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

1 comment:

anyaruns said...

I did a happy dance for you in my seat too! That is awesome and I think pretty fast given the conditions!!! (Sorry it took me so long to read this!)