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.  


Anonymous said...

congratulations to you and all the brave runners who weathered the weather in antarctica!! i am so jealous--i won't want to run it but i'd love to be a spectator!!
maybe some day!
anyway, grand rapids is really proud of you--you are a home town hero!!
have a safe trip home.

Matt said...

Congrats Don. Very cool (no pun intended).
As a point of clarification, the reason why you would need sunscreen down there is because the earth's magnetic field, which normally blocks you from UV radiation, starts to turn veritcal near the poles and allows more radiation in. Same reason why they have auroras in the north and south.