Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Antarctica Rocks!!

Okay so I am still on a high from my experience in Antarctica - it has been the trip of a lifetime for me, enhanced by meeting a fabulous group of runners and the wonderful camp staff at Patriot Hills.

Well what can I say the Antarctic Ice Marathon was amazing and surreal and bloody hard work! Poor weather conditions delayed our arrival into Antarctica - although by the time we arrived the weather was amazing big blue skies and snow everywhere! It would be fair to say I was starting to feel trepidacious about actually running a marathon under Antarctic conditions. And while those following the progress of the marathon may have wondered how I was coping with the delays of the marathon (we had planned to run on December 12 but didn't actually start until December 15) particularly since I am not a very patient person. But actually each delay felt like a reprieve and for once I was actually happy to wait!

The day of the marathon finally dawned at we started running at 11.32am on the 15th of December and 7 hours and 9 minutes later I finished the Antarctic Ice Marathon - exactly 3 hours longer than the Alice Springs Marathon in August! I was the second woman across the line and came 7th in a field of 18 marathon runners!

But I am sure you all might be more interested in the gory details of the actual run! Well the fog horn went off and 17 runners sprinted away to be immediately brought up short by the soft snow. We all spread out and settled into a rhythm - well as much as the conditions would allow. I spent a lot of time watching the track and trying and to identify the harder sections of the snow-covered track but in reality there wasn't any good line to follow. I found the first 8km particularly hard work and it wasn't till I got to the first check point that I discovered that I had actually been running on an incline. With no real markers and a totally white horizon it was particularly difficult to get a visual perspective that identified an incline.

I got to the first check point had a hot orange juice and went on my merry (okay not so merry) way. I was assured that this section of the course was downhill - but it took a really long time till I found the downhill section. Around 14km I was feeling pretty low but it was at this point that I caught up with Mark who was on his third 25km lap of the 100km Ultra Marathon. Mark gently reminded me that this marathon was all about the embracing the experience of running in sub-zero conditions in the Antarctic and not to focus on the 'race' it was a great pep talk and really helped to lift my spirits.
I made it to the second checkpoint at 19km for some more hot orange juice and then ran the best section of the course. A lovely sweeping downhill section leading into the campsite. Although once again distances in Antarctica are deceptive and it took quite a while to reach campsite. However, I was re-inspired at this point since I could see one runner ahead of me maybe one kilometre and one runner behind me about 500m - so you all can imagine my game plan try to catch one and stay ahead of the other!

I eventually made it back into campsite (checkpoint 3) at about 25km and had a quick change of tops because my thermal top was dripping wet. I actually ran with a camelbak (and insulated tubing) and drank the entire 2 litres during the run - with no stops for pee-breaks!

The last 12km or so was an out and back section and was just a hard slog and difficult to judge the distances as we were running off into the wide, white horizon! I finally resorted to alternating a run/walk program between the red flags, spaced about 50 metres apart! I was relieved to make it to the final turnaround point and only had 6km to go but let's just say it was the longest 6km of my life! Once again I had one runner ahead of me and one runner behind me and my goal was to try to catch one and stay ahead of the other. Ironically in speaking later to the the two runners, they shared similar goals, one was trying to stay ahead of me and the other was trying to catch me, so we were all driving each other forward :).

I didn't actually see the campsite finish line until about 1km to go and it took forever to reach but as you can my happy face I was ever so pleased to finally finish!

So what did I think of the Antarctica Ice Marathon? A truly awesome, amazing stunning experience.

Would I do it again? Right now I would have to say Maybe and if I did it again I would at least be better prepared mentally and physically for the experience.

Would I recommend the event to other runners? Absolutely, without a doubt, the camp staff were amazingly supportive, the food was outstanding, the tents were relatively comfortable and the race was well organised - just be prepared to wait on the weather gods for the starting date! In fact I waiting for the next Coolrunner to take up the challenge.