I was drifting between dreaming and reality. My right leg exhaled pain with each small turn. Mirroring my mental state, my body tossed back and forth. Fully awake and partially asleep, the wake-up bell rang. More like a dirge than a call to action, I awoke with no choice but to start my day.
My roommate and I were much less excited than we were the first day, although his eternal optimism far outmatched my...realism. I call it realism, but it most closely matches some Eeyore like pessimism. I marched downstairs to fill my breakfast plate, but it was a little emptier than yesterday. The conversation around the hall was slightly duller and a little more stilted than just 24 hours before. The real warriors, the happy-to-sufferers, are even more visible than they were on the first day. Laughing and enjoying breakfast garrulously, these people are the ones to lean on during difficult days. After breakfast, the now-routine zodiac routine begins and my feet quickly kiss land for the second time.
A strange strength entered my legs as soon as they brush the holy ground. As I looked upon the snow covered peaks that compose this volcanic island paintscape I saw the pink bags dotting the course. A 2.9 kilometer loop that began and ended on a Skua, penguin, and seal filled beach. I took off the rubber boots and put on my running shoes. The pain melted even further away from my mind. Strength continued to flow from the island into my body and was quickly put to good use. I started my run along the beach and quickly met the first snow of the day on a primarily downhill side-slope. My legs glid consistently downward and, because nothing good lasts forever, were introduced to the first real uphill of the day. Full of snow, I had low expectations about this section of the loop, but I had to introduce myself. She wouldn’t and didn’t go anywhere all day. Climb and descend. Climb and descend. Finally, when I thought it was done, another climb. I sumitted the final climb of the day and was awarded with an overlook of Whaler’s Bay to the left and a deep, deadly tumble into an Antarctic lake on the right. Light and cold, the view was almost beautiful enough to let me forget I was running and that the energy of the island was fading. I was starting to feel some pain. The pain didn’t come into my back today, it was all focused in my right leg. A sort of swollen, stiffening sensation locked up my leg and put my foot asleep as I finished the loop and rambled into my second.
As far as position in the race, I was happy and kept a decent injured pace for the first few hours. I was surprised at the few people who passed the limping vagabond and then realized that they were most likely experiencing the same sort of pain. Because that is what these races are about. Dealing with the nags. The body telling you to quit, the mind telling you that what you are doing has no purpose. That to quit means nothing at all in the grand scheme of things. But the importance is not obvious in running. There is no survival reason for why we should pursue ultramarathoning at this time in our human evolution. In fact, running these insane distances when we have nasty pains, aches, and attitudes may be detrimental in some ways. But we don’t run for health. We run for passion. An unexplainable passion. But a passion. And my passion was the only thing that pushed me through as the day continued on to the fourth hour.
The pain was bearable, but hardly runnable. My body was allowing me to remember the feeling of what it was like to be back at the beginning. My body had been transported back to my first run of this journey. A little 5k in Hays, Kansas that left me weak, huffing, and desperate for more. I was humbled. To have come so far from such tiny beginnings. I don’t recognize the man before that 5k anymore. I am not who I was, and I never will be again. As my thoughts drifted from the cerebral to the physical, I tried to keep a sustained run going, but my gait heavily favored my right leg. Like a racehorse with who needs his shoes replaced, I slowly shuffled on. Cresting the last hill for the tenth time in a row, I had the urge to sit and watch. To allow the cold to bite into my immobile body, to let my leg hang from the cliff, and to see the wind carry the water into the mountains beyond. But the greater urge was to go on. I could no longer run with any consistency, but I could move forward.
As I found my way to the checkpoint once more, they turned me around and sent me back the way I came. We were changing directions. At this point it didn’t matter to me. I had to move one way or the other, and both directions hurt the same. Pain didn’t care that I suddenly flip-turned around. On and on the day kept moving. Sometimes I traveled with people, sometimes I didn’t, it was the same. I was too hot and had to remove my liners, too cold and couldn’t find my mittens, so I used socks instead: It didn’t matter to me. Finally, traveling around a loop and getting close to the 17th hour of the day, I was told that we had an hour left to move. I gravitated toward my friend Karen and a pact was made to extend this last loop out to an hour. To enjoy it. To take pictures and allow ourselves to enjoy the continent of Antarctica. Hard as we tried, we couldn’t make it any slower than 50 minutes, and so, unfortunately, one more loop was required. Rushing as quickly as I could, I finished the last loop faster than my last 5, despite the ever-growing pain in my leg. I rushed to the zodiac, to the room, and defrosted for 15 minutes in the scalding heat of the shower.