This entry should be called Punta Arenas Marathon Mark II as we had already run 28km in Mark I 25/1/16 before the race was cancelled when our flight window into Antarctica to run White Continent Marathon became available. Yes, we’d run 28km in Punta Arenas, and then 42.2km in Antarctica. I’d sort of hoped the race director would just let us finish the last 14km of the original attempt and call it even, however it was not to be! And thus after two rest days we met up again at the start line to tackle Punta Arenas again. I’d never tried to run so far in one week before!
We had heard earlier that week about the 7 marathons on 7 continents in 7 days challenge and knew an Australian lady was one of the runners undertaking this almighty challenge. Craig and I made the effort to go out and cheer her on at the end of each out and back, and were there at the end when she finished. So glad we met her – an amazing lady!
Race day I went out quite tentatively, expecting to be quite sore or my body to complain, but in truth I felt pretty good. I knew it was a matter of cracking through those four out and back laps and I was done and the fact I was finishing my own 7 marathons on 7 continents spurred me on.
The course ran along the promenade parallel to the beach and the main road into Punta Arenas. Apparently it is always windy along there and at times it was blowing quite the gale, while the rest of the time it was really strong. Semi trailers hurtling past created their own blasts of wind and I soon learned to hold onto my visor each time one approached to save it being blown off my head!
By this time I knew the other runners relatively well and we exchanged cheery greetings and called encouragement to one another as we lapped back and forth. It is from this event that the phrase “You got this” became part of my repertoire of things to say at future events, as it is a particularly American thing to say and I embraced it with gusto both on the day and thereafter.
The race officials had a staff member on a folding chair at the turnaround and a box of hydration bottles supplied individually by each runner. I had a bottle of Tailwind out there and a bottle back at the start with Craig, and carried a couple of gels and Shotbloks.
There was only one road to cross, and although it was quite wide (about four lanes) and unmanned, with reasonable care I was fine dodging any semi trailers turning into the street. I wondered at the time why the event director didn’t start the race a little further down the promenade to eliminate this crossing however he must have had his reasons.
By now I’d run up and down that promenade multiple times. I knew how far each landmark was from the start and tried to focus on getting to each one before looking ahead to the next landmark. I was travelling along really well and in the end I finished the race at a faster pace than I’d run in Mach I, and in fact came home 2nd female! A PODIUM!
For many, it was all about the White Continent Marathon. We’d paid big money to get to Antarctica and the event director did absolutely everything he could to ensure we were able to get the experience for which we’d paid. Some of the other runners had already done a marathon in South America and left once we returned.
For me, it was all about Punta Arenas. Punta Arenas was a defining moment in my running career because it demonstrated to me that I could in fact run 112km in one week and come out of it intact. I realised I didn’t have to doubt my ability and I could tackle anything. When I’d left Australia a week earlier I was thinking I’d retire once I’d finished the 7 continents challenge. I came home from Punta Arenas confident, and with big plans for my next challenge – things just got bigger!
I wasn’t sure whether I would finish 7 marathons on 7 continents as it meant I’d have to run a marathon in Antarctica. I’d sworn off snow and ice after Greenland because I found the extreme cold so hard to tolerate. I’d done some research into the three marathons available to run in Antarctica – one was booked out for the next three years; one was a three-week excursion involving travelling by ship to Antarctica; and one was a fly-in, fly-out excursion that was also coupled with a South American marathon in Punta Arenas, Chile.
I contacted the race director of the last one, the White Continent Marathon and found there was space for me. Around the same time Qantas fares to Chile were also on sale and, in a surprise move for Craig, I booked flights for us both to Santiago. The surprise was sprung when the day I booked flights from Santiago to Punta Arenas using the LAN Spanish language website (so much cheaper than their English website), our bank phoned him to query that transaction!
Craig and I deliberated about whether he’d accompany me to Antarctica. This was by far the most expensive sector of the trip, and involved camping overnight on King George Island, with absolutely no amenities. While it was appealing to have us both visit all seven continents, we eventually decided that Craig would remain in Punta Arenas for the day or so I’d be gone.
We flew into Santiago and had a couple of days there doing the tourist thing. We then flew south to Punta Arenas to join the marathon group which consisted primarily of Americans, with a smattering of runners from other nations. Sunday night 24/1/16 we had a pre-race meeting where the race director explained the challenging logistics of having the right weather to fly into Antarctica, coupled quite importantly with the prospect of the right weather window to fly back out again! In that meeting he said that it was highly unlikely we would have a flight window until mid-week and as such we should prepare to run the Punta Arenas marathon the next day 25/1/16.
We convened in the foyer early Monday and the race director indicated that there was to be no flight that day and the Punta Arenas marathon would commence an hour later. We met on the promenade adjacent to the beach, and opposite our hotel where it was explained we would run 5.25km out to a turn around, and then back again; and repeat this over four out and backs. We set off and I comfortably ran the first two out and backs, looking forward to seeing Craig at 10.5km and 21km.
As I passed 28km, looking forward to seeing Craig again at 31.5km a taxi pulled up next to me. Craig wound down the window and said “The race has been cancelled. You’re leaving for Antarctica”. I was stunned. “You’re kidding” I said. He responded “No, the weather is right to fly into Antarctica. Get in the taxi, we’re going back to the hotel for you to get on a bus to leave right now”.
Back at the hotel I spoke briefly with one of the race organisers who indicated I’d have enough time to quickly shower and dress in appropriate clothing. We’d been advised at the race briefing Sunday night to pack for Antarctica as we could be called to the bus at any time, day or night, and luckily I had done so. Others hadn’t. And so I sat in the foyer with Craig waiting for others to come downstairs, watching the time tick by and knowing I would have finished the Punta Arenas marathon with time enough to shower and change. I was really upset and quite cross, mainly because I knew I had another marathon to run the next day, and no idea what would happen to my goal of finishing Antarctica and South America that week. I was also horrified at the thought of having to run Punta Arenas again later that same week.
We eventually drove to the airport and checked our bags. There was another wait at the gate and then we boarded the plane. The flight itself was around three hours, during which time I sat with Janice from the USA who was midway through completing 7 ultra marathons on 7 continents. We had been advised that camping involved three people per tent and I teamed up with another Anne and her partner Steve for that purpose. The last time I’d been camping was 1987 and I knew it’d be quite an experience camping on King George Island.
On arrival we disembarked and stood in the snow. I’d spent a heap of time researching and purchasing clothing appropriate for the conditions as I was determined that I would manage the cold better than I had in the past. I had layers of snow gear, gloves and fantastic boots this time, and was pleased to find I wasn’t too cold at all. The thing that was most obvious however was the wind. It was outrageous.
We tramped down a snowy gravel road to the camp site where the tour operators were erecting the tents right on top of the gravel. These fellows were making comments about the conditions and indicating the winds were increasing the harshness of the environment in a very significant way.
There was one open tent called the “kitchen tent” in which food was served. This consisted of instant noodle soup. sandwiches and some microwave style meals heated in a microwave powered by a generator.
There was one toilet outside in a tent which was a fold-up chair with a hole in the seat, placed over a plastic-bag lined garbage. The tour operator gave a briefing on how to place bags in the bucket and what to do with them once finished in the toilet. There was a rule about urine in one bucket and faeces in a bag, with runners responsible for then tipping the urine into a steel drum and bagging the faeces into a garbage. Charming.
We went into the tents and to bed around 9pm as the wind was howling and runners decided it was better to zip three people into a tent for warmth than stand around in an open kitchen tent. I don’t think it got dark, or if it did it was only for an hour or so. The race information had suggested a sleeping bag with a certain temperature rating. The one we had at home met that rating and I was pleased that I hadn’t needed to purchase another. Little did I know the rating given by the race director was in Fahrenheit and not Celsius! I was cold all night!
About 4am the race director came around the campsite playing rousing music on his phone and people emerged for breakfast. Breakfast was a repeat of the dinner the night before, with coffee and hot chocolate to drink. Fortunately the wind had died during the night.
The race crew indicated there had been substantial snow on the course and they’d spent time with shovels shifting some of it. What this meant in reality became clear as we traversed the course, but more on that later.
The course was four laps of 10km. We started at a central point and ran 1.5km out and back, and then 3.5km in the opposite direction and back. The second leg ran through part of the Chinese research base on the island.
The design of the course meant you could leave any gear or food etc at the tents and stop there each time you passed the start. We had been instructed to bring all food and water required for the event to Antarctica, and to take it all back when we left. I had about 2.5 litres of water and had made up several bottles of water with Tailwind. I also had some gels and Shotbloks. On top of this we had also been told there was a chance we could be stranded on King George Island for several days, weather dependant and so I had a few extra pairs of undies and socks!
I wouldn’t call White Continent Marathon my finest hour in marathon running, or in fact my finest 7 hours 30 minutes! In fact I think it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I’m guessing my distress at being pulled off the Punta Arenas course; and having already run 28km; and being without Craig in a harsh environment; and not having adequate nutrition by any means; along with my usual self doubt in a marathon; all fed into my performance that day. I found the going extremely tough. I was lucky that Craig had found a sim that would work in Antarctica, and I phoned him saying I didn’t think I could do it. He urged me to press on, and as always I did. I remember coming over the line, stumbling to the tent, and falling into it, sobbing with exhaustion.
Back to the race itself. The initial 1.5km out involved going up a hill, and at the top of that hill was a marshall who called out cheery hellos and encouragement. The leg back down the hill wasn’t too bad, and then heading back out in the other direction for the 3.5km from the start line involved another climb before traversing through the “snow drifts” that in fact towered well above my head! I fell over forward and backward multiple times, initially into soft snow, and then as the course deteriorated with use and slightly warmer conditions, into slush and ice.
I’d had in mind I’d quit at 21.1km but as this approached I toughened up and elected to keep going even though so much time had already elapsed. I spent time in the kitchen tent refuelling but this came back to bite me with a very upset gastro-intestinal tract and emergency stop in one of the toilets! This second toilet was at the turnaround of the 3.5km section where again there was a marshall, however he sat in the truck out there with the engine running!
I ran initially in brushed tights, snow pants, a technical long sleeved top, beanie, light gloves and a Gortex jacket. I wore trail shoes with gaiters. At 10km I ditched the ski pants but I was pretty right for temperature after that. I was glad to have on the trail shoes as the ground was very rocky in places not covered in snow, and as things warmed up parts of the course were very sloshy too.
I ran off and on with others however was largely on my own. The race officials called out encouragement each time I passed the start area – they must have been so cold but their job was to get everyone over that line! I heard other runners had come into the tent and not gone back out; and that one person had quit but then decided to go back out. Janice and Steve (with whom I shared the tent) were finishing ultras. Janice was miles in front, and Steve was well behind.
So as I said I crossed the line, got the medal and the photo, and then fell into the tent, crying with exhaustion. I got changed as best I could in a tent in which I could only squat down which is never pretty after running 42.2km in a long time period, and then made my way to the kitchen tent for some food. Other runners were gathering there and there was a lot of friendly chatter. There was also a lot of consternation about whether we’d get off King George Island but people said they’d seen the plane arrive and we just had to wait for everyone to finish and we could depart.
We stayed in that tent for several hours. I’m sorry to say my snow gear was not up to the challenge of the conditions and I progressively became colder and colder, but I wasn’t the only one! There were mutterings of “let’s get on the plane” but it was not ready for boarding. When last we began the trudge back to the plane I was in the front group eager to get onto that plane and out of the cold.
Sitting on the plane I messaged Craig and he was able to let my running friends know I’d finished the event. The flight back was made easier with a couple of glasses of wine, and I was thrilled to land in Punta Arenas and reunite with Craig. The hot shower had rarely felt so good and I think I may have had a couple of pisco sours that night too.
One thing I would say about this event is that I think perhaps the race director should have a think about adding a doctor into the race crew. In Greenland we had two team doctors who travelled everywhere with us. When asked about provision for medical assistance in Antarctica the race director said “That’s why you’ve got travel insurance”. Clearly getting medical assistance to somewhere as remote as Antarctica is not as simple as phoning QBE in Australia and saying I needed help, so thank God I didn’t. I’d be pretty confident people would be prepared to absorb the increase in price to cover the cost of having a doctor on board in order to complete a marathon in Antarctica knowing there’d be a properly trained professional present.
It’s amazing to have been to Antarctica and in fact to have been inside both the North Pole (Greenland) and the South Pole. Those scientists in the research bases must be quite mad living down there for months at a time. A couple of men poked their heads out of their warm buildings and waved when we ran by. I guess we were a diversion for them from their work and limited social contact. Mixing with the other runners on the plane, overnight in the tents, and in the kitchen tent following the event helped cement some good friendships and I’ve stayed in touch with a group of these people ever since, even meeting up with Janice when she came to Australia to run her 7th continent ultra marathon. It’s nice to meet people who are just as absurd as me in their leisure pursuits!
I was very lucky to be able to run in La Rochelle. We had arranged to take our two daughters to Europe for a holiday at the end of 2015, and having already been to Namibia in February 2015 I felt a bit guilty putting any marathon focus into the family trip. I tentatively put the question to Craig about whether it would be OK to run a marathon while we were away, and he immediately encouraged me to enter!
Entering any marathon that involves Google Chrome translating as you go is always a challenging prospect. French marathon rules say you need a certificate from your doctor to say you’re healthy enough to enter, and this has to be uploaded once you’ve paid your entry fee. I accomplished all of this, and we were all set.
Three weeks before we were due to leave the terrible terrorist event occurred in Paris. From this, significant public events, including the Lyon Light Festival that was going to be one of the highlights of the trip, were cancelled. There were emergency laws in place prohibiting gatherings of people, and use of the roads for other than vehicular traffic. There was doubt around La Rochelle proceeding. I desperately searched for another marathon, and targeted finding an alternative in the UK, as we were flying home from London. There were three marathons available – two were trails and were already at capacity; and the last was a country road marathon, again sold out. I emailed all three and it was the small village marathon event director who said that I was welcome to run his marathon if La Rochelle was cancelled. What a great guy!
One week before the La Rochelle marathon it was confirmed it would proceed. La Rochelle is a beautiful city on the west coast of France, and significant distance from Paris. It has a wonderful harbour and coastline, as well as fairly scenic parks. The course was two laps. Bib pickup was fairly stressful as security was extremely tight – only runners were allowed in and there were long queues.
That night we were able to secure a table at an Italian restaurant down on the harbour – runners everywhere!
Marathon morning arrived with light drizzle. Our daughter Emily whipped out her iphone and played a range of greetings and encouraging messages from my running friends! How wonderful – I thought it was very special.
There was a stirring rendition of the French national anthem, and we started. I was actually quite anxious running in the crowd for the first 2km – we were close to a massive crowd and there were just so many runners in a tiny space. So busy is the start of the marathon that some years ago the pack was split into two – the women and all men aged over 45 years start in one place; and all men and seeded women start in another place. At 2km or so the two packs converge.
We headed out toward the coast and swung to the north, running into more drizzle. I was very surprised to see a large number of runners, mainly men, stop (on the course – right in front of others!) and pull out waterproof running jackets and zip them on! The French clearly don’t like getting wet when they run, and yet the temperature was quite mild – I was in a singlet and shorts.
The crowd support was awesome, except they were calling out encouragement in French! People looked straight at me and called, time after time, “Alles Arn”. I had no clue what they were saying. With about 5km to go I stopped when I saw my family and asked Craig, whose French is pretty good, what they were saying. He said “they’re saying Go Anne”! Of course they were! They weren’t saying Anne – they were pronouncing it Arn. Wish I’d known that for the 37km before that and I might have been even more encouraged.
So Craig and our daughters saw me a few times on the course. They were able to walk around the city centre and pop up on the course, which was excellent. There were a few shorter stretches that were a bit lonely because my French is terrible and it is hard to pick who speaks English and who doesn’t when you’re running. There was an awful moment when I turned a corner and a runner was on the ground, clearly very unwell, with others gathered around him. I hope he was OK.
The final 2km was wonderful. We were on cobblestones which aren’t altogether ideal for running but were just so charming and part of the atmosphere.
My youngest daughter Verity leapt out with about 500 metres to go and ran with me to the finish.
I struggled with my very lame French at the end. There were queues to get the event jacket (I got in the wrong queue and hence came away with the wrong size), and different lines of people everywhere. The French are very good at lining up and very good at taking their time. There was a nasty moment when an overwhelmed security guard tried to prevent people leaving the area by skirting around the temporary barrier – he picked up the metal fence and shoved it into the crowd to push them back. I thought his behaviour was terrible and just so dangerous and unnecessary.
Verity and I walked back to find Craig and Emily. As well as the jacket I had received a rose and a dozen oysters! The seaside port is renowned for oysters and every participant was given a dozen. And the homeless people in the city ate lots of oysters that night! They had them stacked up around them as you walked past.
One of the highlights of the day was coming back down to the harbour that evening for dinner. The place was packed and the atmosphere was like a carnival – just lovely. We had an amazing dinner at a seafood restaurant.
Finding a marathon to run on the African continent was quite time consuming. Craig and I had originally thought to run the Big Five marathon in South Africa however other commitments on the home front meant this wasn’t to be. I set about looking at the map of Africa, with another tab open to smarttraveller.gov.au – my go-to source of all things safety when traveling as my tolerance for risk is not very high! Once I had established which countries were “safe” according to the Australian government, I then spent ages researching marathons in that group of five countries (from a starting number of 54).
Eventually I unearthed the Rossing National Marathon Championships, held in February in Swakopmund, Namibia. There was no website; no Facebook and only a link to the Swakop Striders where I found an email address for the race director Frank. I first emailed Frank in March 2014 where he indicated the race date was set for 14 February 2015; then again in June 2014 when he indicated he was confident the race would go ahead; and then in September when Frank said he had received verbal confirmation the event was proceeding. In the meantime I’d taken a chance and booked flights to South Africa for Craig and me.
During all of this the terrible outbreak of Ebola occurred. Countries most affected were on the west coast and north of Namibia. I followed the travel advice closely for months and it continued to be that Namibia and South Africa were free from Ebola. Nonetheless family were muttering more loudly as the time passed that we should cancel the trip.
Traveling Sydney – Johannesburg – Swakopmund we passed through multiple screening mechanisms in airports. These largely consisted of some kind of body scan that could pick up increased body temperature at the checkpoints. At Johannesburg we were overwhelmed by the number of men trying to get us to go with them in taxis and to act as guides, and fortunately had booked the Intercontinental across the drive access to the airport and simply walked there. Finding the flight to Swakopmund the next day was more tricky and again we were bombarded with offers for paid help.
Swakopmund is an oasis on the west coast of Namibia. It was settled by the Germans and there is a strong Germanic influence in the demographic of the people; language spoken; and architecture. English is the national language of Namibia however German is widely spoken as well.
Namibia itself is largely desert and it was really incredible to see that beyond the bounds of Swakopmund was sand, sand, and more sand. It was in the area we stayed where movies including Flight of the Phoenix and Mad Max: Fury Road were filmed.
The morning of the marathon we drove the short distance to the athletic field. My bib was number 1! OMG!
We lined up on the start line and the race began. The Namibian Army and Police Force were well represented, and those runners took off. At the back was the rest of the field consisting primarily of the Swakop Striders, and me.
The marathon is named for and sponsored by the Rio Tinto Rossing Uranium mine which is the main industry of the town. There had been a fire at the mine the day we arrived however all were reassured that it was under control and there was no need for concern. The local publicity around the marathon is that Rio Tinto wants to encourage the workers and families to remain fit and healthy, while also sponsoring higher end athletes to qualify for more world-class events.
The course for the marathon was the salt road leading north out of the town. A salt road is a gravel road on which a lot of salt water has been poured. The salt dries and forms a crust on top of the gravel. As long as it doesn’t rain, the salt lasts a long time and maintenance of the road requires trucks to pour more salt water on top every so often. It hadn’t rained in Swakopmund for seven years!
The speed limit on the road was 100km/hr and the road wasn’t closed while we were running on it! Imagine a 21km stretch of road with a single lane in each direction. Then, off to each side is a sloping verge, down to a gravel stretch of dirt road running parallel to the salt road. It was on the dirt to each side that the traffic drove and consisted mainly of semi-trailers roaring past on both sides, tooting horns and waving madly.
Beyond the dirt section to the east was desert; and to the west was desert for around 2km before the sand ran straight into the South Atlantic Ocean. Just to the north is the Skeleton Coast – home of multiple ship wrecks.
We had hired a car and Craig drove out along the course (as did other supporters in their vehicles), carrying snacks and some drinks for me.
I lost a lot of time in two emergency toilet stops around 21km when it was clear something I’d eaten or drunk wasn’t agreeing with me. My nutrition plan was abandoned – I couldn’t look at a gel, and we reverted to jelly beans.
The day was reasonably cool and there was a steady spray of mist coming off the Atlantic Ocean that was quite cooling. In all the running conditions were pretty good, give or take the odd semi trailer and a few things to dodge on the salt road.
I finished in just over 4:20 which was pretty good considering how much time I’d spent in the toilets. I’d briefly mentioned feeling anxious about the run that morning to Craig who helpfully said “Anne, we haven’t come half way around the bloody world for you to not finish” and in truth this actually assisted my resolve to get to the end. It was true – I was going to finish so I might as well buckle down and do so. I remember smiling as I ran the last 5km because I was so excited to be running in Africa.
There was only one hill, right around 40km, and I zoomed up there past other competitors, doing my usual best kilometres at the end. Running around the stadium to the finish line was fun, especially when the children cheering on the side ran along and past me to do their own fast finish!
Namibia was an adventure when it comes to marathons. I would compare it to a well run regional marathon in Australia – the organisers know what they’re doing from years of practice and the event went off without a hitch. They really need to work on their advertising and promotion so that a little gem like this doesn’t get overlooked by runners seeking a marathon in Africa.
Apart from the marathon, Namibia is an amazing country with the most awesome scenery. We chartered a little plane and flew to Sossusvlei the day after the marathon. These petrified trees are just incredible.
I also couldn’t leave without seeing the pink flamingos at Walvis Bay.
I had in mind to run the Asian continent marathon in a well-developed country where I didn’t have to worry about safety and whether to drink the water. Tokyo was the obvious choice and from the research I did it looked as though foreigners had a pretty good chance at being accepted despite it being a ballot entry. The feedback was the Japanese government was keen to have marathon tourism money coming into the country. The ballot entry was a fairly simple process, and being reasonably confident we’d get it, I booked our flights before the result came out. And sure enough, a month later the emails arrived to say Craig and I had both gotten in!
Since the Australian Outback marathon 2013 event when Craig and I had dropped back from the full distance to the half, Craig had been struggling with running, and searching for an answer. He was diagnosed with arthritis in his right ankle from old injuries, with loss of padding between the ankle bones meaning that whenever he ran, his ankle swelled up to double the size. He underwent some plasma injections; tried orthotics; tried different shoes etc etc, all to no avail. It was going to be line ball whether Craig could run in Tokyo and then not be a cripple for the rest of the trip.
My training continued along really well until one day in January, just four weeks prior to Tokyo. I was embracing interval training and as I leapt into the air in the warm-up, felt a terrible pain in my right calf! I’d torn it, and it was nasty. I was devastated. Over the next few weeks I rested and iced and elevated; and then water cycled and swam at the pool; and finally ran some tentative kilometres. The week we left I ran a few kilometres but that was about it. It was too late to cancel. I was doubly concerned because I was also doing Six Foot Track marathon 8 March, only 12 days after Tokyo.
Tokyo is an amazing city with an outstanding public transport system. Once you understand how it works, it’s not so hard, however getting to that point is tricky! The day before the marathon we navigated our way from our hotel to the Tokyo Big Sight for bib collection. That was quite a feat. The marathon expo was the biggest I’ve ever seen. The individual exhibitors stood at the front of their stalls yelling to runners to come to their exhibits. I couldn’t understand a word they were saying and the noise was quite overwhelming. I did buy a lovely long sleeved running top as it was winter in Tokyo – in fact it had snowed the day before we arrived. Funny, in Australia I take the smallest size in everything – in Japan I think I ended up in a Medium! In a queue for the bathroom I was a head taller than the Japanese ladies – here I’m one of the smaller people! It was all very amazing.
Expo was amazing!
We stayed at the Tokyo Hilton, across the road from the start line. The morning of the event we simply walked across the road and found the gate I had to enter, and from there Craig was able to walk up the footpath to get near enough to wave to me. He tried to get a little closer but the security guards spoke sharply to him and showed their batons! I’ve read since that security is even tougher now – you can’t take any liquids onto the course and go through a metal detector to enter your area.
Of course Craig had his entry still and even some running gear. He came close to having a go, but sense got the better of him. He was talking to another man at the start who said his wife had gained an entry but he had missed out. Craig immediately offered him his own entry, but the fellow declined.
So I stood in my corral with several hundred others. People were talking but not in English. I spied one other girl who, like me, stood out as being taller. We smiled and started to speak – she was from Venezuela and in broken English we had a lovely chat. She was finishing her last World Major!
From the time the anthem was sung and the event commenced it was about 17 minutes before our corral began to move. It was quite cold and we started in long sleeved throw-away tops. I think I got to about 5km and then put it in a bin.
So many people. This was near the start. I’m in there somewhere but it’s a Where’s Wally photo!
The crowd was massive and so many people were in fancy dress! Turns out Japanese people love marathons, and they love fancy dress at marathons! I saw multitudes of costumes including one guy who ran the whole way barefoot dressed as Jesus, with a cross on his back.
Here he is!
The noise was deafening and this continued for most of the course. While I had some music to play along the way I ended up with the ear buds in and no music which dampened things down a bit! The next day we asked a fellow what the crowd was yelling a lot of the time, and he said it translated into something like “have faith have courage”. At the same time while I was near the Jesus styled runner, the crowd just screamed “Jesus, Jesus” over and over again!
I hadn’t done a lot of research and got quite confused on the course because I thought we kept seeing the same buildings but thought that was silly. At the end my Strava map showed we’d actually run four arms of a cross shape, coming back to the centre each time so I wasn’t as silly as I thought! I’m thinking that much of the crowd was in the couple of kilometres around the intersection of the cross and they were seeing the same runners and encouraging them at each leg. There was also heaps of food provided by the spectators, on top of the aid stations that were themselves top notch. Even the photographers had signs in advance that you were coming toward them.
So my right calf was OK. I was pretty tentative and terrified I’d tear it again. I think this meant I changed my gait, as about 17km the top of my left leg, probably the adductor or something else near that, started to hurt. I mean really hurt. I slowed down by about 30 sec per kilometre and sadly it was all a bit downhill from there. I walked parts of most kilometres from that point, and finished in just over five hours.
Lots of faces of pain. Mine is under my hat!
One standout from this event was this was the last marathon in which I have ever cried. I saw the pictures of me after and thought about how helpful it was to cry – it wasn’t – and how those photos will forever be tainted by me crying and not having a go at enjoying myself. Sure it was painful and sure it was long, but it was Japan and how may people get to run in Japan!
Yep, that’s one of the crying photos!
Last 5km. Lots of people were walking by then and heaps had stopped!
After all my talk in this post about being taller than the Japanese ladies, I must say the funniest thing I did see all day was in the finishing chute. I ran (or staggered!) down the chute, hoping I’d see Craig who had had to navigate his way back to the Big Sight all by himself. He was not to be missed. Craig is 6ft 5in……everyone else was not even at his chest height. Ridiculously taller than every other spectator, I could see him and smiled and waved!
The finisher area was awesome. So much stuff. A towel! I found Craig and we headed off to go back to the Hilton. In retrospect we should have caught a taxi as trekking back to the station and changing trains and then walking another kilometre underground at the Hilton was nearly too much for me, but we did it. We moseyed straight up to the executive lounge where Craig partook in champagne and canapés, and I drank chocolate milk, my go-to post marathon food. It was bliss.
So my thought is the Tokyo marathon is an exceptional event with fantastic organisation, I guess as one might expect for a World Major. I’ve not been to any other World Major and thought Tokyo was very impressive. The photos from the event were at a really reasonable price and the package contained over 200 photos! The other wonderful thing about Tokyo is despite the season being opposite to here in Australia, the time zone is almost identical, which takes away the jetlag aspect of most other travel for marathons.
I was flicking through one of the running magazines I had bought and out of it sprang the photo that started it all!
The Polar Circle marathon in Greenland is probably the craziest thing Craig and I have ever done. Greenland! Honestly, you couldn’t get much further from Australia if you tried. We had been in snow only once each prior to arriving in Greenland and had absolutely no idea what gear we would need. We left Australia in mid-Spring with temperatures of mid to high 20 degrees Celsius, arriving in Greenland to temperatures of minus 19!
We looked on a map at the country. Strange, it was coloured completely white. Other countries don’t look like that! And then comprehension dawned – it was snow and ice. Nothing green at all. In fact as we found all fresh food consumed in Greenland is flown in from Denmark as nothing can be farmed there.
Kangerlussuaq is the only town in Greenland where a Boeing 747 can land. Kangerlussuaq is inside the Polar Circle. It was a US Airforce base in WWII, and in those days key in the monitoring of the Atlantic Ocean traffic during the war. The hotel in which we stayed is the old Officers’ quarters, and which is co-located with the airport terminal and airport cafeteria that also poses as the hotel cafe. Meat featured prominently on the menu. Vegetarians would struggle to live in Greenland I think.
We went out on an organised drive to see the course the day before the marathon. The race director indicated that he was pleased it had been snowing because this had put a thick layer of snow on top of the Polar ice cap on which we were running 5km. The team doctors had expressed significant concern that the ice would pose too much risk with no snow to cushion any falls, and safety prayers had been answered by the snowfall.
Three large vehicles arrived to drive us there, one being an old yellow school bus you would typically see in an older US film. Not four wheel drive either, and no chains! The driver was fairly confident, he indicated, that chains would not be required. Thus the drive itself became an adventure because of course the bus became bogged in the snow, and it was something of a circus towing it out.
Race day morning dawned with clear skies. We drove out to the start which was 35km from the town. Alighting the buses it quickly became apparent that it was (unsurprisingly I guess) freezing cold! My hands and feet started buzzing and amid cautionary words from the race director about avoiding frostbite, I became very scared that I was going to get just that! The race began with one of the locals firing a rifle into the air, and we were off!
The first kilometre involved scrambling up the moraine of the glacier. The moraine is the rubble that is pushed aside by the advancing ice of the glacier – it’s huge hills of loose gravel, rock and boulders. So in that first kilometre I was frightened of frostbite while overheating terribly because of the exertion needed to climb the moraine. Tears came but as I saw later in photos, they froze immediately on my cheeks!
Running on the top of the glacier was incredible. The snow was thigh deep in places. It was amazing.
We wore Kahtoola spikes and found them very effective on the ice. They dig into the ice and you don’t slip or slide.
After we did the 5km circuit on the glacier it was time to scramble back down the moraine and run back past the start line. Some of the runners had taken Camelbaks with water and it was so funny to see them stop at the trucks and dump the Camelbaks with the loudest CLUNK, as the water had frozen solid!
I found the next 14km really hard. It was difficult to get the clothing right. We were in normal runners with long Skins and then multiple layers on the top half. Despite my fears about frostbite I don’t tolerate being hot at all well and stripped off most of the clothing as we went. I ended up in a long sleeved technical top and my Gortex jacket with light gloves and a beanie that I took on and off as needed. We had made friends with another couple who ran a fair bit of this half of the race with us, and at 21km the husband elected to stop his run “I’m out. This is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Are you with me?”. I said “Yes” and made to step off the course but Craig grabbed me and said “You’re not stopping now. You’ll regret it forever”.
And so we kept going, and I’m extremely pleased Craig said what he said as I know I would have always regretted pulling out at 21km. Funnily enough it was after that point that I committed to the race and found the next 21km very enjoyable. We ran along together as we had in training, even overtaking others who were beginning to flag.
With about 5km to go Craig’s body began to pack it in. He developed terrible knee and ankle pain and was suffering. We stopped at the last drink stop and I was worried that he wouldn’t get to the end. They were serving hot Elderberry tea at the aid stations, as well as protein bars. We had trained on dried pineapple and sultanas however these too had frozen and were difficult to chew! We walked the next 4km. I’d dumped my extra layers in the truck at halfway and as I cooled down while walking I became anxious again about the cold. There was a bizarre moment when Craig tried to put his beanie back on. He’d taken it off when he was warm and carried it for a while. When he went to put it on, the beanie had frozen flat! The sweat had frozen and he had to pull hard on both sides of the beanie, with ice spraying off, and then jam it on his head!
We could see the town approaching and Craig managed to raise a trot. It was amazing running over the finish line and know we’d accomplished such a difficult event. By this time I was holding Craig up and I acted like a crutch for him to get back across the snow and ice to the hotel. After helping him undress I went back out to find us some food and drink!
So what would we do differently knowing what we know now? I think road shoes were perfectly adequate but trail shoes might be more sensible because they have the rock plate (for the moraine) and are typically more waterproof. I’d wear brushed winter tights and not Skins. I’d get better gloves. I’d put a couple of those chemical heat packs in my pockets. I wouldn’t bother carrying any nutrition as they had heaps on the course and knew the conditions far better than us!
And what else would I recommend? Greenland is a very very long way away. It’s unlikely we will ever get back there. I would really recommend people do the extension tour to Ilulissat afterward. This town is further north into the Polar Circle and was just so very beautiful. It is so hard to imagine how people live in these places and yet they do!
Rotorua marathon is where it all started. Or rather, Craig suggesting we do the marathon instead of the distance I suggested, being 5km, is where it all started! Brand new to running – less than five months of experience – why not tackle a marathon?!
We commenced training 18 weeks out from 1 May 2010. I researched plans for walking a marathon and then found a Hal Higdon beginner marathon program. We went out walking three to five mornings or evenings each week, with a long walk weekends. Our children were six, 12 and 14 years at the time, with our daughter Emily swimming squads five mornings. The days we had to walk 30km or so we either arranged for someone to come by to be with the children, or walked 5-10km laps around our house, calling in every hour or so to ensure they were still intact!
Mid April 2010 we entered into our first race, the Herald Hill to Harbour 10km event in our home city of Newcastle, just to get a sense of how races proceeded and to try out our gear under race conditions. The Hill to Harbour starts with a 1km hill followed by a lovely downhill, and I was quite stunned when Craig went out so hard I had to jog to keep up! And then on the downhill, he started jogging! So much for the walk. I think we ran about 6km in the end. After that Craig suggested we try to run some of the marathon in New Zealand.
I’ll never forget the plane ride we had from Auckland into Rotorua. Tiny little plane with the pilot and room for about 11 people. We knew Rotorua was on the edge of the lake, and the marathon circumnavigated that lake. As the lake came into sight the enormity of what we’d undertaken became obvious and Craig let out a couple of expletives. The lady sitting in front turned to us and said “here for the marathon are you?”!
We stayed in a beautiful resort on the edge of the lake.
We spent the day before the marathon touring the geyser parks. At the time people asked us, and continue now to ask us, whether the township smelled of rotten egg gas due to the sulphur. In truth it didn’t – there was a section of perhaps 200 metres on one edge of the lake where the water seemed a little stagnant, and there was a smell there, but there was no smell at all in the town itself and certainly not anywhere around the edges of the lake.
The evening prior to the marathon there was a formal greeting and haka for the “international competitors”, followed by a pasta dinner. At the dinner, surrounded by proper runners, we were in awe of their abilities and stories.
Marathon day was crisp and we started in long sleeved tops that we stripped off around 4km and left on the side of the road. We went back the next day and collected them! The first 15km was relatively flat and we ran along quite nicely. There was a killer hill just after this and we powered up it, passing heaps of people. Unfortunately Craig had a bit of a moment at the top of the hill and felt a bit dizzy. This scared us both and we backed off the pace and in fact ended up walking down the hill, which was a shame as it was a good downhill! We walked and ran the next 15km and came to the final 10km which was largely through an industrial area. While the rest of the run had been relatively picturesque, this section was terribly boring. Craig’s feet were starting to pack it in, and in fact he lost several toenails in the months afterward. His big toe has never recovered! At 40km we picked up again and ran to the end.
I remember crying as we came over the line, thinking what a shame it was to have subscribed to two running magazines and bought running gear, when we would never run again as the course for the last 10km had been so difficult! By this time Craig had stopped crying from the pain and was just so overjoyed!
The day after the marathon we went for a drive around the lake and marvelled at our own achievement! We were stunned to have made the distance and in awe of those who had run the whole thing. I think now in retrospect we were nuts, but look where we went from there!
We also toured a kiwi sanctuary. On the run we thought we’d seen a few kiwis, squashed on the sides of the highway. I mentioned this to the ranger who looked horrified and said there were only four kiwis in the area, and they were all on the island in the middle of the lake! She was furiously making telephone calls as we left!