We had a 6am wake up message on the boat, and a reminder of the 6:15 breakfast. A shower, more agonising over layers, wondering about the weather report of 0 degrees and 20 knot (50 km/hr) winds instead of the 10 knots promised us last night! Cornflakes with sugar and a banana and an apple juice – the breakky of champions! Actually, it seems to have worked pretty well for me, every race I have done since Steph Gaskell suggested it, I have run trouble free, tummy wise, and with enough juice in the tank each time.
I decided on two merino tops – my I/O hoodie and my older pink Kathmandu merino, with my ‘Tory’ t shirt over the top and my new shell over the top. The hood, an I/O merino neck gaiter, a NY marathon wool and fleece beanie, my 2XU thermal compression tights, wool socks and asics goretex trail shoes, merino gloves and waterproof gloves to start with. 4 sachets of endura citrus goop in one container, 3 sachets of GU raspberry chocolate in the other, 2 water bottles for the two water drops and two small water bottles for back up at the base camp.
We boarded about the third zodiac with extra gear on – fleece pants, fleece neck gaiter, big parka, extra socks, wet skins and boots for the trip to shore, and got there just in time for Thom to finish talking with the Russian base commander who had apparently changed his mind about where we could set up. The start was therefore moved about 200m towards ‘Uruguay’. The course was set up with a very hilly 3.5km run out to Uruguay from the Russian and Chilean bases and back and then a flatter 3.5km trip out to the Chinese ‘Great Wall’ base and back. This 14km loop was then done three times, with the half marathoners only needing one trip to China and two to Uruguay.
We waited in the cold, I was mostly waiting until I could see signs of the toilet tent being set up again as I didn’t see the point in getting undressed too early, and timing changing with the trip to the loo seemed sensible. By the time we got to 8:30, however, I figured it was time to start disrobing and changing shoes. Off with the boots, the wet skin pants and the fleece pants, off with the second pair of socks, and on with the running shoes and the tutu. Off with the jacket, on with the running belt, add the gu in the hammer squeeze bottles borrowed from Paul, spare one in the jacket pocket, adjust the headwear and we’re sorted. By now, the loo tent was nearly ready for the last minute pitstop (that’s mandatory, isn’t it?), and then it was time for the final briefing. Because the start had had to be moved, the loops were no longer exactly even (and in fact, the half marathon was probably a few hundred metres short), but it wasn’t really going to matter.
I started towards the front of the assembled pack of 98 runners, and settled quickly into about 10th position heading up the first steep muddy hill. I was the leading female for the whole of that first 3.5km, up and down lots of muddy and icy slopes, leaping over freezing rocky creeks, getting blasted by the wind across little lakes and marvelling at how much some of the scenery looked like Iceland did when we were there a few years ago. Soon after the turn around at ‘Uruguay’ (tail wind!), another girl passed me, Jen. She ran well and was quickly 50m or so ahead of me. I was ok with that – I had been hoping for a top 3 finish, not knowing anything about the calibre of the other runners, but hoping in a small field that I could have a chance.
Once back at base camp (‘Russia’), I dropped off my jacket which was now around my waist as well as my waterproof gloves as it was a much flatter trip out to China. The tailwind wasn’t noticeable in this direction, the road often very rocky /pebbley and at times was tricky going, without being technical per se. There were fewer creeks to leap this way and fewer quagmires to negotiate and Jen tore ahead of me. After the turn around, the 50km/hr wind was brutal. It was very difficult going, slogging into this wind, on a road that was only steep enough to walk up in a couple of places, so it was just a slow trudging run into the wind. It was chilly, but I was ok at this point. I had a drink bottle that I’d collected at base, ready to drop at about the halfway point of the leg, so handed that to Amanda at the drink stop on my way through
As I went past base again, the 14km point, Jen was hundreds of metres ahead of me – it was only the fact that her top was fluoro yellow that allowed me to keep track of her at all. I thought that was almost going to be the last I saw of her as she was so strong on the flatter roads. The headwind continued all the way back to Uruguay, but I had more fun in this section. The hills were short and sharp, so I hiked up them well, and really enjoyed running down them fast. My shoes were sticking really well, I don’t think I felt them slip once, so I trusted my footing more than I ever usually do and really opened up. I liked that the surfaces, whilst very muddy or icy had no loose bits on them, unlike most of the trails at home, and it helped my confidence enormously. I don’t know how many other people felt the same as I did, because by the turn around, Jen was only 200m or so ahead of me. I soon realised that I was able to gain a lot of ground on those downhills, and within 2k I had caught up. I thought that would be the first of many passes with her, given we were nearly out of technical track and back on the flatter road, but it didn’t turn out that way. We were also only number 11 and 12 overall after passing a couple of fast starting Chinese base employees.
I tried hard to run my race rather than getting sucked along into competing too early in tough conditions, but did push a bit to try to stay ahead, opening up on the downhills and hiking strongly up. I also tried to be mindful of not just ‘plodding’ along on the flat bits as I can tend to do on the trails. By the time I was back at the base, I realised I was about 10th overall after a couple of guys pulled in to finish the half marathon (one of them just in shorts and a long sleeved t shirt!). I looked behind me as I left Russia and could hardly see Jen behind, so she was already several hundred metres back. I kept pushing along this flatter section, running alone but there were some people still on their return journey coming the other way (around 10k completed, where I was up to 22/23), offering some cheers and high fives.
After turning around again at China, the wind was reaching new lows of cold and rainy and uncomfortable. I may well have said a few times as I passed people coming towards me that ‘this wind is a bitch’, as they seemed to be just cruising in the tailwind (that I had not noticed myself), but, boy, that wind was fierce! It was a miserable run. I don’t know what I was thinking, but I managed to collect my drink bottle as I ran past. I was not meant to do that until the last lap. When I got back to base, I handed it to Charlie (no recollection at all!), and looked for my orange jacket. I couldn’t see it anywhere. The benches I had left it on had been moved, and I couldn’t seeing it anywhere. ‘Where’s my orange jacket?’, I called out a few times.
Boris (one of the One Ocean expedition leaders) said he had picked it up as it was blowing around and it was in the green bag. ‘What green bag? Where?’ There were two green bags, so he came over and opened it for me. I scrambled for the jacket, found the pocket, dropped my empty citrus goo container and collected my chocolate one, then realised I couldn’t leave my empty container is this bag that wasn’t mine, so rummaged for it to give to Charlie. Finally I found it, and set back on my way. I wasn’t polite to Boris and I felt bad. I didn’t swear at him or anything, but I was not gracious. I haven’t yet seen him to thank him and to apologise. Hopefully tomorrow.
I was cold. I was feeling ok heading out at that 28km mark and was looking forward to this more technical ground that I seemed to be handling well, but by now, I really wanted to win. By the 24.5k turn at China, I counted that I was 9th, but Kelly was now the next girl behind me. It was tricky to work out how far, and I was getting a little muddled. I had some calories, drank a bit on the uphills, and kept pushing. It was in this section that I lapped a lot of people (thus I was 14km ahead), many of whom I knew were meant to be doing the full marathon, but who had to have missed the cut off. We were meant to be at halfway by 3:20, but if they were still 5km or so from there, they were going to run out of time.
I hadn’t realised in my own frantic stop, but a few of the guys ahead of me had also stopped a bit at base as we went through the 28km mark, so as I approached the turn at Uruguay, I counted that I was now 6th overall. I wondered if I had missed some people, as there were half marathoners in particular about to finish in this section. By the time I turned, I was glad that 31 km were done in 3:31, but worked out that meant I had over an hour to go. I really just wanted it to be over. My legs were cold, especially up the top of my thighs (why are the fatter bits colder?), I was wet, I was cold, I was hungry. I had some chocolate gu and kept running. I collected my bottle from the lonely drop and kept running. About 1km from base, Charlie was waiting on a hill, taking pictures. He joined me for most of this section, running alongside, stomping through creeks, letting me go ahead on the icy descents. I waved as a sped on downhill to base and collected my jacket, tying it around my waist again.
As I left base for the last time, Alex from Switzerland was just coming up the hill to finish in a bit under 4 hrs. He had run very strongly all day and had led from the very start. Somewhere here, either when I was running with Charlie or when I tied my jacket around my waist, I lost my chocolate gu – it must have bounced out of my bumbag. I figured someone would find it – it’s a squeezey plastic and I had it named – and I’d get it back at the end. I was looking forward to my water at the drink stop and was baffled when I couldn’t seeing it. I wondered who could have taken it, certain I hadn’t. Then I wondered if I was confused, so quickly told myself the date and realised that I wouldn’t be able to diagnose if I was really confused anyway.
I was annoyed. I was cold and tired and not looking forward to the headwind home. The 2.18 miles they had talked about was confusing me (I couldn’t work out that it was 3.5km for each leg; that’s only been since I finished), and I was really concerned about Kelly catching up to me. I didn’t like my chances of out running her side by side. I had really counted on still getting some water and sugar into me in this section, but now I had to do it without, and I was not confident that I was really 100% with it. I wasn’t nauseous at all, I could see clearly and I think I was running in a straight line. I think. I really didn’t want to mess it up, having led for this long, to now not win was going to dent my pride. I counted only 4 men ahead of me, but David, the closest, was far ahead.
I checked the time as I rounded the last turn around (these weren’t manned each time) – 4:20 – and kept a lookout for Kelly. It was 3:45 minutes later when we crossed paths, so I figured I was seven and a half minutes or so ahead. That felt really close. So I had to keep pushing, running into the cold headwind, jacket zipped up, face huddled into the soaking wet merino neck gaiter, sucking the air through it, tapping my numb finger tips, ignoring my aching feet, and willing myself onward. I walked up the hills here even though they were modest, but running up them into the headwind was more than I could bear. I kept checking behind me, but I could never see anyone coming my way.
As I went past the ATV’s with either Jen or John aboard, they waved or high fived, Christine at the corner in Russia yelled out, and every runner I passed congratulated me for those last few km. I wasn’t really enjoying it just yet – I really just wanted to finish! Around the last bend, and eventually the finish was in sight. I could see Charlie up there, I just had this last hill to climb with streams running down it. I did run all the way, but it was so slow and self conscious. The dozen or so people in the finish area were cheering, a tape had been held across for me to break, and I crossed. I won a running race! My first ever running win. I was the slowest in the class in primary school!
The most amazing thing to see on the course was Hein from South Africa. He is the first blind man to run a marathon in Antarctica. His guide, Nick, only met him for the first time 10 days before the run (indeed, Nick only booked the trip then on a very last minute cancellation. His sister, Lara, has now run a marathon on each of the continents in 11 months after selling her house and car, quitting her corporate job, and is now raising awareness for the orphans in South Africa, setting up an orphanage, which she plans to continue to do for the foreseeable future). They ran so well together, never falling once, in this slippery, rugged terrain. He’s a lovely guy, with a terrific sense of humour. He was given the number 1 bib for he run and did a quick speech before the run and another the night after. He made a joke about having never grabbed so many boobies before in the space of a few days, then talked about a trip he did to India, where he visited a school for deaf and blind kids. He told us a bit about it, then recalled that he was asked which he would prefer – to be blind or deaf. He replied that he didn’t know, but he was sure glad he wasn’t both. He then reminded us all to be grateful for all we have and to relish it. There was much applause to his speech.
There are so many lovely people on board, so many stories. There is the lady who has run over 460 marathons, preferring to run 2 per month. I think she walks most of it, and I don’t know how many she has done under 6 hours, but it is her hobby. Her partner is now up to 46 marathons, he says. He hates running, but he does it for her. They finished the half this week. I met the American president of the magazine group that does Elle and Harpers Bazaar – Michael also ran Kilimanjaro last year, and thinks he remembers the tutu 🙂 He lives on E79th street in NY, so maybe we have somewhere to stay next time we are there? Lots of people have run 7 continents, one guy for the 4th time, many have done the 50 states in the US. I have a long list of runs to do now, all over the world! Mongolia Sunrise to Sunset, inca trail, Patagonia, Galapagos, Easter Island, Himalayan 100 miler – the trail events hold more appeal than the city runs, that’s for sure.