Wednesday, February 28, 2007

RACE DAY

Race report in brief:
Cold, pain, wow, hill, pain, glacier, ouch, cold, fantastic, cold, duck, smile, YES!


For those of you who want a little more detail:
The 6am wake-up call over the Vavilov’s tannoy confirmed the weather forecast for the day - high winds, sub-zero temperatures and heavy snow. A fellow runner suggested this was ‘proper weather for a marathon in Antarctica’. I would have been happy with a clear sky and a spot of sunshine.

From 7.30am the zodiacs transported all the runners from our ship and our sister ship (and competitive rivals) to shore. Everyone was wearing full winter clothing in preparation for a wet landing. Including my running gear, I was wearing over 6 layers of clothing and struggled to do up my lifejacket. However the idea of taking any of the layers off to run wasn’t particularly appealing.

The one mile crossing from the ship to the shore was a challenging start to the day, the high waves lifting the zodiacs out of the water before slamming us back down. Bruised and battered we arrived on land – we were the last zodiac to arrive on shore so it was literally a race to the start. There was no changing facilities nor toilets (not good when there is a gathering of over 200 nervous runners). Everyone was huddled beneath a hut on the Russian base to change; our fingers were freezing as we battled against the driving snow to get changed.

I was pulling on my gloves when the sound of the starting trumpet reverberated around the bay (yes, someone had actually thought to pack their trumpet!). We’d missed the start. My brother chased down the pack like a gazelle and that was the last time I saw of him.


The course was a figure of eight looping backwards and forwards from the Russian base. The half marathoners would run the course once and the full marathoners twice.
Within minutes I realised that this was going to be a punishing run, the strong crosswind was carrying snow, which hit my face like tiny shards of glass. The terrain underfoot was constantly changing, deep mud, streams, ice, snow and rocks. The drifts were so deep it was often impossible to tell what was underfoot until your foot plunged into an icy puddle or jarringly hit a rock.
Just a mile into the run and people were already forced to walk. We had been warned about the glacier but the steep hills on the approach were among the most challenging I’ve ever faced. After 3 miles it was onto the beach…more like a quarry with large boulders and ravines carved by the glacial runoff.

I then hit The Glacier. Not a single one of us managed to run up the behemoth that loomed ahead, even hiking up left me wheezing and feeling dizzy. It just went on and on for ever, over 1,200 metres with no protection from the elements. Coming down was exhilarating, my legs and lungs were working in harmony and the panoramic view of the island was reward enough for the punishing ascent.

The second loop took us along the shore and out to the Chinese base. Most people found this part of the course the most strenuous because of the headwinds and the soft, deep snow. The spectators were a motley crew of seals, penguins and scientists from the research stations who came out to cheer. A few guys from the Chinese base even joined in the marathon.

As I approached the half way point it became clear that the challenge was to complete the course and time became irrelevant. Because of the course layout you were always passing people on the return side of the loop and there was an incredible sense of camaraderie with everyone greeting you or congratulating you on your progress no matter where you were in the field. The runners watched out for each other and if you were going through a dark moment (and there were plenty of those) you would find yourself with a running companion to help you along.

The second loop of the course was hard, the legs were weak, the glacier had doubled in height (well at least it felt like it) and the weather had worsened. At points I was in real pain, I have never pushed my body harder, but I still couldn’t help grinning from ear-to-ear when I looked around me, took in the awe inspiring scenery and thought holy crap, I am running in Antarctica and it is wonderful. To be honest I can’t remember what I felt when I crossed the finish line. Numb?

Back on the ship last night everyone was on an incredible high and sharing their running tales. Perhaps what sticks out as the most memorable story is that of William Tan who completed the half marathon in a wheelchair. Former para-olympian marathoner, William has completed marathons in under 2 hours. That it took him 5 hours to complete a course that one could barely walk, let alone use a wheel chair on, is a measure of what a phenomenal person he is.
As for our little gang - my brother Matt won the race! Tanya who'd originally intended just to watch completed the half-marathon. And as for Lou and I, we both set personal worsts for our marathon times but finished tired, cold, elated and much higher up the running order than we could have imagined.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Bloody hell. I thought using the teadmill in the gym was tough. Congratulations to all of you for even giving it a go, and well done Mat for winning the race. Great pics by the way. Good luck for the return boat trip Nathan and look forward to reading how you get on in the next marathon installment.

Respect aaye. Duncan

ali baxter said...

CONTRATULATIONS!!!!!!!!!!!
Looking forward to seeing you both when you get back. We're preparing a feast at our place on the 31st. The scenery looks incredible, am looking forward to all the pics! big love, ali.xxxxxxxx

Anonymous said...

Great to see you made it!
Well done both of you.
Em
x

Anonymous said...

Congratulations on completing the run you two, the photos look amazing and having to deal with the multi-terrain as well as the wind must have been extra difficult. Hope the injury didn't harm your progress too much Lo!

For once this is a slide show of holiday pics I'm looking forward to!

Dicky

Rod said...

wow, wow,wow, wish i couldve been there! what a challenge, well done to yees all, looking forward to hearing more stories about it, congratulations all round, nice one, cheers, Rod

Colin and Raghnaid said...

That's phenomenal! Congratulations to you both and to Mat. Loks like you've had a fantastic team - looking forward to hearing the stories and seeing the pics. Colin and Raghnaid