Saturday, April 18, 2009

Run for the Parks 4-miler 4.5.09

Hi all,

Race number 8 (6th 2010 marathon-qualifying race) was the Race for the Parks 4-miler.

Goals: to run between water stations and to finish in 38 - 40 minutes, with every mile run in under 10 minutes.

This was my first race since the marathon and I was still getting back into training, so I wanted to take it a little easy today. It’s also taken longer than I expected to adjust my breathing. After the first couple of days at sea, I had no asthma symptoms at all (except during the marathon). I got to the race early enough to warm up, but squandered my time wandering around the festival and not winning anything at the American Airlines booth (I mistakenly thought that if my spin landed on a place name, I’d get a ticket to that place – I was sorely disappointed).

My warm-up was the quick jog from the baggage tent to the start. I lined up, stretched a bit and waited for the gun. We did our usual stop/start/bottleneck thing and I was able to settle into a good, comfortable place shortly after the start. I wanted to keep it to a comfortable, but hard pace. I ran all the way up Cat Hill, saluting as I passed, and started looking for the first water station. Where I expected it to be, there was just a pile of table parts and a stack of garbage cans (the fire-hydrant water is stored in plastic-bag lined garbage cans), but no volunteers and no water. I assumed that the water would be on the 102nd St. Transverse instead and talked myself into running all the way to the Transverse, so I could hit my first goal. It wasn’t until I had crossed the Transverse and was running up and down the rolling downhills of the west side that I started worrying. I usually take a walk break every mile or 2 at the water stations, but now, I hadn’t been able to stop at all. I wasn’t sure there would be a water station until the finish and was feeling breathless and tired, so I gave up and stopped to walk. I used my inhaler and tried to keep up a fast walking pace. Shortly after I started running again, I heard a volunteer say that the water station was around the corner. It was, in the usual place, so my 3rd mile felt much slower, with the 2 walk-breaks. I tried to pick it up for the last mile, but I’d blown it by missing that first walk break. In the end, though I missed the first goal, I beat my low-end goal by nearly a minute without feeling like I was running too hard!

Official stats: my official time was 37:05, for an average pace of 9:16. My splits were 9:23, 8:57, 9:52 and 8:58. I was 3357 out of 5739 total runners, putting me in the 42nd percentile. It was 45°F with 56% humidity.

Celebratory treats: After Charlotte’s 3rd place win in the 2-year-olds’ race, Andrea, Brady, Charlotte and I headed over to Whole Foods for a mini chocolate tasting.

Next up: Run-as-One 4-miler (4/19).

Race pictures are available here:

Mast Chocolate Factory pictures are available here:

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Antarctica Journal 3.16.09

Antarctica Journal 3.16.09

I had set my alarm for 5:30 so I could watch the ship come into port in Ushuaia, but turned it off as soon as it started beeping. The next thing I knew, it was 6:30 and I’d missed the best part of the maneuvering; the ship had done a 180° turn and was slowly backing into its berth. I took a few pictures of Ushuaia in the dawning light, then went down to breakfast.

After breakfast, Kathy and I picked up our carry-ons (the checked bags had been picked up during breakfast) and went down to the lobby to wait for our disembarkation. There were hugs and goodbyes and let’s-keep-in-touches.

When we were finally allowed to disembark, we had to claim our checked baggage, which had been lowered to the pier in cargo netting. I’d planned to get pictures of that, too, but had forgotten all about it in the excitement of getting ready to go. My Badtz Maru duffle had been crushed under a much larger and heavier duffle bag (it took me several passes through the bags to even find it).

I got the bags loaded into my bus, then climbed aboard. Kathy and I sat together for the ride to the airport. I was very disappointed to have no time in Ushuaia. I expect travel agents to make arrangements in order that all of their clients receive similar experiences. Instead of arranging for travelers to have equal amounts of time in Ushuaia, the arrangements were based on whether or not you’d had a nonstop flight heading down. I’d had a nonstop heading down, so I was booked on the only flight with a stop, resulting in a total of about 45 minutes in Ushuaia, where other groups had several hours there on both legs. Very poor travel planning on the part of the travel agency, if you ask me and many of the other passengers on the short schedule!

The flight to BA was uneventful, but we received 2 meals: a cheese sandwich immediately after take-off and a full lunch after the scheduled stop (Colafate?). Instead of landing at the local airport, we were directed to Ezeizas. I called Daniel while I was waiting for my luggage, but he had a meeting and wasn’t able to come to the airport, after all. I was disappointed, but he had taken a lot of time for me before the cruise and, of course, he has a business to run. Hopefully, his planned chocolate classes in NY will come to pass and I’ll be able to extend the same hospitality he showed me.

We weren’t able to check in until 4:30 (yet another irritating result of the early flight), so I had to cool my heels for about an hour. I was a little annoyed when I had to show a second ID and answer questions about my identity, but wasn’t about to make a fuss on my way home. On my way to security, I found the Persicco booth on the second level and treated myself to one last Argentinean ice-cream. I had dark chocolate and chocolate with almonds, drizzled with chocolate sauce. Yum!

Past immigration and security, I navigated my way through the Duty Free shops so I could drop my bags in the Admiral’s club. I found Ruth there and told her I was going to go shopping, so she joined me. I didn’t find anything to buy – it was mostly a shopping mall charging higher prices than I would have paid if I’d bought them outside and paid tax.

We went back into the lounge and found Theresa and the three of us sat around talking about the trip, comparing experiences. Theresa’s flight left first, then it was my turn. At the gate, I checked on upgrade status and was told there wouldn’t be any upgrades on the flight.

After boarding, there were a couple of women who wanted to sit together and a flight attendant was asking people to switch, so they could. When one passenger refused, because he only wanted an aisle seat, the FA told him to calm down and then said “Let’s not deal with him” very dismissively to the passenger disrupting the seating arrangements. She asked me to switch out of the emergency row for a window seat much farther back in the plane and, when I refused, because I’d chosen the seat for the legroom, she just turned her back on me and went off to ask someone else. She succeeded, because someone else came and sat in the seat next to me.

The rest of the flight was uneventful and I cleared border control, baggage claim, and customs in about a half hour. I was at work by 9! Oddly, I kept expecting the cubicles to move around me, but they stayed solid. I guess I got my landlegs back pretty quickly.

Pictures from these days are available here:

Monday, April 6, 2009

Antarctica Journal 3.15.09

Antarctica Journal 3.15.09

I couldn’t sleep (no more Cokes at dinner), so I tossed and turned. I feel asleep a little after 1:30 and had to drag myself out of bed at 7:30 to shower and get ready for breakfast.

After breakfast, I repacked my duffle and then went down to the presentation room to find photos again. At about 9:30, Kathy and I went to the library to settle accounts. Some of my charges ended up on her bill, so we had some changes to make. It all went very smoothly and we were given our passports and a certificate commemorating our Antarctica landing.

At 10:30, they showed a really cool movie about rounding Cape Horn. Captain Irving Johnson had made the film back in 1929 when he was a sailor, but didn’t narrate it until 1980. I really enjoyed it and hope to buy it when I get back1.

I was feeling cold again, so I went back to my room and bundled up under the blankets. I must have fallen asleep, because the next thing I knew, the lunch announcement came over the loudspeaker. It was a pretty boring meal – creamy chicken soup, salad from the salad bar, and a chef salad wrap. Dessert was mango tart, so, obviously, I skipped it.

After lunch, I repacked my Badtz Maru duffle and carry-on backpack, then rested until it was time for the 3pm tour of the ship2. We went through the mud room and saw the old scientific/spy machinery that had been left in place because it was too expensive to remove. Is it cynical to reflect that leaving it in place means it’s available should the ship be recommissioned for active service? We saw the emergency steering mechanism, which looked like an over-sized steering wheel, rather than a ship’s helm, not to mention it faced the interior of the storage area, so the helmsman wouldn’t be able to see where he was steering. The engine room was fairly interesting, too. We went up to the bridge and saw Cape Horn for the first time. The Chileans refused to let us get closer than 12 knots, so we weren’t able to “round the Horn” in the classic sense, unfortunately. I’ll have to take a cruise from Chile, if I want to experience that.

After the tour, I headed straight for the bar for the last cookie time. More and more people trickled in, hovering around the bar, waiting for Max to arrive with the tray. Just after 4:30, we could smell cookies, but there was no sign of Max in the corridor. All of a sudden, there was a surge towards the lounge. Max had tricked us by going around the deck and coming in through the lounge. Luckily, there were enough chocolate chunk cookies that I was able to grab one for me and one for my roommate. Unfortunately, before I realized it, I’d eaten her cookie. There were still a few left on the tray, so I grabbed another and carried it up to her, before I could eat that one, too., By then, it was nearly 5 pm and time for Rupert’s Voyage Recap3 and Sam’s photo journal slideshow.

In the half hour between the end of the slideshow and the beginning of the final camera class, I went to the bar to hang out and met Kenny and Karen, who live in NY. I had to run off at 6:15, but probably should have stayed. The camera class was supposed to be an intro to Photoshop4, but Ellen didn’t seem all that familiar with it. She couldn’t show us how to straighten a horizon, which was just about the only thing I was interested in learning. She spent a most of the time showing us how to clone pixels and use them to delete things, like people and wrinkles, from photos, which I don’t really believe in. To me, a photograph is a capture of a moment in time and should be left alone. Straightening a horizon doesn’t bother me that much, but erasing people and wrinkles isn’t something I would do. All in all, I was disappointed with the class.

We were kept late again, so we had to rush off to change for the Captain’s Dinner. I hadn’t brought any formal wear (and neither had most people), but I put on a pair of dark gray slacks with my NY skyline shirt. I sat with Kenny and Karen, Connie and Mike, and Natasha and learned that the $350 fuel surcharge was really to cover an insurance policy, rather than to cover the actual cost of the fuel for the trip. I’m going to request a refund, though I doubt I’ll get it.

During dessert, there were the usual speeches, with thanks and praise going around to everyone, some deserved (the ship’s crew and staff and the Quark expedition team) and some not so deserving.

After dinner, I hurried up to my room to make sure my bags were ready for the morning, then went down to the bar to hear John play guitar and sing (I missed the new song he wrote for this marathon) and to see the Kiwis do the Haka. It was getting late (for me), so I brought down two boxes of Daniel’s chocolates as a bribe and then got my camera ready to record. Tim started the show with an explanation of the Haka, then, with much encouragement from the crowd, he and Rod took off their shirts to the thing right. It was an impressive show. I waited to see if John would do an encore of the Antarctica Marathon song, but, at 11:15, I called it quits and went to bed.

Pictures from these days are available here:

1 Around Cape Horn – Mystic Seaport sells it on-line.

2 Ship Tour
• Mud room – Russian spy ship, ostensibly for scientific research
• After 4 years, became tourist ship
• Sonar equipment – large microphone – too expensive to remove equipment, so it was left in
• Can go 55 days without taking on fuel or water
• Ioffe and Vavilov are sister ships: Ioffe is the receiver and Vavilov is the transmitter. Both could be used as receivers, with a sub transmitting
• Emergency steering
• Side thrusters – useful for navigating among icebergs
• Stabilizers
• 2 engines – max. power is about 14.5 knots

3 Rupert’s Recap
• Record lifeboat motor/drill
• 2 ships
• 20 zodiacs
• 4 ATVs
• 206 participants
• 36 half marathon runners
• 180 marathon runners
• 7 excursions
• 2 continental landings
• 1530.4 knots covered
• 1 knot = 1.15 statute miles

4 Camera Class 5
• ISO – light sensitivity – higher ISO = more light
• (AV?) AP – aperature priority
• TV or SV – shutter speed
• Composition is key
• Pattern is a legitimate subject
• Diagonals are good
• Picasa, Elements (can’t move pixels)
• Photoshop (can move pixels)

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Antarctica Journal 3.14.09

Antarctica Journal 3.14.09

Back at sea. I wasn’t feeling well when I woke up. The seas were not as calm as they were coming down. I felt overheated at breakfast, then felt really cold. With 2 blankets on, I was still cold, so I asked Kathy to let Tamsin (the ship doctor) know. Tamsin checked my temperature and pulse and both were low, so she told me to take a 20-minute hot shower, bundle up and make sure I ate something for lunch. She thought the “thermostating” problem was a seasickness symptom.

The shower was an interesting experience. The water felt hot, warm, cold, hot. The ship was rocking badly, so I kept having to grab the hand rail to keep from falling. I couldn’t stand it (literally and figuratively) for the full 20 minutes, so I got out, bundled up and got back under the covers. I slept fitfully until lunchtime and carried 2 sweaters with me to the dining hall. The doors opened late, because the salad bar buffet crashed and had to be rebuilt. I had some salad and bread and ordered the chicken, but it wasn’t very good. I skipped dessert, too, because it was peach cobbler. Throughout the meal, my temperature changed several times. Sweater on, sweater on, sweater off, sweater on, sweater off, sweater off, sweater on, etc. After the announcements, I went back up and burrowed under the covers again. The ship was seriously rocking with spray coming up to the 5th floor windows at least! Every now and then, the ship would shimmy and shudder. It’s amazing the punishment it takes.

The gift shop opened at 2 for an hour, but I waited until it was nearly time for the 3pm lecture to go. Liz had recommended the Frank Hurley book, so I wanted to pick it up. Michael’s lecture was on the plight of the albatross and other sea birds.1

After his presentation, I stayed in the bar until cookie time (chocolate chunk), then went to the dining hall for Lynn’s presentation on conservation of Antarctic wildlife.2 Seems like the world has tourism to thank for getting the scientists to clean up their acts down here.

Immediately after Lynn’s lecture, I had to go back to the presentation room for our 4th camera class.3 My photos got critiqued first. I got some pretty good comments, but I don’t really believe in correcting photos, so I’ll have to take better pictures first time around next time. After class, I ran up to my room for a Coke to drink with dinner, which was rack of lamb. It was okay, but I had to send it back to be cooked more. After dinner, I started packing, then went to the presentation room to load photos into the photo journal and to copy my race day photos. I also helped some people with their photos.

Pictures from these days are available here:

1 Plight of the Albatross
• Seabird conservation in fisheries
• 30 km lines
• 10-20,000 hooks/line
• Pategonian toothfish = Chilean seabass
• Albatross attracted to offal and to baited hooks
• ≈ $20/kg
• Trawl fishing also kills birds
• Methods of protection
o Streamers on lines
o Individual weights on hooks
o Dye bait blue
o Fish at night
o Lay line below water, instead of off the deck onto the surface of the water
o Limit fishing season

2 Conservation of Antarctic Wildlife
• Lynn was a conservation geneticist
• Studied how big/small a species had to be to survive
• Conservation linked to election periods
• Species need to be able to adapt to change over time in order to survive
• Blue whales and fin whales are largest species
• Genetic variation diminishes as population size decreases
• Right whales (called that because they were the best whales to hunt) – high blubber content, pale baleen (easier to paint/dye), float when dead and migrate regularly
• Penguins okay, except where in contact with humans - no defenses

3 Camera Class 4
• Review of previous sessions
• Portraiture – background, lighting conditions, photograph in shade, no light stippling
• Fill flash
• Side light increases texture
• Lens – long lens (100mm) – portrait lens
• Posing (male/female – lengthen)
• Group photos – stagger heights, triangles are good, for families – use touching to establish connection
• polarizer

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Antarctica Journal 3.13.09

Antarctica Journal 3.13.09

Last day in Antarctica, but one of the most exciting of the trip. We hit the farthest point south (64’53”, I think) on this voyage. I’m a little disappointed that we aren’t crossing the Antarctic Circle, but I hop to come back some day and will make sure that’s a part of the experience.

I did my usual bridge visit and was happy to learn we’d be entering Neko Harbor. The channel looked too small to allow our ship through, but, as we got closer, Antarctica pulled its usual magic and the channel widened into a huge opening into Neko Harbor. It was beautiful!

I hurried down to breakfast (late) and had eggs Florentine. Rupert told us during his breakfast announcements that the morning examinations would include a landing and a cruise and only the first 5-6 zodiacs would land, while the rest cruised and, then, halfway through the morning, they’d switch. I was delayed at breakfast talking to someone, then kept forgetting stuff, so I ended up being in a cruising zodiac. We had to hear over the radio that a leopard seal had caught a penguin just off shore.

Instead of checking out the animal activity near shore, our driver went out into the bay to look at icebergs and kept us out so long that we only had about an hour on shore when we finally landed. I was really annoyed. I trudged up the beach, narrowly avoiding stepping on a penguin carcass. Penguins were all around us. As I came around to the snow hill, I saw Nadine lying on the snow taking pictures. Two penguins had come right up to her, so I snapped some shots, because she couldn’t. I went up the hill and took some pictures over the bay and back down the hill.

On my way back down the hill, Kevin handed me his camera and asked me to take pictures of him working with his video camera. He let me take some penguin shots, too, but I wished I knew more about photography so I could have taken full advantage of the opportunity. At that point, Michael, the wildlife expert, started herding us back to the shore to go back to the ship for lunch. I held back as much as I could and was the last person to get in the zodiac.

Lunch was pizza or crab louis, neither of which I like (or can eat, in the case of the crab), so I went for the pizza, obviously. The best part of lunch was dessert: ICE CREAM SOCIAL!!!! As we finished eating, the salad bar table was reset as a buffet of toppings: sauces, fruits, nuts, cookies, sprinkles, etc. I had two scoops of chocolate ice-cream with chocolate and caramel sauces (side-by-side), brownie bits, crumbled meringue cookies, crushed chocolate wafers, whipped cream and sprinkles. Yum!! I also got to talk to people who’d seen the leopard seal with the penguin. What an experience!

During lunch, the ship moved from Neko Harbor to Paradise Harbor. Rupert announced that there would be no polar plunge, which upset a lot of people, but I knew they wouldn’t have denied it, if they could have let it happen. For the afternoon excursions, there was no way I was getting in a cruising zodiac first, but, even so, I was on the 3rd zodiac out. I was a little surprised to see Thom and some of his staff getting on the early zodiacs. As our tour guide, I expected him to make sure we were all on shore first, but I haven’t noticed that he operates as a tour guide out here.

As soon as we landed, I saw a signpost with various destinations and their distance from the base in knots. I took a few pictures, with and without the ShakeAway cup, then explored the deserted Argentine base a bit, taking pictures and video of the penguins. In order to slide down the mountain, I had to climb it first. The sun was blazing and I was hot, so I left my parka at the landing and started trudging. I was sweating by the time I got halfway. It was really steep and I was glad that I had footprints to step into and make my way more easily up the hill (I’m not sure which this was – I’m not good at judging distances or steepness, which are both factors in determining whether an elevation is a hill or a mountain).

At the top of the snow, I climbed up onto the bare rocks and ate some chocolate. I’d forgotten that I wasn’t supposed to bring any food onto Antarctica, but I wanted to eat some of Daniel’s chocolate on the continent. People started sliding down the hill and, after a good groove was carved into the snow, I tucked myself into it, lifted my feet and slid down myself. A bunch of us started out towards the outcropping with the Argentine house, but were waved off from a zodiac in the bay. They’d forgotten to tell us that the scientific buildings were okay to explore (from outside), but not the house.

I took some more penguin pics and video, then went to the landing for my zodiac cruise. People from the emptying zodiacs were trying to get their pictures with the signpost, so I offered to take pictures for them. By the time I finished, the last zodiac had left, but it was going back to the ship to drop people off, so Lynn asked it to come back for me. It was, unfortunately, the same driver from the morning, with the same results. No animals, except for a lone minke whale on our way back to dinner. Some of the other zodiacs saw animals, but not ours. Luck of the draw, I guess.

Back on the ship, it was cookie time, so I grabbed a couple for me and a couple for my roommate (chocolate with white-chocolate chunks). Instead of packing, I played with my photos until dinner.

I sat with Liz and Rod. Dinner was prime rib, which was okay. Dessert was a chocolate molten cake, that was more like a chocolate soufflé cake. Delicious!! I spent the rest of the evening in the library before going to bed with a sleeping pill.

Pictures from these days are available here:

Antarctica Journal 3.12.09

Antarctica Journal 3.12.09

I slept until the wake-up call came. I’m getting more and more tired each day. The breakfast special was pancakes, which I ate with peanut butter and a fried egg white.

The morning excursion was a zodiac cruise in Wilhelmina Bay. Scottie was our driver and he took around some interesting bays and to a whaling ship that had been scuttled in 1915 because of a fire. It’s now home to Antarctic terns. We followed some humpback whales around and on several occasions, other zodiacs (or maybe it was the same one each time) would cut in front of us, blocking our view. The last time that happened, a whale came within 5 feet of the other zodiac and we couldn’t see it at all. It was really exciting for them, but frustrating for us, because we were the ones tracking that whale and the other zodiac cruised in at the last minute and took our view. I’m glad they got to see the whale, but would have liked to have seen it up close, too. We did get to see a calving glacier, which made some big noises and some little icebergs.

We got back to the ship at around noon, which gave us time to get ready for the big barbecue. The Vavilov passengers and staff came over to the Ioffe for swordfish, steaks, ribs, wursts, burgers, and various salads and sides. Dessert wasn’t very exciting – some sort of orange bread with a custardy sauce. The best part was taking pictures under the race banner. Towards the end, Thom announced the winners. It would have taken all of 10 minutes to put together a proper list, but he just tried to read them off of the main list, which meant he read the age category winners from 1st to 3rd, instead of the other way around. He also announced them from the middle of the deck, rather than by the race banner, so we didn’t get to see the winners, because they all went to the banner at the stern to be photographed.

It wasn’t clear whether or not we’d be going back out in the zodiacs, but, happily, Rupert announced that, after an hour of gift shop access, we’d be heading back into the bay. I bought some little flat things (no princessy t-shirts for my nieces – I hope they won’t care that I don’t have anything for them) and considered buying more to get a free hat (they were having a “spend $100 and get a free hat” promotion), but decided against it.

At the appointed hour, I suited up and climbed into Lynn’s zodiac. I asked her about ice worms, but she said they don’t appear in Antarctica. Before we’d gone very far, Rupert pulled up with a single passenger and asked if anyone wanted to come over. I couldn’t resist the opportunity to climb between zodiacs in the middle of Wilhelmina Bay in the Antarctic, so I hopped over. I am proud to say that I did not fall on my face or my butt or any other part of me.

Changing zodiacs turned out to be a good call. Rupert was an excellent guide. We watched a leopard seal and some whales, then “parked” behind a glacier, out of view of the ship and tucked into brash ice with icebergs all around us and just drifted. Rupert is a Ph.D. candidate, studying sea ice, so he explained some thing about ice. Then, we heard it. A whale was snorting from deep in the bay. We saw it blow a couple of times, but it was too late to approach it. We started back for the ship, stopping twice to whale-watch. By then, we were seriously late. So Rupert opened up the engine and we flew across the mirror-like bay. It was exhilarating!

Dinner was served at 8 pm, because of the big BBQ lunch. I had the sole, because I wanted to fish at least once, but I liked the wild rice side better than the sole. Dessert was strawberry tart, so I skipped it. After next-day instructions from Rupert, I headed down to the presentation room to review my photos and load any good ones into the file for the photo class. Elizabeth was there and showed me her race photos and then Kevin showed us some of his photos.

I was exhausted, as usual, so I went to bed early.

Pictures from these days are available here:

Friday, April 3, 2009

Antarctica Journal 3.11.09

Antarctica Journal 3.11.09

I woke up early, so I went up to the bridge to see what was up and check out the latitude/longitude. We were heading into Mikkelson Harbor, our first glimpse of the mainland. After breakfast, we suited up and took zodiacs out to Trinity Island. Leopard seals were playing in the water as we approached.

The shore was lined with fur seals and gentoo penguins. As soon as we landed, we saw an old whaling boat surrounded by whale bones. The island was a whaling factory back when whaling was a profitable industry. I wandered around taking pictures of seals, and penguins, and seals and penguins. Sam taught me how to tell what penguins and seals have been eating by looking at their poo*. I watched Rupert having a dance-off with a bullying fur seal (Rupert won, but, in all fairness to the seal, Rupert has much longer legs).

I walked over the snow bank and nearly stepped on a Weddell seal that was completely zoned out. He never woke up, no matter how much noise we made or how close we came to him. The zodiacs started loading up, so I didn’t get a chance to see the Argentine refugee, where, apparently, an Adelie penguin was hanging out. As I waited in line for the zodiac, I rock-watched again. There were some beautiful green stones.

I sat next to Thom at lunch. I opted for the Croque Monsieur, because it was supposed to be cooked in cinnamon custard, which I couldn’t resist. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t all that good, either. I wished I’d gone for the curry chicken salad instead. I asked Thom if anyone had missed the cut-off and he said no, but I heard that at least two people had been picked up on ATVs.

After lunch, we went on zodiac cruises in Charlotte Bay. There were a lot of ice-bergs, plus some wildlife, including a leopard seal and some fur seals. We got back in time for cookies – oatmeal raisins with a few chocolate chunk mixed in. We all know which ones I ate! Results had been posted in the bar, so we all checked them out. I think I was 15th in my age category, which means I didn’t do very well, but I had a great time.

Before dinner there was a photo class, but we just critiqued each other’s photos. Mine weren’t copied onto the laptop, so I didn’t get any critique. Dinner wasn’t very exciting. The only option I could eat was the zucchini pancakes, which came with mashed sweet potatoes, which I can’t eat. I’ve been feeling pretty hungry at night, which seems strange, because everyone else comments on how much food we’re given. During dessert, Lynn gave a mini lecture on ice.

Pictures from these days are available here:

* Red poo means they’ve been eating krill
White poo means they’ve been eating fish
Green poo means the animal is stressed, such as when they’re moulting
Black poo means a seal has eaten a penguin

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Antarctica Marathon 3.10.09

Antarctica Marathon 3.10.09

I slept a little better without all the rocking. I got up early and went to the bridge to check out the stats. The winds were down to 4-5 m/s and it was a balmy 32°F. We had an early breakfast, because the zodiacs needed to get started by 8. I don’t usually eat before a race, so I only had some white rice and Special K. Back to the room to add the rest of my layers and suit up and boot up for the zodiac ride.+

We were greeted by penguins and a seal (crabeater or Weddell) who didn’t seem all that pleased to see us. After a few photo ops, I decided to drop a layer and didn’t wear my hat or gloves. I couldn’t believe how warm it was! I decided to wear my wrist camera for the first time around the course, then switch to my new Pentax the second time around. A bunch of us were standing and chatting when we heard a whistle and realized that the race had started. We were off!

Even after going over the elevation chart many times before leaving NY, I was somewhat surprised/shocked at the hills. Not just the number of hills (neverending), but the steepness, too. I went out way too fast, because the downhills were fun and I was trying to run up the hills. I didn’t get very far before I realized that I was making a big mistake. Not only was I going to have to do all of these hills twice, but when was I going to have 7 hours to wander around Antarctica? I started walking the steeper uphills and continued tearing down the downhills, but trying to run moderately on the few flat stretches between hills.

I had to carry one of my 3 water bottles out to the first water station, which was at the Vavilov start at the Uruguayan base. I hate carrying stuff while I’m running and this was no exception. I happily dropped it and carried on running until about the 4th mile*, when I hit the mud and quicksand that heralded the approach of the glacier. I did try to run it, but it was rocky and muddy and I nearly lost my shoes many times (other people did lose shoes, some of them multiple times during the 4 times we had to cross that section). I decided I’d rather slow down (I’d calculated a half hour for the glacier, anyway) than lose a shoe. I picked my way gingerly across the mud, trying to step on rocks as much as possible. I knew when I was crossing quicksand because the rocks would sink beneath me.

And then I hit the glacier. It was crazy! Thom had promised no crevasses, but that was before the course change. We ran right along a crevasse to the turnaround point, I took some pictures and turned back down. The glacier was slick and slippery, so I was careful and slow back down. The mud field was just as bad going back to the trail, but I managed not to lose my shoes this time, too. The mile was about 20 minutes, if not longer.

I did all the hills in reverse and caught up with Linda, who was completing her 7th marathon on 7 continents in 1 year. She’d injured her foot and hadn’t been able to train much, so I checked to see if she was okay. We leap-frogged a bit, then I caught a second wind and went on ahead. I don’t know if it was being closer to the glacier or if it was because of the increased wind, but I had to put my gloves on.

Back at the start, I had to go to my bag and grab my second bottle to carry out to the water station on the Great Wall loop. I kept up my walking uphill strategy, which was just as necessary, because the hills on this end were pretty bad, too – they were longer, though less numerous. On the way past the Chilean base, next to a pretty blue church, there was a small water station manned by a very nice Chilean man. He seemed as excited about talking to the runners and photographing them, as he was about giving us water. In the 10th mile, the trail became a stone road. It was not fun at all. I was still on track for a sub-3 half, so I didn’t push it too hard (we had to finish the first half in 3:20 to be able to continue running the full).

After a particularly difficult stretch, where the path narrowed to one lane as it skirted a huge boulder (or mountain), I could see the turnaround at the Chinese base. They had set up a fluid station for us, with beer, water, sodas, orange juice, etc. The commander was there, as well as some of the scientists. I thanked them (I hope – I could have mispronounced it), took a couple of pictures with the commander and headed back. I hadn’t taken too much fluid, because the water tasted funny. Back out to the stone road and I saw someone taking pictures right before the big boulder. I stopped to look, too, and there were 4 or 5 moulting chinstrap penguins sitting in a cleft in the rock. Cute!! I snapped some pics, of course, then carried on, making sure to tell everyone heading that way that the penguins were there.

Another swig of Gatorade and then it was just a mile or two before I finished the half. I stopped at the site to use the bathroom, just to say I had, and, boy, was I sorry!! It was disgusting!! Port-a-potties are luxury toilets compared to the biobox we had to use. It was basically a cooler in a tent. I picked up my regular camera to make sure I got some good shots, in case the Hero didn’t work. I also stopped for a picture next to the “Finish” sign, in case my battery died (it was in the red and I didn’t have a spare battery with me).

As I was getting ready to start my second 8-mile loop, Gert, the winner, was coming in, so I stopped to cheer him in. The “tape” was a strip of torn plastic bag and when he crossed, he collapsed on the ground. Thom asked him to do it again, but then checked and he’d caught the shot, so he didn’t have to after all.

Back to the course for an even slower 2nd half. I’d hoped that all the energy I’d preserved by walking and going slow and stopping for pictures would help me with negative or even splits, but I was worn out and walked at least half of the second time around. On the way back towards the glacier, there was a penguin on the course. He was running along with some runners and wandering around at other times. We found out later that he was probably looking for a place to moult (he was a long way inland from the coast). I was leap-frogging with Deb at this point and we stopped to take pictures, then headed back to the glacier. The runners coming back towards us said the glacier was in better shape now, but the mud was just as bad, if not worse. I was relieved to get onto the glacier. I took more pictures, including one of my feet straddling a crevasse. No-one was manning the turnaround this time and the banner had fallen over, so no pics there. I was able to run down the glacier – it was nice and crunchy, probably from the drop in temperature and the increase in the winds.

Back across the mudfield with no pretense of running at all. I was in survivor mode by this time. My back and hips ached. Up and down the hills, picking up my water bottle on the way, until I was finally back at the start and ready to complete the final 4+-mile loop. I dropped off the water bottle and tried to run through Bellingshausen, at least. That lasted all of a minute, I think. I was trying to stick to my run-downhills-and-flats plan, but gave it up completely when I hit the stone road into the China base. I drank a cup of Coke at the Chinese water station, then strode off to finish my marathon.

I knew it was only about 2.5 miles, but I couldn’t take running on the stones. My lower back ached and my hips and legs weren’t all that happy with me, either. I told myself that when I hit the mud trail again, I would run, and I did, but not for long. Back at the water drop, I picked up my bottle to bring back to the finish. I started looking at all the different rocks and passed some time thinking about how different and how similar is to the rest of the planet.

Back up and down the hills (I kept telling myself I’d see the finish area around the next bend, but it must have been wishful thinking) until I hit the final downhill before re-entering the Russian base. I decided that I would run the rest of the way and I didn’t stop – not when some Chileans stopped in their truck and blew me kisses, not when I thought I couldn’t run another step, and not when I hit the final uphill to the finish. I wish I’d remembered to drop the water bottle before the finish-line photos. My camera battery had died back in China, but Deb was still gathering her things, so she very kindly agreed to put my memory card in her camera so I have finishing photos.

I was covered in mud and there was no way I was going to put my waterproofs on and get them filthy inside and out, so I just picked up my bag and boots and headed back to the landing site. Linda was coming in to finish, so I cheered for her a little, but I was cold and tired and wanted a hot shower, so I “hopped” into the zodiac. As we loaded there were a lot of chinstrap penguins playing in the water and some of them even swam out after us for a little ways.

I’d been worried about getting up the gangway at all, forget about carrying the bag and boots, but I made it with no problem. You can’t take anything from Antarctica, so our boots and shoes had to be thoroughly cleaned before we entered the boat. The boots were easy, but I didn’t see how my shoes would ever be clean. No problem – the guy blasted them with the cleaning fluid while they were still on my feet. I scrubbed at them with the brush and, between us, we got the shoes looking nearly new!

I got back to the room and did the happy dance. I was so excited about having finished the marathon, even though it was a really slow time. I showered, dressed and went down to the dining room, where they were serving a buffet lunch for the finishers. The chili and rice were delicious! The ship was full of clusters of people talking about their experiences on shore, with lots of drifting and changing as people kept coming back or waking from naps.

Afternoon cookies were chocolate with white chocolate chips and peanut butter and I had one of each, plus some of Daniel’s chocolate-covered brazil nuts. Dinner was at the usual time and I had the osso bucco with risotto. Dessert was crème brulee. Yum! I washed my clothes and tried to stay up, but was too tired, so I ate a few more of Daniel’s chocolates and went to bed.

Official stats: my official time was 6:21:19 for a 14:33 pace. My splits were 9:47, 13:00, 13:44, 13:02, 16:45, 13:33, 14:51, 12:42, 27:00 (2 miles), 13:39, 14:49, 12:24, 22:55 (2 miles), 13:00, 6:50 (??), 17:27, 21:54, 14:49, 14:16, 32:09 (2 miles), 13:31, 17:40, 15:46, 13:52, and 1:19 for the last two-tenths of a mile. I was 119 out of 149 total runners, putting me in the 20th percentile. It was 32F, overcast and windy.
Celebratory treats: Daniel’s chocolate-covered Brazil nuts
Next up: Run for the Parks 4-miler (4/5)
Thanks for all your support!!
Pictures from these days are available here:

*Theresa and I were running somewhat together through this area and, as we were coming up out of a particularly muddy patch, we saw someone’s Yak Trax stuck in the mud, so we notified the first “course monitor” that it was there, so it could be retrieved.

+ Race Instructions
• Ioffe passengers start at Bellingshausen and Vavilov passengers start at Artigas
• Start at Bellingshausen - run towards Artigas – at glacier, turn left - at 4 miles, run up the back side of the glacier (only 300m) - run back to Bellingshausen - then run to the Chilean base - at orange storage tank, follow the flags - head to China - water stop at turn around - return to Bellingshausen – for marathoners, repeat course
• water stops – leave one bottle at start - carry one water bottle to 2-mile marker at Artigas, at first return to start, take second water bottle to China water stop. Pick up bottles on final return trip.
• Wet weather gear
• 9am start
• 8am first zodiac
• 45 minute to get all ashore
• The moss is an environmental concern – be careful not to step on any moss
• Do not leave the course
• Worst mud is 100 yards in and lasts about 100 yards

Race Strategy
• Race strategy – trail course, pay attention, don’t fight the wind or the hills or the mud, don’t hurry over the rocks.
• Most challenging course – hold yourself back
• Best way to race on hills is to keep effort level the same, not pace.
• Open stride on downhills