Thursday, December 08, 2011

Post Race - 1-2 December 2011

I think about the places I've been the last few weeks. Crossed the Atlantic 3 times, the Pacific once. I've circumnavigated the globe. USA-Canada-South Africa-Switzerland-Ireland-USA-Brazil-Germany-Japan-Australia-New Zealand-USA-Mexico-Chile-Antarctica. A couple hundred hours of travel. Almost 50 hours of running.

In 2006 I first hatched the idea to complete this world record. In 2007, in 35 days I smashed previous record of 99 days, but Richard Takata denied me the record by doing it in just under 30. He held that record until today. In late 2007, I was on schedule for 25 days, but we were delayed by eight days coming to Antarctica. My friend Bob Camp put it in perspective: "I don't feel sorry for you. You got to travel around the world twice in a year, and now you have an excuse to do it again!" Love ya, Bob! Finally, on 1 December 2011, more than five years after the goal was first conceived, the mission is accomplished. Another few days and I'll be home, back among my friends and my loved ones. Home is what makes the journey complete.

As the night went on, everyone drifted off to their various tents.  I was still pretty pumped, so going to bed wasn't anything that happened very early.  The guys who were getting ready to run the next morning though, were trying to get really rested up!  100K to run!

Of course, Brent was involved in this one.  He's one of those guys who travels the world finding extreme things to do.  What I like about him is that he makes me look tame.  Richard, meanwhile, intends to run 100 miles in honor of the 100th anniversary of Amundsen and Scott reaching the South Pole in 1911. Clement Thevenet, the Belgian who just finished winning the marathon, is heading out again.  And Marc de Keyser, the weather man here at Union Glacier will be joining in as well.  Marc runs this event every year.

As the day progressed, some of the marathoners from the day before would go out for a 25K loop (NOT ME!) for a little extra support.  I stayed up until about 2:00 a.m. to make sure that Brent got finished and had something to eat.  About 5 hours later Andrew came in.  Now Richard was the only one out there, and in just over 24 hours he finished running 100 miles!

It was a great adventure, with a 100% success rate.  Everyone did what they set out to do.  And then we got the word.  The flight was on the way from Punta Arenas, and we'd be heading back to Punta Arenas on schedule as well.

At about 9:00 p.m. we were loaded on a big sled and hauled out to the runway.  By 5:00 a.m. we were back to the Diego d'Almagro Hotel in Punta Arenas.  After about three hours of sleep, I got on the phone and moved my flights from Monday back to Sunday, shared a taxi with my tentmate Ray to the airport and was on my way HOME!  One more night sleeping on airplanes.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Antarctic Ice Marathon Report

We're scheduled to run at 11:00 this morning. At 10:30, we'll be loaded up and taken out to the starting line, approximately 5 miles from base camp. The course is a loop, with a six mile leg on the far side to checkpoint 1, five miles back to camp for checkpoint 2, then back out to where we'll start at checkpoint 3.

It's about minus 14 Celsius, about 7 Farenheit, with a clear sky and lots of sunshine. The clear air here with 24 hours of sunlight means that any exposed skin needs to be protected with sunblock. We're making sure we have all our gear together, making all the last minute adjustments. Bins with personal items and food have been taken to checkpoints 1 and 3 in case we need anything out there.

I didn't send anything out to the checkpoints. I just put some extra gloves, hat, neck gaitor, and a couple snacks in my waist pack. My plan was to start with my windbreaker but to take it off as soon as I started to sweat. Sweat is a killer in cold climates, and I figured that with between 7 and 8 hours out there I don't need to be soaking wet all the time.

11:17 a.m. and the starting whistle went off. This is real! 26 miles to the record book. Before long most of the runners were ahead of me--I knew I'd be running by myself most of the day. Even with the ideal conditions, we were still running on groomed snow trails with footing that was tough in spots. I didn't know how far the back section of the course was, but I did know it was a straight shot to the first checkpoint. Mile 1 was about 15 minutes. That would be my fastest of the day.

The scenery is pretty much unchanged for the whole course of the race, just a track with litte red flags every 200-300 feet. The lack of landmarks made the miles feel really long. Even the mountains in the distance never seem to get any closer. The other thing that happens in the clear air is that distances are very hard to judge. When approching checkpoint 1 at the 6 mile mark, you could see it from a mile away. Any time you're running toward something, it seems to take forever to get there.

The checkpoint was well stocked, and I stopped for about 3 or 4 minutes to drink several glasses of liquid, and eat a few snacks. I caught up with Sebastian from Argentina as he was leaving the aid station, and Anand from India came in right behind me as I was getting to leave. We were the last three through the first checkpoint. Time to start segment 2. I estimated it would be five miles back to camp and the next station. It's a right turn, then almost 3 miles to another right turn, then a long gradual left bend back to camp.
The miles leveled out at a little over 17 minutes, with about 5 extra minutes at the checkpoints. A few yards before checkpoint 2 back at camp, I caught up with Rebecca and Linh as we came into camp. Eleven miles down. Sebastian was still at the aid station, and went off for a pit stop. Now there were three people behind me as I left the camp for segment 3. Only 25K to go.

Segment 3 was heading back out to the start, a little over 4 miles. I could look off into the distance and see runners far ahead of me, but I had no chance of ever catching them, the distance being probably a mile or so. Still, it was reassuring to see them out there. As I finally reached the 15 mile mark, I followed the curve around to the right to where we started

Eleven miles to go. I'm in familiar territory too, as I start the back stretch the second time. Even though I'm moving steadily, the lack of landmarks make the miles seem longer. Slowly, the 16 mile mark. I feel great but really looking forward to being done. 17 miles and I'm down to single digits. As I approached the final checkpoint just past 21 miles, I started thinking, I'm 179 miles into 184 miles of running. Only 5 to go. I'm trying to do the math, converting to Greenwich Mean Time so I can get the net amount of time it has taken me to finish the continents. At somewhere around 25 days, 18 hours. Stay vertical for a little while longer, and the record is mine. Before 24 I make the right turn and I'm heading for home. The sun had made the snow a little softer the second time around, and I was working to be sure I was finding the best footing all the time. As I approached mile 25, they drove the big tractor with the sled behind it right onto the course ahead of me to regroom the trail.

That would have been fine, but when first groomed, it takes a few hours to firm up, so all they did for me was make the last mile more difficult. I was kicking up snow so my shoes were getting covered as I hit the 25 mile mark. I could see the camp far in the distance, slowly getting closer as I struggled to find good footing. 20 minutes to go.

People started to come into view, and soon I could see the finish line. 26 miles, everything is in focus and I'm in PARTY MODE! At 7:10 p.m. I crossed the finish line with a finish time of 7 hours 53 minutes and 38 seconds. That's 22:10 GMT. My old friend, race director Richard Donovan was there to put my medal around my neck. One of my best friends, Brent Weigner was there with a small bottle of Johnnie Walker for me. New friends from this trip were there to share the moment as well.

From my start, at 6:00 Johannesburg time (04:00 GMT) on 6 November, it was exactly 25 days, 18 hours, 10 minutes. A new world record.

We celebrated with some of the best lamb stew for dinner, along with the beer and wine. A few brought out special bottles for celebration as well, and we toasted our success. Everyone who started today finished! Still, it was incomplete. I went to the communications tent to buy a satellite phone call. The one person who I needed to share this with is the one who made it possible for me--the lovely Francine. Sharing the victory with the one who means the most to me is what really made the record complete.

It's a couple days before we'll head for home, assuming that the plane gets here without delays.  It's great to know that shortly I'll be home, running, eating, drinking with my friends, hanging out in my usual places.  

Getting Ready

Most of the group got their first look at Antarctica as we dismounted the plane at the Union Glacier "airport." The runway is a windy place, the winds continually scrubbing the snow off the ice and making this possible. We were escorted to a small building that served as a waiting area for vehicles to shuttle us the approximately 8 kilometers to camp. At the camp, the first thing we got was a short briefing about the restrooms. Everything here is separated between liquid and solids, so you do your business at separate spots. Nothing is left here at the end of the season--barrels of urine and gray-water and bags of waste are all shipped back to Punta Arenas to be disposed of.

In fact, everything here is to be kept as pristine as possible, so there are special disposal/recycling methods for everything.

We waited for our luggage and our sleeping bags to be brought from the plane until nearly 5:30, so two hours before breakfast we were finally able to get some sleep.

Our accommodations are double-walled clamshell type tents, equiped with beds, a table, towel, washcloth, soap and washbasin. Because it's daylight 24 hours a day, the sun keeps the inside of the tent fairly warm--sometimes even uncomfortably so. At 10:30 I decided it was time to get up and walk around a bit.

The cooks here are amazing. Every meal is well balanced, with options that work for carnivores or vegetarians. No one has ever gone hungry here at camp.

Back to the mission. Given that we didn't even get to bed until almost breakfast time, we won't be running the marathon today, but it's on for tomorrow, 1 December. Right now I'm feeling kinda like a kid the night before Christmas. Thursday, 1 December 2011, I'm taking about 4 days off the world record!

Dinner at 7:00, then a marathon briefing by Richard. A relaxing evening at Union Glacier camp

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

In my two previous visits to the interior of the frozen continent, I found that the main thing to learn is PATIENCE. Things rarely happen on schedule in the most inhospitable place on earth. So we waited at the hotel from 6:30 to 9:30 a.m. for the first call as to whether we were going today. At 9:45 Richard delivered the news. The next update would be at 1:30. I walked into the center of town to pick up some sunscreen and got back for the next briefing. Again, no go. Next one is 4:30. I headed out to get some lunch with Ray from Wisconsin, Chris (Krzyzstof) from Poland, Taco from the Netherlands, Ladislav from Czechoslavakia, and Michael from Germany. A couple beers and a burger at Lomit's were just what we needed.

It's Tuesday, 29 November, and the original schedule is to fly to the Antarctic today, and run on Wednesday. Every update slows down the mission just a little bit more. We're in "wait and see" mode right now.

The 4:30 briefing came at closer to 5:00. The next call would be at 7:30, but Richard was speculating that we'd probably end up going early in the morning. Brent and I headed into the hotel restaurant to grab a bit of cerveza, soon to be joined by Ladislav. We let people know where we were so they could come in and let us know any news.

6:55--Good news! We're heading out. Be in the lobby at 7:30. We packed up, checked out, and loaded up the bus for the airport. In the history of this event, this is the first time that it has ever left on the day it was scheduled.

Flashback - 2007. My attempt to set the world record in around 25 days was right on schedule. Sunday before Thanksgiving in Beirut. Thanksgiving day in Atlanta, the next Sunday in Florence, Italy. Saturday in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, the next Saturday in Wanganui, New Zealand, and crossing the date line to run in Vina del Mar, Chile on Sunday. I arrived in the wee hours of the morning to Punta Arenas to leave on Monday to Antarctica. An unusual period of snow was delaying everything. For eight days, we waited to fly to the ice. My mission to run seven continents was successful, but the world record was still belonged to Richard Takata.

Given the lateness of the hour, chances of running the marathon on Wednesday were still pretty slim, but at least we'd be in position. We went through airport security as a formality, but they drove the bus around back and loaded us on and drove us to the plane.

This is not your basic commercial flight. In fact, it's a Russian Ilyushin 76 cargo plane, and we're part of the cargo. The inside of the airplane has no paneling to hide the wires, pipes, and insulation. There are instrument panels out in the open, a little restroom that's fairly rudimentary up front. They reached down and pulled up the ladder and hung it inside the door.

The whine of the engines Russian Iluyshin airplane grew louder and they finally closed the door. We were off. Flight time to Union Glacier--about 4 1/2 hours.

I was sitting beside Linh, her face lit up, totally geeked at the prospect of visiting Antarctica. Being in an airplane like the one we were in added to the sense of adventure--hoping that everything was airworthy, going to a place totally unknown to nearly everyone on the planet. It was a mixture of joy, excitement, and fear of the unknown. At about 2:20 a.m. we felt the wheels touch down onto the blue ice runway. We coasted for a long time--normal brakes are useless on ice. Finally we settled and the door opened.