Antarctic Odyssey – Marathon Day, Wednesday 20th November

The sunshine, clear blue skies and reflected heat of the sun of the previous day had disappeared, it was cloudy with a light wind and sporadic snow shows. The cloud lay heavy over the hills and visibility was slightly reduced: rather like home really.

I had already decided, based on the short run from the previous day, and the weather conditions that I was going to run this like an ultra and adopt a run/walk interval approach, start slow and steady and just notch up the miles. The drop bags were done, the kit was sorted. It would definitely be a face mask and double gloves and mitts day. I opted for sunglasses rather than goggles in the hope that it would reduce fogging, which turned out to be the right decision. Spare gloves, socks and base layer were laid out with my camp drop bag. My running kit was a light weight base layer with merino and a mid-weight warm merino on my top half topped off with my windproof jacket; a single layer of winter weight soft lined running tights and windproof trousers on my bottom half; in a double layer of merino socks, one pair of light running and a pair of light weight hiking, and a pair of trail shoes with a goretex membrane. For my head and neck I opted for 2 beanies, a lightweight liner style and a traditional woolly one; and the silk scarf that had been designed and made for me. An odd choice perhaps, but silk is light and warm, and this was a special scarf with good associations with home.

Breakfast was a serious fueling exercise. I knew that I was going to need to be well fuelled for this one as my body was going to have to cope with the cold as well as the effort of running. Green tea, fruit juice with coconut water added, coffee; scrambled eggs, bacon and toast; porridge; fruit. Right fuelled and ready. A last few checks of the kit and provisions and next thing it was 9.40 am. Twenty minutes to go; time to get outside and acclimatise. As with any race everyone was doing their own thing, following their own routines. Some people were quiet, some excited, some nervous, some talkative and some not so much.

As 10am approached we began to gather around the start area which was a stone’s throw from the mess tent. The nations’ flags now lined the approach to the start/finish, a

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clear indicator of the multi-national field.  It was a little disappointing to see that the Saltire was not present (just as well I had my own tucked in a pocket), provoking some banter with Richard. He had one, but no pole for it: as long as it was there for the 100k.

The cameramen for the event, and from Aljazeera, who were filming a documentary, Why we run, and who’s Andy Richardson was running his first marathon, were out and filming. Mike King the official event photographer was also out ready to get the start line shots.

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We were called forward. I felt calm and confident, and the nerves that I had expected did not manifest themselves. In one sense there was no pressure. I was there simply to finish and I knew that I could finish a marathon especially, if I stuck with the plan: slow and steady, and plenty of calories going in. As ever, I placed myself at the back of the pack. Photos were taken and then we were off.  That was it.  A year of planning and training and I was running the Antarctic Ice Marathon.

We were running on a 13.1m loop with 3 check-points, 2 out on the loop and the 3rd being the camp. There was also an emergency unmanned checkpoint on the long back straight.  We set out into a head wind for the first mile or so and I began to feel some nip on my left cheek, as instructed I removed a glove and put skin against skin.  The same happened later in the race with my right cheek.  It helped but I ended up with some wind nip which is still visible as I write this. The going was soft and slow. I made to the first check point positioned at the turn onto the back straight, but was slower than I had hoped. No point in fretting, it was what it was, would take as long as it takes and all I could do was continue to press on. At the check point I grabbed some sports drink and a gel before setting out again. All the camp personnel were helping to support us manning the check points and the finish and patrolling the route. Their friendly support and willingness to to be out there for so long was greatly appreciated.

After about half a mile two things dawned on me. I had not taken enough liquid or energy and although I had gels in my pocket there was no water to take them and it was a

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long stretch to the next check point. I also realised that I had dropped a mitt. I started to feel a sense of panic building up. I knew I needed to be taking 60g of carbohydrate every hour; and what if my hands started to get cold? Ok, stop, breath, and think this through. One of the gels that I had did not need water and whilst I had not planned to take at this stage it would work.  Yes, I was going to be short of fluid and risking a touch of dehydration but I would take plenty on at the next manned checkpoint. I could also manage without the mitt, which was most probably back at the check point .My hands were warm and as long as I kept going at a reasonable pace they would stay that way.

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I settled back into a comfortable pace and my intervals and enjoyed the grandeur around me. It was magnificent. The hills that had shone so brightly the day before were now dark and brooding with cloud hanging over them. As if on cue Carmina Buruna came up on my MP3 player. My face mask was freezing and ice building up on it. Periodically I would remove a glove and pull down the face mask, holding it in my warn hand to melt the ice. Ice was also forming on my gloves.

I was still feeling strong and my energy levels felt OK. I passed two people. Soon I could see the next check point, but distance perception in this environment is strange and I knew that it was not as close as it looked which was backed up by the mile markers. But soon enough I was there.  Fluid was my priority, cups of hot water and one of my trusty Espresso Shots (yes, I had transported then all the way from Scotland). I said that I thought I had dropped my mitt at the first check point and they said they would radio ahead. They advised that I should change my gloves when I got to the camp.  I ate a couple of biscuits and then set out.

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Just 3 miles and I would be back at the camp and half way. Soon I was at the Christmas tree (a tree shaped marker put up by the camp personnel) which I knew was only a mile from camp. We turned back into the head wind at this point and I began to feel the nip on my cheeks again.

A quick toilet stop then into the tent where I changed my liner gloves, took plenty more fluid including some fruit juice and coconut water. I did not stop too long as I did not want to overheat and sweat, and was keen to keep moving. I headed back out, grabbed some flap jack from the provisions that were laid out outside and set out on lap 2 being told that I doing well. What I did not realise at that point was just how well.  The quick turnaround at the camp may well have been an advantage. Quite a few other runners chose to take longer stops. As I set out I checked my watch: 2.55.

I passed 2 more people on the way to checkpoint 1 where I was reunited with my missing mitt. I took tea, hot water, a gel and some chocolate, then put a small bottle of energy drink in my jacket pocket and set back out quickly. The terrain was getting tougher and heavier going as it was quite churned up now. The energy drink was turning into a slush puppy in spite of being in my pocket next to me. It was quite refreshing. I t also enable me to take another gel. The gels were not freezing but were cold and

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thicker in texture.  I learned later that the temperatures were considerably lower than I had thought ranging from -20 to -30. My steady ultra technique was paying off, as was the sand training. This was physically really hard.  I passed a further 5 people along the back straight and reached the 2nd checkpoint in good shape physically and mentally. My energy levels were steady and good and I was not feeling fatigued. I was happy with my pace and progress. I took some hot water, a 2nd surge gel and some more chocolate and off for the last 3 miles.

I passed another couple of runners. In the last mile I spotted another runner ahead. I was not sure but I thought it was another women. I steadily gained ground but could not work out who it was. It turned out that it was Charlotte Waller, a young runner who was on the way to completing her 7 continents with her father. She was in 3rd place in the women’s race. As the finish drew closer my heart began to swell. Cyndi Lauper’s,  Girls just want to have fun (yes, really) transitioned in Prince, Raspberry Beret. Rather co-incidentally that Prince track has randomly come up on shuffle as I finish races.  I pulled my saltire out of my pocket, held it high with a surge of pride in my achievement and crossed the line in 5.47.53, faster than I had expected and in 4thplace but not knowing that. I had assumed I was at the tail end of the pack.

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Wow! What an experience. That was amazing. I hugged Charlotte, then a hug with Richard as he gave me my medal, a photograph and then a moment to pause, drink in the

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atmosphere and reflect on what I had just done. I had completed the Antarctic Ice Marathon. I had loved the experience and I thanked Richard. Dave, the cameraman came over and asked me how it was. The answer: a blast; brilliant.  It was tough, but was just what I had expected and prepared for. I had also achieved that Holy Grail of runners: a negative split. It could probably be classed as a perfect race.

I think I have to say that as experiences go, this has to rank somewhere close to sex.

All I had to do now was recover ready for the 100k. We had already been told that there was a chance that it might be run the next day, so getting the recovery going as quickly as possible was going to be imperative.  We had been instructed that the first two things we should do when we finished was to shower and eat. I realised why when I went into the mess tent and realised how wet all my clothing was and that my scarf was frozen solid around my neck. This I did. After my shower I put on my compression tights instead of the base layer under my insulated trousers. This should aid and speed up my recovery. Often I find it hard to eat after a marathon, but not today. I was hungry and able to eat managing to get plenty of food down me.  I called home and they already knew my time. The times were being phoned through and posted on face book real time. Alasdair said everyone was impressed by my effort and sending lots of congratulations. This was a great mental boost for me.

I continued to refuel steadily and get plenty of fluid in too. That evening we were told that the 100k would not be the next day as there was bad weather moving in, and that the schedule would be fluid. They would keep checking for windows of opportunity, and we should expect to run through the night. We were also told that it was highly unlikely that the flight out would be on schedule due to the changing weather conditions and poor visibility, and stormy fronts moving in.

I stayed up late in the hope that my tiredness would ensure that I got some sleep. This was not to be the case and when I eventually went to bed I was unable to sleep for the 2nd night.

All photos: Mike King