Antarctica Half Marathon

We did it! 

A race four years in the making finally came to fruition. Even after illness and injury, I completed one of the hardest half marathons on the planet. It was hilly, rocky, windy at times, and unbelievably muddy. It was everything but freezing cold.

The race was set on King George Island. It was a little over a four mile loop out and back, set along the Uruguayan base. The race director said it was the best and warmest day in the race’s twenty year history. Thank you, global warming. 

Although we started out on a frozen tundra of dirt and rock, twenty or so minutes into the race, the temperature rose and capped out at a balmy 36 degrees. That increase along with ninety-some-odd runners trodding the path and a steady stream of glacier runoff created a sticky, sludgy mud path along with sizable puddles – the kind that steal your shoes if you happen to step in the wrong one – on the race course. 

The first loop was mostly run on tractor tire treads frozen in the mud. Every tread was an ankle bender so each step was placed carefully. It made for a concentrated effort and although it was cold, there was almost no wind, so I was very warm about half way in and ready to shed a layer.

On the second loop I pulled off a middle layer – a three-quarter zip fleece – and ran in a long sleeve technical tee and windbreaker the rest of the race. I also shed my gloves, which was a bad idea as the wind picked up during my second loop and I was shivering by the time I got back to my gloves around mile eight.

The race was entirely self supported and no plastics of any kind, including those that house nutrition from gels, beans, or in my case Starburst, were allowed on the island. Runners found interesting ways to squeeze their single serve packs of Gu or other gels into bottles that hopefully didn’t clog during the race.

I unwrapped about thirty candies and popped them into the little bag on my water bottle. The red stains on the blue bag still haven’t come out even after a couple of solid washings. Mental note: I need to find a new nutrition strategy. My friends used sport beans, and they seemed pleased with them. I’ll try them next race.

The last loop was the muddiest and messiest. My achilles was screaming and pulsing with pain, but I wasn’t about to cave. I had come this far and with only four miles left, I wasn’t about to stop. I walked up the hills and plodded lightly down limping a little to help relieve the throbbing.

When it was flat, I ran at about 70% effort. I didn’t want to miss out on all the hiking and excursions if I totaled my ankle. In fact, I ran all the way to the finish line.

I completed the half marathon with a time around 3:30-ish and a smile. It was the worst time I had ever run, but I was happy to cross the finish line at all, with both shoes still on my feet and my achilles mostly intact.

Exploring Buenos Aires

Buenos Aires is a beautiful cosmopolitan city with hundreds of towering stone, metal, and glass buildings sprawled across its expanse. The metro boasts several neighborhoods with thriving nightlife, shopping galore, delicious restaurants, and hopping bars complete with tango dancing and interesting mixology.

The city also has wonderful green spaces, like parks and plazas, a plethora of museums, and deep historical ties throughout. With all it has to offer, almost anyone can find something appealing in Buenos Aires.

Plaza de Mayo and Casa Rosada

Although I’ve only been here three days (and one of those was thoroughly enjoyed in Uruguay), I’ve had a chance to experience a few of the main tourist attractions, like Eva Perón’s grave inside the Cementerio de la Recoleta (see images below), the building and balcony of Casa Rosada (pictured above), on which Evita addressed an impassioned crowd overlooking the Plaza de Mayo, and consuming an authentic Argentinean steak.

Recoleta Cemetery (where Evita is buried)

Buenos Aires has been a wonderful place to walk around, explore, learn, ponder, and be inspired.

Liliana and Sabu (my favorite statue in Recoleta)

Communicating in Spanish has been both challenging and exciting. Me gusta hablar español, pero sé muy poco. Luckily, the hotel staff knows more English than I do Spanish. 😬

Three days of walking around cobblestone sidewalks and streets, up and down stairs, and in and out of buildings has taken a toll on my achilles. Today, I plan to rest it mostly and lightly explore a few more of the green spaces if/when the rain lets up this afternoon.

As far as the race, last night we learned the course is expected to be quite muddy and extra hilly. Due to one of the South American bases closing, our route will be different than years in the recent past, which means a lot more mud and hills.

I’m a little concerned my road shoes will not hold up. But I brought some duck tape because, as we all know, duck tape fixes everything. 😬😬

Tomorrow night, we leave for Ushuaia. The plane is expected to take off around 4:30am, but we need all gear and luggage ready to go by 2am. It seems like I might as well skip sleeping before we leave and try to catch some shuteye on the plane.

We depart for Antarctica on Thursday evening, which gives us about half a day to explore Ushuaia. Depending on weather, I hope to get up to the Martial Glacier for some hiking before we have to board the ship. Also, will pick up any last minute gear – like gators since the race is going to be so muddy – in Ushuaia.

That’s all for now. 🙏🏼

Antarctica bound

Photo by James Eades on Unsplash

Today, I leave for Antarctica. In a few hours, I will board a plane first to Buenos Aires, Argentina. Actually, we’re headed to Houston for an hour and then on to Buenos Aires, but that is a small technicality. We’ll spend a few days in Buenos Aires and then on to Antarctica by way of ship, which we’ll board in Ushuaia.

I’m excited, nervous, frustrated my achilles is not one hundred percent, and did I mention excited? This trip has been over four years in the making and it’s finally here. 🙌🏼

A cold is trying to weasel its way into my system. With all the rain and cold, damp days lately, people have been coughing, sneezing, and sniffling at the office, in the grocery stores, and forget about hitting the gym.

There is something going around. I can feel it worming its way through my sinuses and lungs trying to find a place to settle and get comfy. But, as my grandmother would say, I’m not having any of it. I completely refuse it. To counter its intentions, I’ve loaded up with EmergenC chewable tablets and Coldeeze (zinc), and will continue until both packages are empty.

Plus, there’s so much going on at work that the stress of all the change might have lowered my immune system as well. Change is never easy, even if it’s good. So it feels like it’s either the absolute worst time or positively the best time to be away. Perspective is everything, I suppose.

I’m going with it’s the best time, and will try to put all the change on a shelf for the two weeks I won’t have internet access or cell coverage. That’s right, no cellular coverage on the ship or on the white continent. I’m going to have the shakes for the first 24-48 hours. 😁

When I’m not marveling at the expanse of the Arctic Ocean or gazing at the billions of stars I’ll see from the ship’s deck, I plan to spend indoor cabin time with books – downloaded ten or so – and music. I’ll also bring my Mac to journal and capture the days and moments as they happen, plus do some other writing. And maybe just a teeny, tiny bit of work. Don’t judge.

All in all, I’m pretty much packed. Minimalism certainly has its advantages. I’ve managed to squeeze almost my entire wardrobe and running gear into a carryon and North Face duffle bag. The same duffle I used when I trekked to Everest Base Camp. The bag is enormous and I was able to fit several days of clothes for different climates (Buenos Aires is 75 degrees and Patagonia is 35 degrees) along with a short foam roller, dry bag for the Zodiac, day pack, extra pair of shoes, additional jacket, and much more.

In my carryon, I have all my running gear for race day, which is substantial because of how cold it will be. It’s packed to the brim with running shoes, socks, hat, gloves, balaclava, three layers of clothing, a sports bra, and so on. Plus, I packed all medicine in there too, especially the seasickness patches and my mini first aid kit that mostly consists of moleskin, ibuprofen, bandaids, and blister repair patches.

I also packed the GoPro gear in my carryon along with the bare minimum of clothing should my duffle go missing. No no no, not going to happen. But just in case. South America has a reputation for losing gear. I’m just hoping it’s not mine this time around.

With all of this packing and preparation, I still feel unsettled and unprepared, like I missed something. And I probably did, but I’ll figure it out as I go. Although I had more than four years to prepare for this epic journey, it really boiled down to the last few months and weeks, which happen to be a little tumultuous complete with a heavy dose of sickness and injury.

But, I’ll figure it out. Things always sort themselves out in the end. This is just my experience and I’ll make the best of it, work a little harder, spend a few more cycles making sure I’ve covered all the bases, check my packing list yet again for the fifteenth time. I’ll do – and have done – the hard things now so I can enjoy the fruits a little bit later.

Speaking of fruits, it’s time for breakfast. Next post will be from Argentina.

Buen día! 🗻🏃🏻‍♀️ 💪🏼

Arctic adventure begins in two weeks 🐧❄️

In two weeks, I will hop on a plane to Buenos Aires, Argentina, then another to Ushauaia, and last, board a ship to sail the Drake Passage down to Antarctica.

The race is a little over three weeks away and I did something nasty to my achilles on the last, long and very hilly training run. Again, I tried using trail shoes, and again, they didn’t work out. I’m sticking with my road shoes. Hills, rock, and snow be damned.

The problem with an achilles, let’s call it, aggravation, is it takes a long time to heal. I’ve been limping around since Sunday, and that’s walking. Running has been out of the question, and still is almost a week later.

I feel like my fitness level and endurance training will carry over another two to three weeks if rest is all I need to heal my achilles, but I’m not happy about it. I’ve been grumpy and a little down lately as the realization that due to this setback I won’t be running the best race I could.

Don’t count me out yet. Two weeks is still long enough for me to recover sufficiently to get the job done. I just hope it’s enough for the tough arctic terrain that lies ahead.

Race participants received a final informational email from Marathon Tours on logistics, avoiding scams in Buenos Aires and what to do if your flight is delayed or canceled. They said all of this tends to happen quite a bit in South America.

There will be no internet and no cell phone coverage while on the ship or on the white continent. I have an option to register for a ship, text-only, email address. I’m guessing this is a small data channel on a ship-to-shore radio that can allow for a limited amount of communication to and from the rest of the world.

The email also included a few pictures from previous races. The inclines on the race course looked intense. I’ve had some hill work – some that’s nearly done me in – but those long ass hills go up and up forever. Gulp.

Deep breath. It’s going to be fine. Carry on.

There are no ports or docks on Antarctica. Instead, the ship drops anchor and they lob us (hopefully it’s gentler than that) into a Zodiac. A Zodiac is a rubber boat with a motor, think what navy seals use. The Zodiac will bring several of us to land. Then we’ll step out of the boat into calf-high Arctic ocean and walk (or run) to land and ice and snow.

Zodiacs will be used for race day and other activities on Antarctica. Before and after the race there are several excursions like arctic ocean kayaking and penguin viewing. Count me in!

With the help of a check list from Marathon Tours, I’m still narrowing down my own packing list, which I’ll publish when I have it pretty much locked. More to come.

Stay healthy, stay strong. ❤️🙏🏼💪🏼

Five weeks to Antarctica race

low storm clouds over running trail

Training is almost back on schedule. I’m still running about a mile short on the weekend long runs (seven miles), but feeling nice and strong during the run and recovering quickly.

Rainy weather has made for interesting conditions in the bay area, but still nothing like Antarctica. Not a snowflake to be found, just a lot of rain and wind.

Luckily, I have a couple more training trips to cold places that should help at least expose my lungs and body to the frigid temperatures anticipated on race day.

Also, I don’t feel like I’m getting the hill work needed in what’s expected on the Antarctic race course, but I’m doing my best to get to the trails.

The run I get to do most days is just outside my doorstep and this is a training no-no. Even though it’s so easy and convenient and connects to the bay trail, which goes on for miles, it’s not even close to what I am expecting in Antarctica.

If I can’t make the time to get to the trails and put in the work, I will pay for this dearly in Antarctica in the way of tired legs and a lot of huffing and puffing. 😟

That two-week sickness really set me back, but I have five more weeks to turn it around. 💪🏼

I still need to finish my packing list as well. The race company posts their recommendations, but I feel like it’s missing quite a few things that will make my race a happy – or at least more comfortable – race. Will post my complete packing list once done.

Until next time, stay healthy. 🙏

Antarctica race training

The half marathon in Antarctica is two months away. My longest training run has been a five-miler on a trail with 564 feet in elevation gain. I was gassed.

As mentioned, I’ve been out of long distance running shape for quite a few years now. Getting back into it has been tough. 

Training has been progressing but not without issues. I had knee pain when I switched from road shoes to trail shoes. My trainer recommended starting with a dynamic-stretch warmup before hitting the pavement, which I’ve done. It’s helped, but the knee hasn’t been the same since. It still feels a little weak and achy after runs.

I’ve had dozens of sore muscles, cramps, aches, pains, and knots. Plus countless moments full of fear, doubt, and uncertainty. This trip and this race are no joke. The conditions are harsh and luck, if there is any near the south pole, will favor the prepared. 

On race day in Antarctica, the anticipated temperature will be anywhere from 0 °F to 34 °F. That’s a huge range. It’s the difference between a soggy, muddy run above freezing or a can’t feel your face while loping atop slippery, frozen rock run if it’s closer to 0 °F. Winds can be as powerful as 40mph and gusts even higher. 

A couple of the big challenges training in the Bay Area for a freezing cold race in the arctic include preparing my body and testing my gear in expected race conditions.

It’s fairly mild where I live so locating a windy, frozen tundra has been problematic. The Antarctica course is snowy, rocky, and muddy. We don’t have too much of that either, just a little rain every now and then, and that’s only because it’s winter. 

The good news is I’ve been traveling outside the golden state to prepare myself for the blustery conditions. Before New Years, I spent several days in Iowa where it was both cold and windy, and I got in several miles in cold weather gear. 

Recently, I was in New York City and knocked out a freezing cold training run through NYC’s kind, flat, and relatively dry running path along the Hudson River. 

There are a couple additional winter trips I’ve planned to help with training (and fun) this winter, like Pinecrest, CA for some snowshoeing, skiing, and, of course, running.

And, although global warming and climate change have made this even harder to predict, a few weeks before I leave for Buenos Aires, I plan to do the longest training run in my hometown of Chicago, which should be perfectly freezing, windy, and snowy (if not muddy) in late February.

More to come as we get closer to race day. My training goals have never been so frosty.