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. 


5k training run

Signed up for a 5k in December. It will be my first trail race in preparation for my last, and most ambitious, half marathon in Antarctica in March.

But right now, my fitness level is embarrassing. I’m so out of shape when I run even short distances, I’m winded for the first five or ten minutes. Other runners say that will go away, but I’m not feeling it. This is my second week and I’m still fatigued. If I don’t start running now, by setting small goals like the 5k in early December, I can’t fathom being prepared for a much longer – four times longer – run in five months.

The training race I picked is called Summit Rock, and its organized from one of my favorite local companies, Brazen Racing. When I’ve run with them in the past, many years ago, I found they ran well-supported races and a good post-race spread. They have a great community of runners too. For Summit Rock, racers can partake in three distances: 5k, 10k, and half marathon. Located in Saratoga, Sanborn County Park has a challenging foot trail that increases in elevation for about four miles before leveling off.

Since I’m running the 5k, the course is straight up – about 2200 feet of elevation gain – and at the halfway point, runners turn around and head back down 2200 feet to the start/finish line. I don’t have trail running shoes, so I’ll use my road shoes and see how things go.

While I’ve sold or donated most of my possessions, oddly enough, they didn’t include trail running shoes or winter running gear, which is what I’ll need for the half marathon in Antarctica.

I haven’t started to think about the actual packing list for Antartica. When I get to it, I expect to have warm, waterproof trail running shoes on it, along with a solid race-day winter running getup, which I’ll get to test out during my cold winter training runs.

Until then, I’ll keep hitting the warm trails, working the hills, and feeling the exhaustion. Send love and support.


Nature run

californiakingsnake

Went for a run today. It was the first time I had the chance to do a run in five days (so disappointed in myself) and it almost didn’t happen. Work has been crazy busy and getting in at 7am doesn’t guaranty I’ll be out the door by 4pm. When I did finally leave, the temp on my car thermostat read 101 degrees Fahrenheit. The sun was in the western sky, but it was still brutally hot.

Funny thing about hot weather, it seemed to bring out a few not-so-welcomed inhabitants into my usually pleasant running space full of bunnies and deer. First, while changing into my running gear in the ladies restroom, I noticed an enormous black beetle sharing my stall. It had to be as big as a silver dollar and yuck it was gross. It was also likely the only thing I could assuredly outrun out today, which I did, and right quick.

From there I proceeded to run three hot, long, and sweaty miles. It was in my last mile that I ran into, almost literally, a snake almost identical to the one pictured above. He seemed to come out of nowhere, emerging confidently from the depths of the long hay-like grass, towards the running path (and me). I was struck by its colors and markings almost immediately. Cool, amazing creature. Then I noticed that we were both still moving forward and  on a crash course. When I realized that he didn’t see me and we were going to run into each other (he was moving a lot faster than I originally anticipated), I slowed  and moved to the opposite side of the trail assuming he’d stop and turn around. It’s funny how what we visualize in our heads is often so different than what happens in real life.

The snake was visually startled by my trajectory and sudden movement to get in front of (and past) him. Instead of turning around, he pulled his head and a good portion of his body off the ground, which started to freak me out a little. Now all of this happened in a few seconds, but when you’re super present, time can almost come to a stop it moves so slow.

When I saw him get taller, I ran faster and jumped over him as he continued moving on his way. It was a weird exchange. Probably the weirdest I’ve ever had with a snake. After googling his colors and whereabouts, I identified him to be a California King snake. Kind of a stud in my opinion. And ultimately not poisonous. Thank God, but I’d be a little tougher right now if he actually was poisonous.

While jogging away, I was silently congratulating myself on successfully dodging (and leapfrogging!) a slithering snake, a serpent of all things, and would live on to tell the story. I looked back just in time to see him sort of doing the same thing. The adrenaline helped me to forget about my aching foot for a minute (blister from last week), but that’s a different story.


Breathing

rancho trail

Thanks to a book called Running with the Mind of Meditation by Sakyong Mipham, running has become more meaningful to me. Not that preparing and training to run the marathon wasn’t meaningful already. When I was thinking about my grandmother, how this run will honor her life, how it will raise money for LUNGevity to support lung cancer research, and hopefully help others, running has meaning. But this incredible book also helped bring to light the concept of how running, like meditation, requires good form, posture, and even part ceremony to really be meaningful as well – and to get better at it, you have to keep doing it the right way.

It started with breathing the right way. In the past, when I ran, I just moved my legs faster than I did when I was walking, swung my arms, and hoped at some point I would catch my breath. I struggled, huffing and puffing, and felt miserable during most of it. That was my experience of running, so I took it at face value. It was hard and exhausting. But in the book, the author talks about deep and mindful breathing while running, so inhaling for as many steps as you comfortably can, and then exhaling the same way. Once I tried it, I found longer inhales and exhales helped immensely. Previously, “finding my breathing” meant an inhale would take two steps followed by an exhale of two steps, inhale – one, two, exhale – one, two, and so on. When I started inhaling deeply with multiples steps, then exhaling fully through several steps, I was less tired and less winded. Running became – dare I say – pleasurable. 

Today was hot. My car thermostat said 100 degrees fahrenheit when I left work. It dropped a few degrees by the time I got to the trailhead, but it was full sun and steamy. I had some water with me but I knew the run was going to be exhausting. And it was, but I ran it better. I breathed through the heat and pain, stayed present, and all was right with the world. And this run, with my focus on my breath, became meaningful in a different way. I can’t really explain it yet, but I felt like I could endure, even in the 97-98 degree weather, more. What’s even scarier is I found pleasure in it. What’s happening to me? 

So I’d like to gratefully thank Sakyong Mipham for opening my mind to the concept of focused, but gentle running. While I’m in the phase of the tiger, I can feel the seeds of each phase expectant in me waiting to be unleashed. And I’m running.


Start button

trail run

Yesterday was perfect for trail running. Not too hot, not too cold, and spring was in motion. I found a comfortable pace quickly. My breathing also found its rhythm soon after. All seemed right with the world as I felt the first tingling of sweat condense on my forehead. Yes, perfect, until it wasn’t. Suddenly it felt like my right knee might crack apart. Ouch. It was a sharp pain, enough to literally make me week in the knee(s) so I slowed down and then hobbled over to a wooden post along the trail. I leaned in bracing myself on the pole and stretched out that calf muscle. It pulled the skin tight from the back of my thigh to my achilles and I could feel the tightness like someone inserted a large rubber-band ball into the back of my leg where my calf muscle once resided. Breathing into it, I held the stretch until a few of those bands loosened a little and the pain subsided. About 45 seconds later, I started running again.

Admiring the lush abundance of nature around me, I actually found myself feeling grateful to be running. Let’s face it, running was better than sitting in a meeting, behind a computer screen, or doing my taxes. I wasn’t running hard enough to be breathing heavy, just a slow comfortable jog, and that made a world of a difference in my mood. Unfortunately, I’m still dealing with the remains of a sinus cold with awful pressure behind my teeth, runny nose, and cough, so the occasional wipe-my-nose-but-make-make-it-look-like-I’m-wiping-sweat-with-my-shirt action happened more than I’d care to admit. But my red nose tells the story anyway.

The run was starting to feel pretty good now that my knee didn’t feel like a knife had skewered itself through the side of it. The birds were chirping. Squirrels squirreling. I felt that I had hit about a mile and glanced down at my watch to see how I was doing. It showed me all zeros. What the – ? I stopped, stared at my mac-daddy Timex GPS Ironman watch trying to make sense of what it was telling me. I didn’t do all the steps to start the tracking. Apparently at the trailhead, I connected it to the GPS, hit the Chrono button, and either hit the stop button (which would have been really smart) or just started running. What I should have done was connect it to the GPS, find the Chrono mode, pressed the Start button, and made sure it was tracking. Idiot. So now that I’ve been running a bit already, what are my choices? Start now and keep going unsure of how far I’ve come, not use it at all and don’t bother tracking the run, or start tracking and turn around so I can figure out how long I’ve come then multiply it by two to get the total distance I actually ran. I mumbled a few unkind things to myself, decided on option three, turned around, and started running.