Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Tuesday, March 10


It was a most magical day, I must say. We crossed over in the Zodiacs – complex routine of donning waterproof outergear and rubber boots, elaborate safety measures which I am too lazy to reproduce for you here. Having been sick for the previous week and a half, I had significantly lowered my expectations – I had earlier thought of a 5:40-5:45 best-case-scenario finish time with full awareness that 6:00+ would be more likely (the race organizers suggested adding an hour or an hour and a half to one’s best marathon time for a ballpark figure, but it is an exceptionally demanding course, and really not much like anything I regularly train on). For me, this is a very good thing, as the factor most likely to spoil my enjoyment of otherwise highly satisfactory races is my own unreasonably stringent and self-critical standards. My only goal now was to finish with a smile on my face, as they say (it is a cliché, but it seems to me fairly apt, there is no better way of putting it that has yet occurred to me).

It is a 13.1-mile course, with two out-and-back bits (the first turnaround is at the glacier, the second at the Chinese base) and then you do the whole thing over again; they had a 3:20 limit for completing the first half, and a 7:00 limit for the full. I felt confident I could complete the course within those limits, and was no longer concerned with any thoughts of trying to go sub-6:00 (it soon became clear that due to the difficulty of the course this would be highly unlikely to happen in any case).

[I'm going to get some more pages off a CD we were given, with course map and elevation profiles, but don't have 'em here to hand...]

The landscape on King George Island is at once very beautiful and quite bleak in a bulldozed sort of way. The bases are mostly ugly prefab blocks scattered randomly through different areas, with just a few incongruously more attractive buildings here and there (most strikingly, the Russian church). It makes sense that this range of islands is called the South Shetlands – after some initial rock-clambering from the beach landing up to the start-finish site, I was strongly thinking that my Scottish rock-clambering heritage was going to be useful...

Beautiful day – there were some patches of windiness here and there, and the spot where we left our gear was quite exposed, but it was sunny almost all day and in the mid-thirties – indeed, I felt quite overheated around mile 5 and had to adjust gear. It had been decided that the two ships on which we traveled would start at two different locations, due to Zodiac landing issues, so there were probably less than a hundred of us starting at this particular spot.

List format will now be appropriate (read one race report, read ‘em all – I like ‘em, but I do not think it is an especially flexible genre):

1. Kendal Mint Cake and Sport Beans! Around mile 15 or so, Brent noticed that my attention was wandering and asked whether my caloric intake had been suitable – clearly it had NOT – I pounded mint cake and magic beans with near-miraculous effect, about two miles later I was absurdly sugar-cheerful again. JMD: “I feel pretty good now.” BB: “When you feel pretty good, that means it’s time to keep on eating and drinking.” It was educational as far as my endurance sport aspirations go, and I cannot but feel that this is a significant weakness of mine – I have spent an entire lifetime working on the assumption that one should ignore how awful one feels and plough forward with the job at hand!

2. Race of exceptional cheerfulness. Much runnerly camaraderie – I was in a blissfully cheerful mood for about 95% of the time. (The other 5% was just the slightly abstracted and unfocused pre-bonk state that Brent caught in good time and that I will self-monitor for more carefully in future.)

3. We had to provide all our own water and calories – we had ours stashed at the start-finish, and I always had a near-full bottle in my Camelback belt/bottle set-up. At the far turnaround, near the Chinese base, the base staff had set up a most lovely refreshment station – I have never had such a blissful cup of Coca-Cola in my life, handed to me by a delighted and delightful Chinese fellow who had run the half-marathon course first and then manned the station for the second half of the race. Brent also partook of cola – third musketeer J.K. had a beer!

(4. Really I am the third musketeer, since Brent and J.K. – also known as the Antarctic Instigator - have been friends since he was Brent’s professor at M.B.A. school in 1993.)

5. I had four bottles of water and one of Gatorade. Brent had eight bottles of Gatorade (very sensible too!). The race directors recommended bringing three bottles, with some advice about drop points, but I cannot imagine anyone other than a very fast runner indeed making it through on such a small quantity of fluids...

6. It was a most glorious day!

7. The glacier came quite early in our first loop, after a challenging sequence of rocks and then mud flats of quite extraordinary squelchiness and engulfing properties. The stretch of the course that was actually on the glacier had been significantly shortened this year in comparison to previous years, due to mudslides and other such-like developments (not sure about numbers, but let’s say just 300m up and 300m back down instead of 1K each way?). We had been told the night before that we might not need our YakTrax after all; I heeded this advice, and could not then really mentally readjust to the minutes-pre-start-line advice that we might want ‘em after all. I can only say that it was VERY slippery, and that the downhill was almost as bad as riding a bicycle over a bridge – I picked up the YakTrax at mile 13.1 and buckled ‘em around my belt for the second time round, only in fact by that time it had become warm enough that the surface was slushy rather than slick, and I did not put ‘em on...

8. Partly I did not put them on because by this point my shoes had become extraordinarily muddy! We were crossing one of the numerous mud-flat stretches, shortly before the second glacier ascent, and I was absurdly buoyant of spirits – I asked Brent if he had ever heard the Hippopotamus Song, he said he had not, and so I sang it for him (it is a very delightful song here is a link):

MUD! Mud! Glorious mud!
There’s nothing quite like it for cooling the blood.
So follow me, follow
Down to the hollow
And there let us wallow
In glorious mud!

A minute later my right shoe was actually SUCKED OFF MY FOOT (it is the fault of my lazy heel-striking tendencies!) into the quicksand – fortunately I was wearing my waterproof socks, so when my shoeless foot plunged ankle-deep into squelchy mud I was not as appalled as I might have been otherwise...

9. Brent and I ran the first loop together, though I am afraid I was rather holding him back (lungs not up to snuff, plus it really is a very difficult course – best preparation would be extensive trail-running on very uneven surfaces and with lots of very steep hills) – he was willing to trade speed for company, though, and it was quite lovely. J.K. had to get daughter T. through the half-marathon first (I suppose we finished our first half around 2:48, and they theirs fairly close to the 3:20 cut-off - 3:10 - she was the youngest finisher!) but caught up with us as he did the second out and we did the second back of the glacier loop. These were the miles where I became very slow due to fueling issues – but I perked up around the area of the Russian base and thereafter we did a steady ground-covering mix of jogging and walking (walk the uphills, jog the flats and downhills, walk anything really unorthodox of which there is a GREAT DEAL – probably only a few miles of the course are even such a thing as muddy non-paved road, a lot of it is pretty rocky or mud-and-rock combo or just extremely steep grade). (Elevation file TK...)

10. There was significant camaraderie and elation! We walked the last few miles without any admixture of running, due to a toenail situation Brent was experiencing which subsequently produced pictures of wonderful gruesomeness (I will link when he posts this bit!).

11. Finish time: 6:19:19. (J.K. was wise to keep his sunglasses on - Brent and I both look rather the worse for wear?!?)

12. A distant penguin was spotted on the course! Click for a closer view.


Wendy said...

Sounds like it was an outstanding day! I am so pleased for all of you. (But have wonder if Brent will do an homage to Steve in a Speedo.)

I also wonder if that is a giant petrel lower left of the penguin? (I do like that there are some runners in the shot.)

Joe said...

sounds like a great race. any race you get through with 95% elation and 5% whacked out is awesome. there is much jealousy back in the land of boring. :)

ShirleyPerly said...

WOW, what an adventure!! Though I've heard much about this race, this is the first race report I've read about it. I'm glad you were all well prepared gear-wise. And so funny about that hippo song!

CONGRATS to all of you on completing this incredibly difficult race!!!

Rainmaker said...

Wow, totally cool. I'm still working my way through all your posts, but this is awesome.

Very very cool that you were able to do this, I'd love to do it someday. I was also reading about how a few years ago they couldn't get on land and had to run the laps around the boat - 550 of them. Yikes!

Danielle said...

I've been so behind on blogs I am only getting around to reading the report now. I'm so jealous!!!

Dr. Iron Trifeist said...

What a great report. Your excitement shines through. I forgot that you're coming to Florida in May.