This is his (and Montblanc’s) territory – running on snow and ice at 700 metres altitude, where the average windchill temperature is -20°C and strong katabatic winds can frustrate even the fittest contenders. 

Laurent had company, though, having persuaded traditional alpinist and Montblanc Mark Maker Simon Messner* to race with him. No stranger to a challenge and used to uphill running in his mountaineering training regime, this was Simon’s first marathon – ever – and it was happening in temperatures that felt like -25°C to -30°C. Laurent’s goal was to finish in less than four hours in “normal” conditions. On race day, they were anything but that, and still the pair crossed the line as planned – together – in 4:29 and a highly rewarding joint seventh place. 

Proudly displayed on their wrists was the Geosphere 0 Oxygen South Pole fastened with a superlight titanium bracelet for Laurent and a textile strap for Simon. Lauren also wore a smartwatch to monitor his heart rate, average pace, and distance. Their purpose was to test the watch’s performance, with zero oxygen in the case to prevent fogging, in the most extreme reality possible and to conquer a physical adventure totally new to them. “Due to temperature changes that affect the metal of the case and the circumference of the wearer’s wrist, the watch buckle allows for fine adjustment to achieve a perfect fit. It was possible to adjust both buckles (on the titanium and textile strap) at any time,” says Laurent.

To my point about saving lives, smartwatches run on batteries, which many competitors soon discovered cannot charge in freezing temperatures. However, the mechanical Geosphere worked flawlessly throughout the three-day experience – critical for adventurers reliant on devices like these to help them survive extreme environmental conditions.  With a registration fee of $20 500 (around R383 073), it’s no surprise that the field included a few watch collectors now fascinated by the beauty and performance of this watch they’d never heard of. It proved the perfect environment for comparison as one mechanical watch owner experienced a temperature change from 15°C inside his tent to -30°C outside, a difference of 45°C, and the horror of water droplets forming inside the watch case. The inside of the Geosphere 0 Oxygen South Pole remained pristine.

How did they survive the race in the face of such difficult conditions and a world of pain? Laurent attributes it to positive thinking and mutual support. “I’m 46. He’s 32. My grandfather always told me that everything depends on your state of mind. The way you think is the way you will make things happen. Simon is one of the world’s best alpinists, but he suffers from vertigo. He overcomes it with 100 percent focus on the climb. If he focuses on vertigo, he’ll die. That’s the mental space. It is the basis for everything,” says Laurent. 

While his mantra is to “keep running and discovering the world”, even Laurent must slow down sometimes. He reads to unwind, particularly books by Austrian authors Stefan Sweig and Arthur Schnitzler. “They are very interesting, about stories – I love these stories. They [ignite] the imagination. That’s fun. And I do breathing exercises every day to relax.” 

  • Reinhold Messner, Simon’s father and a Montblanc Mark Maker, is known for making the first solo ascent of Mount Everest and repeating the exercise with Peter Habeler without supplemental oxygen. He was also the first to climb all 14 eight-thousanders without supplementary oxygen and cross Antarctica and Greenland without snowmobiles or dog sledges. His picture hangs in the food tent of the Antarctic Ice Marathon.
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