Year(s) in Review: 2019 & 2020

I failed to finish my annual letter last year because, well, I didn’t know how to write about something painful, but something that felt too important to simply leave out. How ironic given how 2020 turned out, huh? Just the “save the date “s on my fridge alone seem to share the painful truth that most of us couldn’t compose a summary of the year without including a loss of some sort.

The family with the new grad, Sidney!
The family with the new grad, Sidney

It feels wrong to attempt to write about 2020 without discussing 2019 first. Not every year is full of only good things, though I’m a fortunate soul that this is generally the case. I’m making an attempt to ensure, if only for myself, that I remember the tough things a year brought as well. Also, skipping 2019 would leave me with little to say, and all of it would be, well, not great. 2020 has given me at least one gift: being able to look at 2019 with a sense of gratitude that helped clear the blockage of the things that didn’t go so well. 

Hiking Fern Canyon in Redwood National Park
Hiking Fern Canyon in Redwood National Park

We stayed in or kept explorations local for the first few months of 2019: from hikes to art museums to local camping. In May, we traveled to Memphis to watch my cousin, Sidney, graduate from high school. It was perfectly timed to enjoy one of my favorite times back home: “Memphis in May.” We were there for the BBQ world championships, which is only one week in a month’s worth of celebrations.

Camping with the Segars at Kirby Cove
Camping with the Segars at Kirby Cove

Back home in California, friends came to visit & we headed to Redwood National Park for a few days. It was so beautiful that we went back again, just the two of us, for July 4th.

Shawn in front of Mount Hoffmann while backpacking in Yosemite's High Country
Shawn in front of Mount Hoffmann while backpacking in Yosemite’s High Country

When the Segars family visited in July, we managed to get the most coveted camping permit in the Bay Area: Kirby Cove. Feeling lucky, Shawn & I managed walk-up backpacking permits out of Yosemite’s Tuolumne Meadows the following weekend for a few days.

Us "out-laws" of the Hoffman family
Us “out-laws” of the Hoffman family

It is becoming an almost annual tradition in Shawn’s family for a cousin to get married, and 2019 was no different as we traveled to Indiana for Brett and Earl’s wedding. I’m proud that Earl made good on a promise to get a photo with only us plus-ones (the “out-laws”) of the family. From there, we went with Shawn’s parents back to California to enjoy Disneyland and D23 (a Disney convention of sorts).

Disneyland with Shawn's parents, Carol & Rob
Disneyland with Shawn’s parents, Carol & Rob

I was back in Southern California the next month as my friend, Nina, and I made a mini weekend road trip between Las Vegas and Los Angeles. If you’re in the area, we made a worthy stop for an incredible hike up a giant sand dune in Mojave National Preserve. After this trip, I ended just over two years of work at Enjoy, the hardest job-goodbye I’ve had to make yet. 

Disney's D23 expo
Disney’s D23 expo

I kept busy with my time off, joining Conrad’s friends in Manhattan for his surprise 31st birthday party and visiting my grandfather nearby in New Jersey. A couple of weeks until a scheduled family trip, I headed out on a solo backpacking trip to section hike part of the Pacific Crest Trail.

The dunes of Mojave National Reserve
The dunes of Mojave National Reserve

About halfway through the trip, a snowstorm hit. I wasn’t fully prepared for the weather but had pushed to make miles, so I would only spend one night with the snow before hopping off the trail to get a resupply the next day. I’m fearful of the snow, given my little experience, and have generally kept my backpacking to summer-only. Just like trips before this one, though, I had made several trail friends, which made the experience feel not only safer but downright fun. We opened our tents to a calm and beautiful scene. What a sight to see the world in Fall and watch it become something completely different in Winter within one day.

Opening my tent to a different world after a night of snowfall

It wasn’t just the season that would change within a day, but my life. Within a few hours of leaving camp, I hit the “SOS” button on my tracking device for the first time. I rewrote the story many times before finally giving up on sending a 2019 New Year’s card at all. I couldn’t figure out how to tell the story without completely crushing this letter’s intended mood. Is it possible to say it in a way that doesn’t worry anyone for my next backpacking trip? In short, I was too late to save a trail friend from passing away at the hand of hypothermia. While a painful experience, I walked away with gratitude that most of my trips don’t end like this. If something terrible does happen, I carry a device that actually works and hails the help of some incredible people who volunteer as search-and-rescue members.

Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom
Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom

I opted out of continuing on for another week to give myself to go home and just, well, process the experience before packing bags again, this time for Walt Disney World. Our visit to the happiest place on earth with Shawn’s family was well-timed. Not only did it lift my spirits, but it also happened to mark 10 years since Shawn and I were interns there. We spent a semester driving the rafts at Tom Sawyer’s Island and hosting shows at the Country Bear Jamboree for those unaware. Some of us extended the trip a bit with a road trip to Gatlinburg before heading home.

Family hiking, camping, and road-tripping was the perfect transition to my new company: Hipcamp (think Airbnb, where folks host glampers, campers, & RVers on their land).

At the top of Stone Mountain with Shawn, his brother, Jeff, Jeff's wife, Kate, and their kids, Sam & Chase
At the top of Stone Mountain with Shawn, his brother, Jeff, Jeff’s wife, Kate, and their kids, Sam & Chase

Having just started at new job, I couldn’t justify taking time off to go home for Thanksgiving, so Shawn surprised me with a quick trip to Disneyland, just us.

Thanksgiving at Disneyland’s California Adventure

We joined his family for another wonderful Christmas in Indiana before a vacation with my family in Montreal to close out the year. With my cousin James’ help, we got dad not just out of the country but on a snow vacation at Mont Tremblant. It was an incredible adventure, from snowshoeing through a whiteout blizzard to learning to alpine ski to soaking in tubs at a Scandinavian Spa. My favorite, though, may have been learning to cross-country ski.

Cross-country skiing near Mont Tremblant (north of Montreal, QC)

I can’t tell you how strange it is to read everything above. It feels like it was written by a different person, and, in many ways, it was. Madison of a year ago can’t help but feel a bit dismissive of how difficult it was to process a trail friend’s death given how much more pain there would be to process in the next year. It also feels like the Disney trips were underemphasized. I care less about trying to edit the letter to fit neatly on the back of the card and more about emphasizing memories that would become even more meaningful in 2020. 

Unable to handle the long commute, I left Hipcamp before the end of January and decided to go back to Enjoy. I traded a 3-hour round trip commute on public transit for just 30 minutes of walking each way. Of course, as 2020 would have it, I would have no commute at all within a couple months.

During a couple of weeks between the two jobs, we decided to go to Indiana. Shawn’s dad, Rob, had been on the lung transplant list, and we were hopeful that maybe the universe would work its magic during that time and we could be there when the call came. The call came…a few days after we got back to California. 🤣️

Having just started back at my job, Shawn made the trip alone. It was mid-February, and things would change suddenly and then not very much at all for the rest of the year. 

Rob made it out of the surgery, though in precarious health due to complications along the way. Transplant patients have compromised immune systems anyway, so visitor restrictions are common. As you can imagine, they would continue to get tighter when March arrived until no one was allowed at all within a few weeks. 

Bluebell & Scoop

Back in the Bay Area, we were the first region in the country to go into lockdown on March 16th. As the extent of quarantine and Rob’s recovery grew to be greater unknowns, I’ll admit I was a bit worried about how long I would be alone. This seemed as good a time as any to foster a cat and a co-worker quickly connected me with two that needed a foster home [10]. Within a week, they were “foster fails” that we now call Scoop (dark coat, boy) and Bluebell (light coat, girl). 

Turning 30 in quarantine

Shawn stayed in Indiana until Rob had a release date, which didn’t happen until July, so the cats and I were the three amigos for most of the year. Besides Zoom parties put on by awesome friends, I turned 30 with just my cats in attendance – an omen if I’ve ever heard one. I built up the most consistent work-out routine of my life through a solo quarantine and left town once for a backpacking trip in Yosemite with a friend. 

Backpacking in Yosemite’s Hetch Hetchy

It was strange to experience quarantine as everyone else had in March when Shawn returned home in July. Adjusting to being around each other so much while working from home was…trying. Unfortunately, Shawn was only home a couple of weeks before we got a call on July 18th. Rob had passed away within a few days of finally making it home himself.

Rob and Carol have always treated their sons’ partners as one of their own. Rob took all parts of this duty seriously – whether it was serious or not. He was unafraid to chime in with advice or make sure I was still contributing to retirement accounts, yet never missed an opportunity to make a silly joke (even when it seemed no one was listening). Of course, my favorite was a blend of both sides when we became sparring pals in the political arena. I like to think we both opened each other up to different ways of thinking about the world as we worked through ways to find consensus when we disagreed. Naturally, there were times when we just had to learn to be okay with disagreeing. Those topics, more than others, bubbled up frequently as playful jokes. In the current political climate, I long for these conversations with him. Not only do I wonder what he would think of different situations, but I miss the act of respectfully talking through them. It’s painful to look out at the country and see how rarely we seem to be respectfully engaging with people we disagree with, seeking to understand first.

Because of the long journey after the surgery, the whole experience just felt like he was still back in the hospital. Sometimes it still does. At other times, the painful reality wells up at seemingly random times that halt anything I was trying to do, like, say, write a New Year’s letter, to just sit with the pain.

I couldn’t stay much longer beyond the funeral, so I returned to California alone. Shawn and I returned to our regularly scheduled quarantine life as a separated couple that mostly connected through the week by playing Animal Crossing together. How odd that this was our “normal” for 2020.

Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona

Eager for Shawn’s return and an escape from the hamster wheel that was every dang day, I booked permits for us to go backpacking in Yosemite together in September. The wildfires that ravaged California had different plans, of course, so yet another plan was added to the “2020 graveyard of fun” pile. If we couldn’t go backpacking, then we were at least going to escape somewhere with clean air with the time off instead. Using the smoke maps and statistics for the least-visited national parks, we set off for Petrified Forest in Arizona, camping along the way. We threw in a few days of day-hiking in Sedona on the way there and some on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon (far less busy, and, in my opinion, prettier than the South Rim) on the way back.

Day hike in Yosemite’s Tuolumne Grove before heading home from backpacking in the high country

We decided to try our luck for a Yosemite backpacking trip again for early November and escape election stress while we were at it. We figured that there wouldn’t be election results for at least the first week anyway. It seems the timing was right between the perfect weather and election results coming out just as we were re-entering reception again.

We were looking at likely spending the holidays without our families, given how the pandemic was going. I couldn’t live with myself if we brought COVID home. However, it brought little comfort to miss another Thanksgiving with my family and the first Christmas without Rob amongst Shawn’s family. Whatever it took to just get through the rest of the year without any other hiccups, I would do it.

Of course, I can only control so much of the universe, which is to say practically none of it. This doesn’t stop my brain from worrying as if it would yield any control, though. On December 1st, we were yet again the recipients of one of those terrible phone calls. My great grandmother had passed away, another one of the many victims of COVID-19.

An oldie but a goodie with my great grandmother standing behind me

Grandma Brooks wasn’t just a Memphian by birth; she was Memphian by heart. She was the first to introduce me to what would later be my alma mater (University of Memphis). Some of my earliest memories involve running around her home full of “Memphis Tigers” decor dressed in a “Memphis” cheerleader outfit she put me in herself. At 94, she had a deep well of stories. My favorites were any that involved pulling out the family photos she always carried with her. No, not those adorable wallet photos of us kids, but the ones from her own childhood with her classmate, Elvis Presley.

With COVID kicking into high gear, it didn’t feel wise to risk going home for her funeral. As with Rob, this past year’s distance has made it challenging to process she won’t be there next time I’m home for a visit. I wouldn’t be surprised if I absent-mindedly drive towards her nursing home expecting to stop by and see her on my way from the airport next time I’m in Memphis.

Thankfully, the rest of the year was quiet, though painful, as we processed everything the year had brought us. I don’t know about you, but I’m hanging an unhealthy amount of hope on 2021. Tired of making plans that get canceled, I’ve opted to make none (a giant first for me). If all I get out of the year is to be able to sit down to write this letter next year with less pain and send it to just as many, if not more, recipients, that’s enough for me.

Here’s to a happy and healthy 2021!

Antarctica Marathon

I told myself that the only way I could take the Monday after my trip off was if I did the write-up that I wish existed for me before I embarked on this trip.

This fulfills that promise.

The best way to break it down is to go through the typical stages of a race as I know them to be, so here goes my best attempt.

Entry

This is put on by Marathon Tours and Travel (MTT), a group that otherwise specializes in guaranteed entry and group traveling to races organized by others (think the New York Marathon, Great Wall Marathon, etc.). We had never traveled with them before and only came across this as an option for going to Antarctica.

Their website has a lot of information about the Antarctica Marathon, so if it seems like I skip a lot of details, that’s only because you can find quite a bit there.

We’re planners, so we weren’t interested in waitlisting at all, which meant we had to put a deposit down in 2015 to secure our place in this year’s event (yep, three years in advance). We started setting aside a few hundred dollars every month almost immediately to be able to make the deposit deadlines in 2017.

One thing to especially keep in mind before booking something so far in advance is really thinking about who else is going with you. Are you still going to be friends with this person in three years? Are you confident enough in this romantic relationship that it will still be going strong in three years?

IMG_0429

We did not have this problem ourselves, but we did see it played out for some on our trip. Frankly, we were both so stubborn about going that I think the trip kept our friendship together during some tumultuous times in the three years leading up to it.

Training

I was extremely concerned about the weather given that I live in the SF Bay Area where the temperature range is between 50 – 70 ℉ for most of the year. Conrad was getting far “better” weather training in NYC, as were most of the other travelers given that many hail from the colder regions (or at least regions that actually get “cold” during winter).

Forget the weather. It hardly matters.

IMG_9856

Seriously.

This can be hard to believe given where you are going – especially since every time this race comes up in conversation people will ask you what on earth you will wear. Don’t worry, we’ll get to clothing.

We were advised by MTT to do as much of our training as possible on trails and hills. This, my friends, is the most important thing you can do to get through this race.

I was fortunate enough to have a hilly park across the street from my office. By “hilly,” I mean there was an elevation difference of 70 feet between the lowest and highest points on my training runs. Traversing up and down a variety of the hills throughout every training run gave me several hundred feet of gain/loss for most runs.

IMG_5318
Bedwell Bayfront Park in Menlo Park, CA – awesome for hill training…and sunrises

If you don’t have hills near you, have no fear. There’s plenty of strength training workouts you can do at the gym to help. Get to Googling.

If you hate the gym as much as I do, you can still get some training in just by brushing your teeth. I did a wall sit every time I brushed my teeth. It took me weeks to work up to a full two minutes, but once I got there, I never skipped a toothbrush wall sit in fear I would atrophy. I first attempted this years ago when I wanted to hate hiking up hills less. It made a huge difference given how little a time commitment it is. I did a separate post on it a while back here.

I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you to also train with whatever nutrition you want to use. You can’t take wrappers ashore, so we opted for Clif Shot Bloks, which we stored in a collapsible water bottle at a water drop spot on the course.  I ate 3 at roughly every hour mark.

 

Gear

In the Fall, before your race, they will open up a gear store to buy “Antarctica Marathon” merchandise. You’ll get a long sleeve tech shirt in the weeks before you leave for Argentina, but this is more cold-weather gear as well as plain old “I want a running _______ with ‘Antarctica Marathon’ stamped on it” stuff.

I forgot about it before the deadline to order, although I lucked out when they had a limited amount available to purchase (cash only) just before the welcome dinner in Buenos Aires.

I already owned nearly everything to be able to manage, but the things I got mostly just came from REI.

IMG_0562
I slept with wine bottles next to my mattress for good luck. Also to keep them from rolling about all night.

Working from the feet up, let’s group this together…

 

Feet

Despite what this picture shows, I only wore the pink/gray socks, which are Smartwool PhD Run Light Elite Micro Socks. I packed the others in the shore bag as a “just in case.”

IMG_9940

I completely forgot to include my shoes in the photo, which I chose by going to my local Fleet Feet and saying “hey I’m running this marathon in Antarctica, and I’ve never run a trail race before…help”. I recommend you do and say (where applicable) the same. MTT suggested waterproof shoes, which mine were not. Trail running friends, as well as the store folks, suggested that I stay away from those since your feet can get really hot. I was happy with my decision.

You don’t need any Yak Trax for your shoes. Yes, I’m sure.

Legs

KT Tape around my right knee FTW.

Underarmour compression shorts were my first layer. Actually, they’re super short, so I really think of them more like underwear as I would never walk out in public with them.

IMG_0344

I was going to wear these warm tights I already owned, but they had the “Antarctica Marathon” ones available in Buenos Aires in my size, which I took as a sign and grabbed these.

The tights claimed to fight the wind, but I decided to wear a pair of rain pants over just in case and take them off if I got warm. I didn’t get warm enough to ditch them (although my legs get pretty hot typically), but my legs never felt cold either, so I’m confident I could have gone without the rain pants, but they were mighty lovely when it snowed from time to time through the race.

Hips

I hate pinning race bibs to my clothes, so I always use the pink number-holder-thing-that-I-never-remember-the-name-of.

IMG_4197

I carried my phone (for photos as well as downloaded music) in a Flip Belt. I prefer this because the arm things rub and also make me feel a bit off kilter over time.

Torso

Brooks Epiphany Sports Bra II, which ended up rubbing my chest raw because the ship laundry service put it in the dryer. I wrongfully presumed that they would follow the label instructions. Another runner specified not to do this to her clothes on her ticket, and they still did, so keep that in mind if you want to have your clothes laundered on the ship (it’s only $1-2 per item and worth it to pack less).

Long sleeve tech shirt from the NYC marathon, although I did consider a short sleeve.

Smartwool NTS Mid 250 Zip-T Base Layer Top as recommended by a friend. It was great at keeping me a breathable warm.

IMG_1718

Patagonia Micro Puff Insulated Jacket also as recommended by the same great friend. I ended up unzipping it most of the way after the first lap, but never wanted to part with it entirely or even relegate it to being tied around the hips.

Patagonia Houdini Jacket – I got this as a gift a few years ago, and it’s fantastic. It folds into its own pocket and is great to help break the wind, which is very important for this race. If there’s anything from this list that you should already own, it’s this. Great for travel as well as running outside of the Antarctic. This combined with the insulated jacket really kept me from needing to buy an expensive goretex jacket that I would only wear this once.

Hands

The North Face E-Tip Gloves – borrowed from the boyfriend

IMG_5118

The second pair of sweater-looking gloves were borrowed from Conrad to wear over the other pair. I thought I would end up ditching them. I didn’t.

Head

Neck Gaiter. This was not a specialized neck gaiter. Not for running or even hiking. I own and also brought a Buff that we use hiking, but I was dying for something fun and figured this Christmas gift from a co-worker was just the ticket.

Saucony headband with ear covering. I was worried this wouldn’t keep warmth in all that well since I had only worn it on warmer runs, but it was great.

IMG_1777

Smartwool NTS Merino 150 Beanie – This was a godsend. I couldn’t seem to find something that would keep my head warm without overheating (at most I run with a bandana on my head, and I was already worried about running with the headband above). I randomly came across this during an REI trip and am so happy for it.

Goodr Sunglasses – I can’t own nice sunglasses because I lose them. These were a comfortable $25 and worth it to have polarized lenses. We had some pretty high winds at one point, but they weren’t enough to justify wearing ski goggles. I’m super happy with getting these, especially since I went with a fun lens color: it made spotting me much easier in pictures since everything else on my outer layers was a dark color.

Nutrition

Water Bottles – I just grabbed one of the free plastic water bottles my boyfriend got from his work and one of my cycling water bottles because that’s what was on the counter when I packed. You don’t need special bottles. The top of the plastic one did freeze over a bit because that was the one that had just water in it and I forgot to pick it up and get a sip when I came back to the start/finish from my first lap. As long as you move the bottles on each lap, you should be fine.

We did get thirstier than I expected, but Conrad and I agreed to just share water. He runs much faster than me, so he just left his out there for me to bring in when I finished. This meant he drank less than me and that I had extra water since I took longer. I highly recommend sharing nutrition/water like this. He had three bottles in total, and we each left a bottle with our electrolyte drink in it out at the water drop point (which is halfway out to the turn around).

IMG_1685

Electrolytes – I used a Nuun tablet in one of my bottles just because I always use them when hiking. They’re sugar-free if that matters to you. Berry is my favorite.

Clif Shot Bloks – Again, you can’t take wrappers on the course, so unless you want to squeeze GU into a bottle, I would recommend these. We combined our blocks into a single collapsable bottle that we left at the water drop point.

Tracking

My Garmin Forerunner 910xt had reception. Unfortunately, this device is known for getting its barometric altimeter (which reads your elevation) clogged with dirt, salt from your sweat or the pool, and whatever else you put it through. I gave up on trying to clean it out forever ago and just “correct” the elevation whenever I sync it to Garmin Connect.

IMG_1619.JPG

It came to my attention a couple hours ago that the elevation data is not available for King George Island (where the race was run), so they cannot “correct” my elevation. I’m pretty distraught about this and am kicking myself for not ponying up the money and just buying a new one before I went.

Carrying it all

It wasn’t super clear to me how we were going to get this stuff to shore, so I ended up buying a small backpack. This wasn’t necessary as the ship supplies you with a dry bag to use whenever you go ashore.

Travel to the Race Course

You’ll provide your own travel to Buenos Aires, but MTT has it from there. Be prepared to enjoy a lovely few days in Buenos Aires (bring a swimsuit!).

IMG_0023
Bring a swim suit or else you, too, will have to go to the pool in a sports bra and Under Armour shorts.

Next up is the flight south to Ushuaia. I’m embarrassed to admit that I didn’t realize how big South America really is: it’s a four-hour flight from Buenos Aires to the southernmost city, Ushuaia.

IMG_3786

The weather can be tumultuous there, especially given that you just left sunny Buenos Aires. You’ll have a few hours to roam about Ushuaia (we enjoyed the National Park there), and you can pick up some bottles of booze if you like. The prices on board are on par with those on land so I wouldn’t recommend it unless you really want a particular bottle of wine.

IMG_9766
Post office at the end of the world, which is inside of the national park.

This is also an excellent time to put on a motion sickness patch if you opted to get the prescription from your doctor, but be warned that this is a potent tool. It gave me symptoms of a cold (itchy dry throat, groggy, and blurry vision close up, so I couldn’t really read or write very well), but those were at their worst just for the first evening. I woke up the next morning feeling mostly okay, although my vision was still blurry. I didn’t expect it to make me feel that way, so I ended up going to the ship doctor worried that I was getting sick the first evening. These side effects are worth it given the alternative, though.

Once aboard your ship (either the Ioffe or the Vavilov, which you can see more about on the One Ocean site), it will be another few days until race day. You’ll get comfortable with the ship as well as have a chance to go ashore once or twice, which will make you much more comfortable about having to get in a zodiac instead of some tour bus to get you to the start line.

20180326_184605.GIF

Part of the “going ashore” process involves bio securing your shoes and pants. One of your days at sea will have some time set aside to scrub the bottom and sides of your running shoes as well as vacuum the inside to remove any debris. This helps to keep outside species from entering Antarctica.

IMG_1249

Another portion of one of these days at sea will involve a bottle decorating party that will help your bottle to stand out in the pile of water bottles on race day. It’s also a mechanism for shaming in case you forgot to bring your water bottle back in from the course. 🙂

Race Eve

The night before everyone meets for a race briefing in the lounge of the ship. We were on the second boat, so this included some information on how the first race went and what to expect on the course.

Weather predictions encouraged the race team to move up the start of our race by about 2 hours as a storm was predicted in the afternoon. This ended up being the wise thing to do as it ensured that we were all able to finish. Otherwise, they would have had to cut the race short, and I would have been one of those who would have been a “DNF” (“Did Not Finish”).

Before the briefing, everyone checked in to get their bib and their tracking device.

It’s worth noting that if you decided you wanted to drop down to the half marathon, you have to make that decision before going out a lap beyond the half marathon lap count.

The full marathon was 6 laps, making the half 3 of them. If I completed 4 laps and decided I was done, I cannot drop to the half at that point. I have to choose to fall into the half after completing 3 laps and without going across the tracker again to go out again.

It makes sense I guess, but I had counted on being able to drop to the half whenever I wanted through the race, so this was a surprise.

Race Day

Pre Race

Breakfast starts two hours before the race. A wake-up call is given over the intercom system 30 minutes before breakfast every morning. For the life of me, I can’t remember breakfast. I may not have gone.

Gangway starts an hour before the race start. This means you can get into the mudroom to put on the outerwear that you always wear on the zodiacs and then in line to go down the gangway to get in the boats at this time.

IMG_1927

I wore all my race clothes under the outwear the ship gives you for the shore excursions. Well, except my shoes because you wear boots in the zodiacs as you always get out of them and step in water to get ashore. The dry bag held my shoes, water bottles (filled on the ship), and a warmer pair of socks to wear back on the zodiac that I never ended up switching into.

We timed walking on the gangway so that we were on the last zodiac out there. This kept us from waiting in the cold for long, but we did end up feeling rushed since the race staff was anxious to start on account of the predicted storm. If I were to do it again, I think the second-to-last zodiac would have been better. 🙂

IMG_1684

Once ashore, we packed the outerwear into our dry bags and exchanged our boots for our running shoes. The boots and dry bags stayed on a tarp they had laid out. Benches were out there to help us manage the shoe exchange.

We took our water bottles to a separate area of the start/finish area and dropped them right on the ground. Many people kept one on their person to carry to the water drop. I ended up taking mine on the second lap.

The Race

The race started quickly, and we were off.

20180326_185406.GIF

I had the honor of running nearly the entire marathon with the ship’s pastry chef, Lizzy, who had never run a race before (not even a 5k!). She was terrific company, and I genuinely believe that, other than the hill training (which kept a lot of misery at bay), she was the primary reason I had all the fun I did. This was the first time I ran without headphones (I brought them with me, but just never took them out to use).

My strategy was to try not to walk the hills for the first three laps. I almost made it 4 laps, but we both started having knee pain, so, yeah.

IMG_5295
This, friends, is the Antarctica Marathon’s Heartbreak Hill

Going out was relatively easy because we had a lovely tailwind carrying us. That same wind, head on, had me questioning whether I could finish at all when we came back.

There were some points during the race where the wind picked up entirely and we got a good bit of snowfall as well, but, honestly, a lot of the race was a blur.

IMG_5435
Looking towards the turnaround point, which is at the Chinese base

It went by pretty quickly since I wasn’t worried about counting miles, just counting laps. We were also pretty confident after the first couple laps since we were clearing them with enough time to really give some extra padding for the second half of the race.

I made a habit of taking a sip of water every time we came into the start/finish area as well as a sip of electrolytes every time we passed the water drop. On the way out the water drop was part way up the highest hill, so I also grabbed a couple of Shot Bloks to eat as I power walked up the hill. I switched to running as soon as I finished eating them. This really served me well and kept me from bonking.

IMG_9480
You can barely see our ship, the Vavilov, in the distant water beyond the Chilean base buildings

I promised myself a “photo lap” to take pictures as I pleased when I hit the turn around point on my last lap. Because of the pending storm coming in, I was kindly encouraged to try to stop less about half-way in from that point, but I had the bulk of pictures I wanted, and I was just so frickin’ happy I was actually going to finish. I didn’t want to keep the staff waiting any longer than I needed to since they were really trying to allow us all to finish.

IMG_6905

We crossed that finish line and immediately felt into a hug frenzy. I couldn’t imagine how excited Lizzy must have felt finishing her first race. A week and a half later, I still can’t.

edit: She later wrote a post herself on the experience. Check it out here.

Post Race

The One Ocean staff was incredible as they helped us get into the outerwear and even slid our boots on for us (Tammie, you’re amazing). They’re very mindful of hypothermia (it happens every year it seems), so they don’t want anyone waiting around the finish line given how quickly it can set in. It was amazing to see the work they all put into helping the MTT staff put this event on from the other end of breaking it all down.

The storm really picked up and made for quite a ride going back to the ship. There were two behind us (a brother and sister), and we made up the last “runner” zodiac to go.

IMG_6110

I have to admit I teared up when the zodiac approached the gangway to cheers from our friends who were already boozing up on the lounge deck. It was still so surreal that we made it.

At the top of the gangway, Geoff happily marked me off as “returned” and let me know my friends had been anxiously checking on me. Typically you’re allowed to go back ashore once you’ve come back and showered, but the storm prevented the staff from letting anyone else go back.

20180326_191306.GIF
We celebrated with a “polar plunge” in the plunge pool (a deep pool that is filled with the cold ocean water), which was quickly followed by hopping in the hot tub. I highly recommend the plunge pool after as it is incredible for sore legs.
IMG_0894
If you want a “real” polar plunge, don’t worry, the first excursion the next day includes the chance to walk into the ocean from the shore.

20180326_191436.GIF

PostScript

If this giant write-up isn’t enough to alleviate any anxiety you may have, please feel free to comment below with any other questions.

IMG_1961

If it helps at all, the rest of the trip offers so much amazement that it really overshadows the race entirely. No one is talking about the race the day after the race onward.

Make Frequent Payments

This may seem to go completely against my earlier advice to pay annually, but that’s regarding expenses, not debt.

If you’re as “in the dark” as was, then you may not realize that your credit card interest is calculated by the average balance over the month – assuming you did not pay it off.

That means that instead of making a monthly payment, you can really help yourself by paying as often as you can and reducing that average and, therefore, your interest.

For most of my working life, I’ve been paid twice a month. Ever since I pulled my head out of the sand regarding my debt, I have made 3 payments on my targeted debt.

The first right after I got paid at the beginning of the month, the second after my second paycheck, and, finally, whatever money I had leftover from eating out and fun money in the final days of the month.

Tiny little payments help fight the tiny compound interest working against you.