Friday, February 14, 2014

Choose the Path that Excites Your Soul - Punta Arenas Marathon and 50K 2014

I gave a speech at our company Toastmasters Club contest recapping the White Continent Marathon on Antarctica. The theme for the speech was about how life is full of choices and I challenged people to "make the choice that excites your soul." 

Once again, the elevator signs tell the story
That was the mindset for the Punta Arenas Marathon and 50K set up by Marathon Adventures. We stood in the hotel lobby at 4:50 AM and ready to walk across the street to the starting line. This would be our second full marathon on three days rest, easily the shortest rest we've ever done between full marathons. The course was a paved concrete sidewalk along the Straits of Magellan toward Tres Puentes pier. Temperatures were in the mid 40's F with a 25 mph wind and a forecast for rain. 

Pat Borque's start line video was just a tad over the Blogspot size limit. This link should be active for a few more weeks. Punta Arenas Start. I'll see if I can edit it down a little, but it's pretty complete as is.

The 5AM start for the Punta Arenas Marathon, Half Marathon and 50K. Our hotel (Diego del Almagro) in the background. Photo Credit Imran Ahmen (@photoimran)
It was perfect PR weather. That was the plan going in. We haven't tried to push ourselves in a full marathon for nearly two years and with our half marathon times down by ~15 minutes in the last two years, another PR didn't seem like a stretch. Knowing that anything could happen on race day, we had back up plans. If we didn't PR on the full marathon split, switch to the 50K. It would be our first and a default PR. Great logic, right?

The course was flat (less than 120 feet of total elevation gain) and other than the usual beautiful sunrise over the water there were very few distractions. A few people saw dolphins playing in the waves. There were a couple of early morning joggers and a handful of the neighborhood dogs playing chicken with passing traffic. Other than that, we had the course to ourselves. The commute started a few hours into the race and the cars were honking, cheering us on. 

There was a large population of stray dogs in Punta Arenas. This one was coming really close to grabbing the back bumper of passing cars. Photo Credit Imran Ahmen (@photoimran)
It was great to have spent a nearly a week with the group before this race. I recognized just about everyone on the out and back course. High fives flew left and right. After the Antarctica race was done, this felt like a long victory lap. No time limit. Lots of moral support.

I hit the end of the second lap at 2:37 for the half marathon split, about 3 minutes better than my target to beat a 5:19:20 walking marathon. Honestly, I was feeling a little drained from the last race and a 17 hour tour to Torres del Paine two days ago. Susan was right on my heels and well on her way to crushing her 5:43 run/walk marathon time from Rock n Roll San Diego back in 2007. The rain started in the middle of the third lap and though the forecast was a 50% chance of rain for the hours during the race, we had maybe 10 minutes total. It made for some spectacular rainbows over the inland mountains.

Photo credit: Trin Peng. Trin won the Female division in the first half marathon she competed (Antarctica) in and placed second in the next one (Antarctica). Either her career is looking bright, or she should retire on top.
Pam and Kurt did a great job managing the turn. Rachel was a fantastic cheerleader at the 50K mini-loop turn. About the only thing that I didn't enjoy about the race was that it was almost over. 

This is probably the only minute Rachel sat still. She probably did 50K worth of distance just dancing. 
I had a goal to stay under 40 minutes per leg for the second half to get me in under 5:18. I was on track until the last two miles. I ran out of the usual race food and went to a peanut butter squeeze pack. So much for preparation. I was feeling good, but I couldn't hold pace much longer. Thanks to Fiona and Soren for being my butt magnets. 
Fiona demonstrates the pose that we tell first time marathoners NOT to do. Soren went back to get Fiona so they could finish together. He then went out to pace me and Susan to the end of the marathon. Photo Credit Pat Borque Photography
I finished my marathon with a 5:19:02, a PR by less than 20 seconds. I knew Susan wasn't far behind me. She finished her fourth lap with a time just over 5:23, a PR by over 20 minutes. This is a moment that I'll remember for the rest of my life. Susan took the turn and went out for the last lap to do her first Ultra. It even caught the race organizers by surprise.

This is a woman who, 10 years ago, laughed when I said I wanted to finish a marathon. I was overflowing equally with pride and hunger.  Fortunately, the hotel breakfast buffet was open for another 30 minutes. I had enough time to run in, grab a sandwich and some coffee cake, fill an insulated bottle with hot tea for my awesome wife and run up and get her camera with enough time to go out and pace her in for the last half mile.

Yeah. I couldn't keep up with her. Photo Credit Phil Cha
Unlike me, she had been mentally prepping herself for the last lap all race. While she slowed down for the last 8K, she still finished in a total time of 6:29:18, about as fast as a lot of her early marathons. We now have an Ultramarathoner in the family, but I get to give her more grief now that I am TWO marathons ahead of her. 

Some of the best moments of the race as a TNT coach are late in the race. Going out to meet the last few marathoners and following them across the finish line is one of the most rewarding feelings you can get. It's great when you've spent 5 months training with them. It was just as moving for us to cheer on people we've only known for a week.  

Shauna was a bright spot for all of us on both races. I don't know that I've ever seen someone smile this much during a race. Just about everybody waited for her to finish.
A week. What a week it was.

It takes a whole new level of crazy to do what we did on this trip. This isn't something most people would even dream of doing. People on this trip were prepared for anything - harsh race conditions, possible early course closure, a second race on short rest. As far as I heard, everyone finished both races.


I heard about quite a few personal best times set during the week. Some ran their first marathons or half marathons. Some are closing in on 50 or 100. Seven people finished their Seven Continents on this trip and some will finish their seventh this year.  In this picture are several current and future world record holders. I bet that every person here can legitimately claim that they're the only one in the world to have accomplished some combination of races. The best part about the picture is that I think we've made some life long friends.

Race Director Steve Hibbs left a message in our Facebook group after the trip. 
"I have been fortunate to run on all 7 continents, in all 50 states and to visit over 40 countries. Much of that started back in the mid 1990's. Just about six years ago I decided to marry my passion for travel and running and create this company called Marathon Adventures. Since that time, I have met some of the greatest, friendliest, most inspiring people on earth! People who climbed the highest peaks. People who swam extraordinary distances. Pioneers in running. World record holders. Extraordinary moms and dads. Trend-setting kids. Rarely are any of our customers "normal." Each customer has a unique and fascinating story, which makes every Adventure amazing! And to top it all off, I have been able to include my best friends in these Adventures and create new friendships and partnerships I never imagined possible. It is truly a blessing to know each of you and I want you to know that I will NEVER take you for granted. I know sometimes I help to make your dreams a reality, but I want to thank you for making my dreams a reality, too! You all are the best!"

Punta Arenas was almost 9 years to the day since we had our first marathon training session. Every year has been better than the last. I like to think we got here because of the choices we've made. I'm glad we're following the right ones. 

The ones that excite our souls.

I took first place in the Toastmasters club contest, probably because people still can't believe that trip really happened. Honestly, I'm just now starting to believe it myself.


This was the second year for the Punta Arenas Marathon, Half Marathon and 50K, hosted by Marathon Adventures. In 2013, the race was held in late February. After waiting for four days for the skies to clear for the White Continent race, they made the call to hold Punta Arenas.  They found out later that they would leave for Antarctica THAT NIGHT. We once again count our blessings and hope we can somehow sell our 'weather luck' to the highest bidder.

Again, we can't say enough about Marathon Adventures. This was truly a trip of a lifetime.

The Punta Arenas Marathon is a simple course, basically an out and back along the water. For you data hounds, the Garmin Connect data from my Fenix are here. This is the third marathon in the Southern Hemisphere, our fifth continent, and both personal bests at the marathon distance and of course Susan's PR at the 50K. Complete race results are posted on Marathon Adventures site here.

We hope to coordinate schedules with Barb, Anne, Fiona, Soren, Donna, and Todd to get to Victoria Falls to cross off Africa. The Asia race is still to be determined, but we know it's just a matter of time. Follow our continuing journey at Marathoning For Life on Facebook.

Friday, February 7, 2014

A Race at the End of the World - White Continent Marathon, King George Island, Antarctica

This is the first of several blogs on our trip to cross off two more continents from our Marathon bucket list. 

We've raced on trail. We've raced in mid-20's temperatures. We've raced at night and a few hours of stepping off a plane. With all that experience, we were ready for anything.

We got to Punta Arenas, Chile on Friday, January 24th about 3 PM local time. After 19 hours of travel, we had a light dinner and a good 9 hours of sleep. We woke up Saturday morning with the hotel buffet at Diego del Almagro expecting to do the Punta Arenas Marathon on Sunday. The weather in Antarctica didn't look good enough for us to fly in, but they told us to be ready because things change quickly.

Boy, did they. At 1 PM Saturday, just as we were heading out to explore the city, our tour directors caught us in the lobby to let us know the forecast had cleared and we were going to get on a plane to Antarctica leaving Sunday morning at 12:45 AM. 


The preferred method of communication was the sign between the elevators in the lobby. Not everyone had a data plan and the wifi was sometimes excruciatingly slow.

It was hopeless trying to nap before dinner. We got one, maybe two hours of sleep. Pretty much everything we learned about pre-race fueling and rest went out the window. We had a group dinner scheduled for 8 pm with a briefing at 9:30 pm. The bus left for the airport at 10:45 pm. 

One flight on the board. Antarctica at 00:45
The airport was deserted except for our group of 68 marathoners and the DAP airlines staff who were flying with us and supporting the race. We had an inflight meal that almost no one ate on the two hour and 15 minute flight. There was also an open bar. I'm glad we had the good sense to pass on that also. We landed with just a few bumps on a gravel runway (!). Two and a half years of waiting and we were finally on Antarctica, just after 3 AM Chile time. The forecast predicted that we had about 8 hours to complete the half, full or ultra marathon.

Applying some lessons learned from the prior year, the efficiency of the race organizer's set up was phenomenal. The gear tent and two Teepee porta potty tents were ready before we walked up and the pace car was warming up within 10 minutes of us deplaning. We had almost no time to do any dynamic stretches before we started. We didn't even have time to get cold. Temperatures at the 3:19 AM race start were in the low 30's F (0 C) with wind chill in the teens (-8 C). Equipment list for those of you who were wondering. It worked out really well.

Top: Mizuno Thermo Cap, Garmin Virb hat-mounted camera. Light tint sunglasses, Serius facemask.
Core/Arms/Hands: North Face Flight series wind stopper jacket, Under Armor Cold Gear reflective/compression, Mizuno Thermo long sleeve zip for the last lap, Mizuno Thermo gloves inside Brooks Windstopper touch screen gloves. Charcoal hand warmers in between hand layers for last lap
Bottoms: CW-X compression tights, generic wicking underwear
Feet: Smart Wool ankle length socks, Solomon XT wings 3 trail shoes and gaiters.

Photo Credit:  Victoria Paz Ujević Stein
The course was a 4.35 mile round trip to the Chinese base with a total ascent of 2228 feet for the full. The half marathon went out for 3 laps, the full for 6 and the ultra for 7. Each event had a partial loop at the end to make it an official distance. It took about a half hour for the sun to come up bright enough for Susan to see with her prescription sunglasses with the lightest tint. Clear tinted glasses for early races are recommended, especially where footing is sketchy.

The downhill about a half mile on the way out was the only snow on the actual course. There was plenty around on either side of us though! 
It was summer in the Southern hemisphere. The course had breathtaking views of snow covered hills and ocean, but only a few stretches of ice or snow on the trail itself. We had a few patches of deep gravel or large river rock so we looked for the packed areas for better footing. Blogspot has a video upload limit of 100MB, so I've posted a 11.5 minute video of the course on Facebook here

The best thing about the multiple out-and-back loops was that we could see everyone and cheer them on. Coming back to the starting point is always a mental challenge, especially if the course or weather isn't friendly. The temptation to pack it in gets stronger with every lap, but the encouragement in this group really kept us going. There were a half dozen penguins near the 1 mile point that I'm sure added a few minutes to everyone's times.

Kerem and Rachel tag teamed for a few pictures in the middle of their race. Not many PRs that day.

I clocked in with a time of 2:55 at the half marathon split. I thought about keeping that up for a sub-6 walking marathon on a pretty brutal course, but the second race in Punta Arenas was coming up. It also started getting even colder, dropping into the teens with wind chill near zero F (-8 C / -18 C). By lap 4, a good number of us were adding layers. Colleen was keeping us updated on the weather window. We had dropped from 8 hours to 7, but we were still looking good for everyone to finish on the continent. Susan finished her first half split in 3:05 and took time on her last lap to take pictures. My Virb battery cut out after 3:10 so I couldn't take any finish line video. 

About the time we finished the half, Richard Biddle had finished a blazing full marathon split in around 3:10. He finished the 50K in 3:51 - a course record. The women's race was fun to watch as both leaders, Suzy and Witt, were wearing balaclavas so it looked like a pair of ninjas chasing each other.

Back in 2011, I stopped at mile 23 of a brutally hot Solar Eclipse Marathon to make sure Susan got through the sugar cane fields. This time around, she was looking stronger and emphatically told me to JUST FINISH and not wait. I did. A wardrobe change and the extra cold winds slowed my second half to finish in 6:21. I DID catch a shivering Susan before she went out for her final adjustment loop and gave her a pair of charcoal hand warmers and her down jacket. I waited for her at the finish line with a cup of hot tea for her 6:48 finish. Much of the second half of her race was spent with camera in hand.

Photo credits: Imran Ahmed (@photoimran)
I signed up for a different Antarctica race three years ago. Since that event included a long boat ride into Antarctica, Susan with her legendary sea sickness issues didn't want to go. When we found the Marathon Adventures Tour that involved a flight into Antarctica, she jumped on board. I'm grateful for the opportunity to continue to share this journey with the love of my life.

I mean, who else would I want to be with when we go to the End of the World?


Marathon Adventures held the first White Continent Marathon in 2013. Flying to Antarctica can be unpredictable and the weather can change quickly. In the inaugural year, the race was stopped due to weather less than 6 hours in and several participants had to finish their mileage in Chile. While that created some controversy as to if that counted as a marathon, Marathon Adventures set out to make things right, inviting six of the 2013 group to come back with expenses paid, minus airfare to Punta Arenas for 2014. This year all six of them finished. Results are posted here.

The Marathon Adventures staff (Steve, Pam and Colleen) were very accommodating as long as you let them know what you need ahead of time. Given the technology situation, using the elevator signs for updates was a great idea for communication. Susan and I highly recommend them for destination races! We booked the trip through Kathy Loper Events. Kathy's tour package was essentially the same, but with one extra night of lodging. Kathy was very responsive to questions before the trip including the logistics of travel insurance, course information and schedules. For those of you thinking about signing up for the White Continent/Punta Arenas trip, just be ready to be flexible. Event travel plans can change quickly. Just roll with it.

Data from my Fenix including actual proof of location can be found on Garmin Connect. Here's the map. We really did it!

The White Continent Marathon was Ron's 13th full marathon and Susan's 12th. It was also our 4th Continent for full marathons. Once I get some sleep and get through a stack of work emails, we'll be working on the Punta Arenas Half and Full Marathon and 50K blog this weekend.

More coverage from the local newspapers and internet are linked on our Marathoning For Life page. 
"More than 60 runners from around the world enjoyed marathon in Antarctica" - La Presna Austral

"10 year old finished his second marathon in Antarctica" - La Presna Austral. Article on Nikolas Toochek

"15 year old Marathoner: 7 Marathons in 7 Continents" - YouTube replay of Kristen De Sousa's interview.

"Wyoming Runner Headed to Antarctica on Schedule to Break World Record" Runner's Web Artcile on Brent Weigner

"TEDxDubai 2011 | Maria Conceicao | Turning caterpillars into butterflies" Maria's Ted Talk describing the Maria Cristina Foundation to provide secondary education to children in Bangladesh.

"Three Area Residents Run a Marathon at the Bottom of the World" Kansas City coverage for Chau, Michael and Kerm.