Further conversation with the uninitiated: mad penguins and Scots girls

Conversations with the uninitiated: back by popular demand. Banter: the playful and friendly exchange of teasing remarks. I think that it can be said that there is a fair amount of banter going on between my ultra uninitiated friend and myself. It is fun and it is interesting to see things from his perspective. It is probably also keeping me grounded, giving me pause for thought, and it is probably contributing to that healthy dollop of nerves that I am feeling.

For the first time ever I have had a ‘race anxiety dream’ – thanks D.

In all fairness to D, he is not the only one ‘giving me the willies’. As you will see other are contributing also.

A recent email exchange:

Me: Mental psyching up has now started. ‘The Antarctic Ice Marathon is the only marathon event within the Antarctic Circle on mainland Antarctica’.

Me:The Ice Marathon takes place approximately two thousand kilometres further south than other marathon events, which all take place in the South Shetland Islands area. It represents a truly genuine Antarctic marathon challenge’.

Me: Eh-hah!

D: It's so bloody cold even penguins don't go there.

Unless.....Mad Penguins and Scots girls out in the midday howling Antarctic gale..... doesn't quite scan as Noel's but I feel sure he would appreciate the sentiment!!!

Mad penguins and Scots girls: it has been a long while since anyone referred to me as a girl, thanks D. However, I think that it was perhaps it was not so much flattery as the concept of madness, maybe even foolhardiness that was real point here.


Penguins and madness do seem to be a bit of a theme. Another friend reminded me about the Werner Hezog film Encounters at the End of the World and ‘deranged’ (disorientated) penguin which walks in the wrong direction, away from the colony, and in the opposite direction to the coastal feeding grounds, heading deeper into Antarctica towards the mountains and certain death.

When I say to people what I am doing in November the response tends to be: ‘you’re mad’, laughter, silence or any combination of the three. It is usually followed by the question ‘why? The glib answer is, ‘because I can’, but am I mad or foolhardy?

Much has been written and quoted over the centuries about the co-relation of madness and genius, greatness and creativity. There are also some that associate madness with life. I could fill pages with numerous quotes, but and there are three in particular that seem appropriate to this and which pick up on ideas that have appeared in previous posts.  Emile M Cioran, (philosopher & essayist) wrote, ‘We derive our vitality from our store of madness’. This links to what I was getting at when I said that running enhances my life. It makes me feel more vital and gives me greater energy for life.

Nikos Kazantzakis, (writer and philosopher) stated, ‘a person needs a little madness, or else they never dare cut the rope and be free’. My nature is quite risk averse, which on the surface is at odds with my decision to go and run many miles in an extreme environment. But that is my rope cutting: running is my freedom and running in wild and free places intensify that sense of freedom and cut the rope that is my risk aversion.

Am I mad?

Perhaps a little, but I would far rather be a little mad and seek new experiences and push my boundaries. The final quote is from Robin Williams, ‘You are only given a little spark of madness. You must not lose it’. I think I can safely say I am in no danger of losing my spark.

So, am I foolhardy?

I am a project manager. I organise; I am a self-confessed control freak; I have borderline OCD and I research and analyse everything to the minutest detail. I did not decide the run in Antarctica on a whim, I have researched it, I have planned for it and I have trained for it. It is an environment and a distance that has to be respected.  I don’t want to be Werner Herzog’s penguin. There is one thing I have not managed to train for: the cold. Unlike certain ‘royals’ I do not have the connections to be able to spend 24 hours in an environment chamber. Hopefully, my kit; which is the same kit that a certain royal personage has been supplied with (Helly Hansen have provided the kit for the Walking with the Wounded challenge); and my strength and stamina will deal with the environment.

Why then am I beginning feeling the ‘willies’?

Exam nerves; have I done enough, trained enough: a bit.

Fear of frostbite: a little.

Fear of failing: a little.

Mad penguins: quite possibly.

the20thing_med edit
the20thing_med edit

My dog tag? The company that has insured me for my trip with maximum, extreme sport and worldwide cover sent me a dog tag. It is a marketing gimmick, and it prompted my husband to say, ‘Is that so they can identify you when they dig you out of the snow in 1000 years?’  It has given me pause for thought.

the-thing-1982-kurt-russell-pic-6 edit_edited-2
the-thing-1982-kurt-russell-pic-6 edit_edited-2

References to horror stories and movies: maybe. My husband has told me that I have to read H P Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness; and has made a couple of rather amusing references to the movie The Thing (the original and the re-make): the images tell the story.

Many athletes say that nerves are good, that you harness them and see them as positive and use them to focus you. So that is what I shall endeavour to do.

I will not be reading the Lovecraft.

I will not be Herzog’s deranged penguin (is there a mantra there?).


And D, the shivering penguins are definitely nixed.