Here we are on the flip side of our epic snow running adventure. We are about 18 hours into our adventure back at sea heading to Ushuaia. The Drake Passage is projected to be quite rough this time so there are various protocols taking place to prepare. They have placed large ropes in the lounge to have extra points to hold on to. In addition, the doors to go outside are locked as the water eventually could come over the decks as it rolls. I am not handling the sea as well this time, and we haven’t gotten to the hard part yet. My stomach is really upset and I feel dizzy. I keep telling myself that it can’t be like this forever.
So with this time off, I can dive into some of the other details of the journey…
THE SHIP – MV PLANCIUS
The ship is a really neat experience. I cannot believe all of the amazing sights we have seen as we sailed to various islands to run. Two days ago, we sailed through an area full of ice burgs. It looked like a sheet of ice over the water. The ship just pushes through it and the moves around the really big ice burgs. It can handle swaying from side to side to a great level to handle the Drake Passage. The cabins are spacious and really nice. There is one movie channel that is looping through movies all day. Then some of the runners have movies too that we can hook up to a TV to enjoy. The food is plentiful and really great here. Depending on the day, it is either a buffet or a 3 course meal. The crew on the ship is top notch and so experienced. They are so helpful too.
Here in Antarctica the running rules are quite different as well as the race format. Each day, we were told a start time and then a projected end time. Within that time window available, you try to run as far as you can. Time windows are defined by when the ship needs to sail to the next destination. The leaders for male and female are by who has the farthest distance. 250k is when the race ends for the leaders. At any time the race could cancel due to very high winds and storms. With the unknown of possible cancellations, you are always pushing for the most distance possibly in case the rest of the week is a weather day. Once a leader hits 250k they can go back to the ship. Every individual is hoping to get as close as they can to 250k by the end. This year, we were blessed with wonderful weather and we only had to end with a short 3 hour day on Thanksgiving. For all of us that are Americans, we enjoyed the Holiday break and even celebrated over dinner. On the course the loops were as follows, 11.4k, 3k, 1.4k, 3.8k, 3.1k. There is only one check point each day on those loops. Each day you are given a score card with numbers on them. Every loop you make, the loop number is punched on your score card. Due to IAATO rules we have to follow a strict protocol out on the course to protect wildlife and the land there. This means that we can only go to the bathroom at a designated tiny portable toilet. Additionally, you can only eat on a large tarp at the checkpoint and must ensure that every crumb is picked up and thrown away. Thus, your strategy each loop has to add in the time to eat and go to the bathroom.
Even getting to the course each day is a project. First, you need to pack a 60 litre drop bag that contains warm clothing for after.
Your running bag that is around 5 kilos and has everything you need to deal with weather changes and required supplies for body maintenance and safety. The bag is definitely lighter than the other races, but you still feel the load due to running in snow terrain. Once those bags are packed, we have a small race briefing and then head out to the gangway. From there you must step in bins of water with soap to wash off anything on your boots, shoes, poles and drop bag so that there isn’t any foreign materials hitting the Antarctic lands. The next step is to board the zodiac boat. It can hold 10 athletes at a time. Once we get on land you will swap out your boots for shoes and prepare to run with everything left in your drop bag or your running pack. There is one more course briefing and we are out to run.
RUNNING IN ANTARCTICA:
To start, all I can say is that the revised format and running in extremely hard conditions with a pack leads to A LOT more time on our feet pushing through the elements and eventually get to 250k in 6 days. The hours for me to get to 250k by day were 13, 8, 9, 2.75, 6.5, .75. 40 hours total vs the desert races would end around 30 hours. So roughly 10 more hours of time on your feet running in snow, slush, ice, mud, and rocks. The last 4 stages were on 100% snow. We would spend the first loop packing out the trail and then as it defined itself, you could finally pick up the pace. Stage 3-5 felt like skimo courses yet, without the skis. Your legs and feet every night would throb and were extremely sore due to the difficult terrain. It is by far the hardest race I have ever done mentally and physically due to this terrain. Every day, there were nagging pains and you were constantly afraid that you were going to have an injury. I have never felt so wrecked and exhausted in my life. With all of the difficulty, some days you didn’t even want to get out of bed. You had to dig deep and just do it. The recovery for this race as well as it being 6 of the 4 Desert races in 13 months will be long. I am so exhausted to say the least. I am so proud of everyone’s effort during this race. Everyone had so many challenges to deal with. The encouragement from the ship crew, racing staff, your emails and other toursits on our expedition ship help you to keep going.
WILDLIFE + LANDSCAPE
It was really fun to see wildlife at times. Two days we ran by penguin colonies which was really cool. The penguins are so happy in their elements. We also saw some leopard seals relaxing on ice burgs as we sailed by. There were additionally seals lying around close to the course on stage 2 and 5. Yesterday we saw an elephant seal in Half Moon Bay. They are HUGE. The landscape is epic. When running on Islands you would see magical white terrain from nearby. There are glaciers everywhere as well and huge mountains. As we ran on day 3 we could hear avalanches in the distance as well as snow cracking off and falling into the water. While traveling on the boat you will sail right by massive icebergs. Turns out what you see on top is 9x bigger underneath in the water. So cool! On the ship, the staff will also give lectures on many topics in the area.
There are just a few notes of our lives here. I would say the highlight is the jaw dropping terrain as well as sharing this experience with many friends that have been at all of the races together.
Cheers folks. More to come tomorrow if we aren’t stuck in our cabins trying to deal with the “Shaky Drake.”