I am going to be releasing this one in stages. I would love feedback on whether you like me to lump my race reports together into one document or if you like them separate. Thank you.
BEEP. BEEP. BEEP. 4:45 AM. Rise and shine. I shot out of bed and silenced my phone. The sun was already shining through the curtains, so I took a peak. Brighter by the snow, King George’s Island was right in front of me. Although the base was still sleepy, I was ready for action. Heart beating quickly but body still waking up, I slowly picked up my bags and packed in my final essential items for the day. I left the equipment in my room and lumbered down to breakfast. Entering the dining room, I had more options than I knew what to do with. Toast, cereal, granola, fruits. The things psuedo-athletes crave. Knowing that a long day was ahead of me, I stocked up on most anything I could fit on my plate. Regardless of whether or not it is a free buffet, I always tend to pile more than should reasonably fit on one plate...on one plate. This breakfast was no different. I stuffed my face, nerves could not contain my hunger. I rapidly left breakfast in order to put on the rest of my gear and get ready for our quick morning briefing.
Upstairs in the lounge the anxiousness was palpable, but so was the excitement. The weather outside looked crisp and refreshing. Almost inviting. The colorful buildings starkly contrasted the snow even more than they had in the early morning. “The loop will be somewhere around 14 kilometers. And hopefully we can go for 13 hours.” The words jammed into my core. How long? Doing loops? Deeearrr lord, strike me down. I convinced myself that it wouldn’t be that bad, and headed toward the zodiac boarding.
The parka was too much. About the same as a winter in Kansas, I was already regretting my decision to wear my warm Patagonia onesie. Antarctica was serving up surprises already, and the first one was that I was hot. Climbing into the zodiac for the first time was kind of like getting into an untippable, wide, canoe. Which is to say, it is just an open aired boat. While the material looks like it was sold for $10 at the nearest Wal-Mart under the section “Arctic Adventures” I had faith that there would be no sinking while I was on board. The zodiac quietly zipped through the water and my feet soon kissed the shore of Antarctica. An island off the coast, but Antarctica. Taking off my required rubber boots and fetching my shoes out of the drybag, I was more excited every second. I had plans to improve my results from the previous races, and the sensation of being on my 7th continent of the year surged through me. We lined up for photos before the beginning and my legs were kicking and shaking like a man who needed to move.
Finally, for the last first time this year, the countdown for the last first day of the year began. “3...2...1” I didn’t even hear what she said, “Lift Off” for all I know. I was in the zone as quickly as the running began, and we quickly disappeared into the snowdrift uphill. Without realizing how quickly I was moving for a 13 hour run, I began behind the top few leaders and tried to convince myself that this was where I belonged. Together, we passed the furthest point away from camp and returned from whence we came. Seeing the mix of faces working their way up what I was coming down was a joy and a luxury. During races it is not often that you have contact with every single person that you are racing against, but this was not an ordinary race. I kept going and got a feel for the loop, which was more like a figure-eight. Starting at the finish/beginning, we traveled west from the Bellingshausen Station through rolling snow banks for a few kilometers and then turned back on the same route, although slightly easier on the return journey. As we came to the base, we took a turn going around and through, eastward now. Mostly on melted snow and ice as the temperature took a turn for the heat as the sun came out of her cloudy cave. As the heat increased, my speed decreased, and I quickly fell off the lead. The snow was zapping my energy, but more than energy it tested the strength of my core. By middle of my second lap, the weakness I didn’t know existed cropped up. My lower back. What began as a sensation had quickly turned into a hindrance. And through another loop, a downright injury. If I had the strength, I could run through the snow. The softness of the landings created a buffer for the shock absorption of my back. Unfortunately, the snow on the east side had completely disappeared. The shock of going from soft landings quickly to hard pack dirt created shooting pains all the way down my right leg and connecting to my back. At around 10 hours, I could not run at all. Nervous about my ability to finish if I pushed, I walked the final 3 hours. Not my anticipated finish, but the finish that I thought would best serve me over the week. If there was anything I had learned over the year, it was the importance of letting the body ease into the first day. There was nothing of ease this day. As I ended and climbed up in the zodiac after 13 hours on my feet and another early morning quickly approaching, all I could think was if I could really do this. If I could really continue on for another day.