Saturday, January 31, 2009

Two continents conquered, five to go

I am back in Cape Town after being in Antarctica for three days and it all seems like a dream.

I met Richard Donovan in Cape Town South Africa to make our journey to Antarctica. Richard is the organizer of the Antarctic Ice Marathon and the North Pole Marathon. He has the credentials to measure the course and officiate it for me, coincidentally he is also the first person to run 7 ultras in 7 continents in a single calendar year, so when I told him about wanting to do it in seven months he was eager to help me. He decided to enter Antarctica by flying to Novolazarevskaya Station, a Russian, formerly Soviet, Antarctic research station. The station is located at Schirmacher Oasis, Queen Maud Land, 75 km from the Antarctic coast. The reason for choosing this place is that it has the best statistics on plane leaving and arriving on time, if there are delays the delays are usually of only a couple of days.

We left for Antarctica Jan 28th , in the plane besides us there where 30 other scientists making their way to different research facilities, most of them belong to the first zero emission research station, Princess Queen Elizabeth Antarctica that is opening soon. We arrived in Novo runway at 4 pm, the weather was a balmy -3C but word got out that the weather was about to turn, so Richard hurried to mark the course so I could get going as soon as possible.

For safety reasons I was to run a 2.5K stretch going north and come back for what it will be a 5k loop. Because of the snow on the ground and the incline the loop was energy zapping.

So at 8pm Jan 28th the race officially begun. I wanted to make it in under 24hrs, it seem an accurate estimate of how long it will take me. I have run a 100K before in less than 13 hours but this was right after Brazil and I couldn't bear wearing shoes because my toe was now exposed since the toenail came off in Brazil.
Richard lent me his 10 1/2 size Salomon trail runners since I couldn't stand any friction on my toes.

At about 2am the weather got worse, poor visibility due to the snow falling and blowing and it dipped to about -15C not really cold but cold enough for me to cover from head to toe since the wind felt bitterly cold

By 6am I had done only 45K, I was tired and cold when Richard told me to take a break because the course had become too difficult to monitor and he needed to find and alternative route.

I went to bed feeling guilty but I also knew that there was still a chance to do it in less than 24 hours. So a few hours later after breakfast I started running again around 11am. It sure felt like a Club Med race considering in Brazil I only managed an hour and half sleep and a few bites here and there over the course of 50 hours but I also understood that this was about safety.

The next 55K went fast if a bit boring, I run back and forth along the airport runway, my ankle had now become swollen due to the fact I was wearing horribly ill fitted shoes. In spite of it all, 23 hours 35 minutes and 02 seconds later I finished 100k.

It was right after I finished running that I got to really get to know Antarctica, I walked into the cafeteria to find out a group of individuals that where clearly not scientist just by looking at their badly frostbitten faces and fingers, that and the fact that they smell a lot worse than me and I just finished running 100k

It turned out, these where the competitors of the first ever South Pole Race, six teams battled for 6 weeks on cross country skis to be the first team to the Pole, among the competitors there were UK TV personality Ben Fogle, UK Olympic gold medalist in Rowing James Cracknell, but there was one person that captivated us all, also competing Mark Pollock, an Irish blind adventurer and author of the book “ Making it happen”

Mark is very well know in the endurance sports circuit, Having gone blind in the space of two weeks in 1998 Mark rapidly learned how to adapt to changing circumstances, that made him, incredibly though and delight to be around. He is witty and very modest.

I spent the next day getting to know more about all the competitors, I listen to their pain and suffering hey had endured in the last 6 weeks, most of the participants where there in the name of a charity. Sitting there I couldn’t help but to feel amazed and incredibly lucky to be sharing a meal with such an amazing and intimidating group. I mean these 6 teams endured so much the last 6 weeks all in the name of a charity of their choice. I felt a bit humbled by them, Rachel one of the two females competing notice I was a bit uncomfortable when they asked me to share my story, it seemed silly to tell them how hard it had been for me in Brazil, and how tired I felt to run 100k more in Antarctica, how I for the first time since I started running, I had not enjoyed running . Rachel looked at me and said, in my opinion what you are doing is more difficult, you are running a greater distance we had done ,and basically we just walked for 6 weeks. Looking at all of them, frostbitten faces and fingers, sunken eyes, gaunt bodies, it was really obvious that they had done more that just gone for a walk, but I appreciated that they included me as one of them.

That night I called home, I wanted to talk to my kids, I was thrilled to tell them all about how cool it was to be standing in Antarctica, the research stations, the South Pole races, but just as they answer the phone Hans, my 10 year old told me very excitedly that he had shaved 3 seconds of his swim time on freestyle, just like that, nothing mattered, not Brazil, not Antarctica, nothing mattered more at that moment than to hear my kids talk about their triumphs and dreams. I have been going all over the world just to reinforce what I already know, the best place in the world for me is home. Just like Nelson Mandela once said, the world is truly round and it seemed to start and end with those we love.

Monday, January 26, 2009

I am Alive!!

Hi, this is Carlos again, Norma is currently sleeping in Cape Town, South Africa waiting to be on a vessel to the russian base in Antarctica to run 100 Km more. By the way J. M. Coetzee one of my favorite writers was born there and He used to teach at the University of Cape Town before moving to Australia. You should read "Disgrace" just to feel the loneliness of been a man in a modern world. Anyway Norma sent us the next post about what happened in Brasil. Curious?:

I survived Brazil! when I was first told about Brazil 135 ultramarathon I believed it but you never know how true it is until you are there. The race took place Friday the 23rd at 8:30 am and I finish the crossing line 50 hours and 20 minutes according to my watch.

What happened in those 50 hours would have show me a lot about real strength comes from within. I was so worry about rain but thankfully stayed dry for the three days of the race. The temperature was hot around 32 degrees but because it was overcast it was bearable.

Matt and Jason drove me to the start line, it felt a lot more like a high school field trip than an endurance event, all the runners and crew hanging around waiting for the gun go off, Brazilian music playing in the background. there where a lot of picture taking and hugging as well. My favourite part of any ultra race is the beginning when I get to talk to other runners, when We all still have the energy or the focus to listen.

The first 18 hours where OK, I saw my crew every 15k or so, I tried to keep a steady pace, something that I thought I could maintain for a long time, I felt just fine, there where a lot of casualties and injuries at the beginning, this is where most of the 10 runners that didn't finish took place, most of the time because they go out too fast.
At about 4:30 am after 20 hours of running I could barely stand up, fatigue just overtook me, It was hard to motivate to keep going when I knew I still had longways to go.
I have never been good at math but at 4am I was negotiating an hour nap with my crew, I told them I had to make my flight and They took their job very seriously, I quickly did calculations in my head to show them I had a window for sleeping.

The next 40 hours where a lot like a nightmare, the race is long and the elevation gain and loss have your lungs burning because is hard to breath or you quad burn from running downhill. Matt and Jason took turn running/walking during the night to keep me awake and to also keep me safe. The next day was a lot harder, I hit many highs and low each peak higher than the last one. There where times where I didn't think I was going to find the strength to continue, specially after that one of my toenails start coming off from the pounding, some parts of the course where so steep you couldn't run any other way but on your tiptoe. I hit my first major low when I reached 100 miles, my toenail was now ripping from my toes and sometimes I thought I was going to pass out from the excruciating pain. The last night I learned the meaning of digging deep, there is no way I was quitting but that didn't make the pain go away, Matt and Jason my support guys where amazing on trying to do their best to keep me on time, they took turns pacing me, not a small thing considering They hadn't run more than 12k in their life, their approached was very non sense, if I stopped I wouldn't make my flight, plain and simple.

After 46 hours of running and in excruciating pain i finally collapsed on a park bench, my support car was not there because of a misunderstanding of meeting point so I just lay there and slept for about 40 minutes.

Now with 17 k to go, I sent the guys to sleep since none of us had sleep much, and I needed them to drive me back to Sao Paolo to get on my flight as soon as I crossed the finish line, this is the leg of the race that I really took the time to admire my surrounding , I was still very tired but something had changed, but now It was real that I was going to finish and that gave me enough energy to keep running, also pacers for other runners left their runner to pace me, all because they loved that I had come to Brazil to the race and brought a donation to the local charity, one more proof that kindness attracts kindness.

I crossed the finish line holding hands with Matt and Jason, I am for ever grateful of those kind words and the arm that they offered when I had a hard time walking on a straight line.

Next is an account of what NOT to do after a race, after a quick visit with the media and gently refusing a marriage proposal from a 12 year old boy, I showered just before jumping on a car then on planes for the next 11 hours.

I am in Capetown right now waiting for my plane to Antarctica, thankfully It was delayed for two days, so I have time to heal before my next 100k. I have received a lot of emails of support, people that I don't even know telling me They are cheering me, and It's working, three years ago when my son was diagnosed I felt so alone, now I know I wasn't, just like Karl said on his first day in preschool, "look mom, look at all the friends I haven't met" I wasn't alone, and I just hope I can somehow make somebody out there who is feeling alone believe that a mountain is not an obstacle, is just a way of getting closer to the stars."

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Runnig Wild in the Amazon part I

Hi everybody, this is Carlos posting on behalf of my younger sister Norma. In case you haven't heard of me It is not to late to start reading my musings in my blog powerpymes (It is in spanish but I have a handy translator in situ), anyway I will be feeding you the next weeks what Norma send me to post here because She is having so much fun running in the rain and developing blisters (ughhh¡) What causes a young woman of good looks to leave it all behind and expose yourself gratitously to anacondas and piranhas is beyond me but I think maybe Norma should start spiking her morning coffee with Ritalin just to be on the safe side on the future. Enough, down below is what she send us:

Only a few hours to the race and I am so nervous i am not sure where to begin. Brazil is a wonderful country, i was surprise of the infrastructure, the roads are in very good shape, at least the highway from the airport to Pocos de Caldas where is the start to the race.

I haven´t slept much, a bit jet lag and a bit nerves, i haven´t had much chance to think about the enormous challenge i am about to take on, that until i jumped on the plane, and it all came at once.

Someone once said that to be an ultrarunner you need short term memory, and it´s true, after the pain and the sleep deprivation all it remains are the memories of majestic trails, fantastic positive people ( you have to be positive to think "only 80K to go") but the best of all is the feeling of having accomplish something that makes you grow as a person, and ultra is a lifetime in a day.

I have had mixed feelings, I know I have trained hard and that I belong here, but since i have never done this race is hard to predict if I can finish it in under 51 hours to make my flight, that makes me a bit nervous.To make matter worse is raining hard and it will make the course unsteady and it will be impossible to avoid blisters, I will need every once of mental strength to tell my body to keep running under such pain. I could have reschedule this race and choose a different race in North America a bit later, not so close to Antarctica but I had committed to this race a few moths ago, and had a school for the blind waiting for me. I told them i will bring a donation of $1000 from Bolt Supply House, I know that i could have chosen to just mail the donation to AADV ( Associacao de Assistencia Aos Deficientes Visuales) but the main message would have been lost, i wanted to empower other races to be more involve on the places we visit, I wanted the representative of the school for the blind to stand proud in the auditorium, to know that we are a very small world.

I do promise everybody that I will run hard tomorrow, my plan is to finish in under 51 hours but as a back up plan, if I time out I will have to ask Matt Cordeu and Jasson Glass, the two Calgary kids who happen to be in Brazil on holidays who volunteer to crew me, if I time out i have to make my flight to Antarctica, in that case i can run in Argentina in 3 weeks a 250K, that way I am still keeping safe but still 100% commited to do in this, even if at the end I have to run 2000 kilometres.

I want to dedicate Brazil 135 Ultramarathon to a very special person in Calgary, nine month old Hayden who is legally blind due to optic Nerve Atrophy and CVI.

Monday, January 19, 2009

“Life's challenges are not supposed to paralyze you, they're supposed to help you discover who you are.”Bernice Johnson Reagon

WOW. I am overwhelmed by the amount of press 777 Run For Sight is generating, is so unbelievable. This is beyond my wildest dreams! I get hugged by complete strangers now. Only an hour after the press release went out, I was already doing TV, Radio and newspaper interviews. Impact magazine is also running an article on me in the summer issue I believe.

I think my favourite part is that i get to hear from a lot of people that are being affected by blindness or vision loss either themselves or a family member, is hard to feel alone anymore.

I also receive a lot of note of support from my friends and family about Karl's new diagnosis my favourite is Alan's

"As long as you are moving forward and opening doors, it doesn't matter if it's door #284. But if the doors are not working out the way you like, try to look for a window"
Thanks! i totally get it. I had decided to take it one day at a time and that this is just a minor bump, my kids and I have gone too far to have this stop us now.

I am off to Brazil tomorrow,I will be bloggin from there since the local paper Calgary Herald asked me to blog for them.

I also met Robbert Kennedy Jr,and his Wife Mary Richardson Kennedy at Waterkeepers even in Lake Louise and they offered their support, I was worry that when they found out I was a crazy runner they would just look at me and feel sorry, but to my surprise they are incredibly down to earth and had a lot in common since they too are passionate about leaving a better world for their kids.

Here are the links to the a couple of interviews that run on the Calgary Sun and Calgary Herald

time to go to bed and get some rest.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

it's 3am and I can't sleep

"Well I can't help but be scared of it all sometimes
Says the rain's gonna wash away I believe it" 3AM Song by Matchbox Twenty

I have been up for about an hour and i am having trouble sleeping. I leave for Brazil in a few days for my first race and things are all over the place, I am still waiting on my visa, I sent it to Toronto instead of Vancouver and I am not sure it can be process on time even after using a visa agent, the good news is that I can fly to Argentina and get it at the border.
I have Antarctica right after Brazil, the only day when I can go to the Russian base to run my 100k is Jan 28th, Brazil is Jan 23-25, I have a flight that leaves Sao Paolo to Cape Town Jan 26th to get on a Russian plane to make it to a Russian bas in Antarctica where i will be running 100k. Richard Donovan is marking the course and officiating the race to make it official, I have never met him but he was a key part of making it possible in 7 months. The amazing thing is that he is the first person in the world to run 7 races in 7 continents in a single calendar year, so it will be an honour meeting him. I need to finish Brazil in under 48 hrs to make my flight in Sao Paolo, i will need to work in recovering fast since I have to run 100k 4 days later.

Things are all set, my mom and my niece Marianna arrive to look after my kids so I am not worry, they will be so loved that will hardly miss me. All the charities, cnib, Operation Eyesight Universal and Foundation Fighting Blindness are all behind me, Bolt Supply House my sponsor has been amazing and decided to sponsor me for this year so i am not left scrambling trying to find the funds and i feel my training has been right for this kind of challenge specially now that Ray Zahab overlooks my training,I mean, he just broke the world record in the South Pole!, who better than him to overlook my training.

My head is on the right space, i have worked on this project for so long in my head and in my heart i feel ready, so why am I awake?

Karl went for testing yesterday, he went to see a specialist in gene disorders that affect the vision. After all, the reason to be as involve as i am is to find the best possible care and options. i have heard that there are going to start human testing on a cure for Cone Rod Dystrophy. First they needed to determine all the history of the illness to see what is available to him.
What happen next I am still trying to figure out.
" your son has a very rare disease, his vision is a by product of it as where his extra digits ( he was born with 1 extra finger and two toes) this illness affects other organs, the good news is that his vision will stay stable until much later in life ( did he say good news) my colleague and i agree in this diagnosis but we need to do more testing to see where he fits in, until recently they where only a few types of this disorder, now there are twelve, we don't feel there is much concern but to avoid unnecessary stress we will hold the diagnosis until we can properly know which type he has"

She's got a little bit of something, God it's better than nothing
And in her color portrait world she believes that she's got it all
She swears the moon don't hang quite as high as it used to
And she only sleeps when it's raining
And she screams and her voice is straining" 3AM song MatchBox Twenty

" this is a genetic disorder is nothing you did, mom and dad have to both carry this very rare gene to pass it down" all I could thing at this point was the play that i listen to at Dining in the Dark, a fundraising event for FFB where you eat blindfolded and listen to a play, in the play the man explains his genetic conditions as his parents both bringing bread to the pic nic and no sandwich meat. we both brought bread i though.

I left the office confuse, is it good, after all his vision has been of concern for me for the last 3 years and it will be stable for the most part of? he will qualify for extra aid at school enabling him to stay at a regular school a concern that came up at the last parent teacher interview that in spite the special accommodations his grades are still slipping.

I was left feeling like I been building castles out of sand. is it to soon to push the panic button?
Talking to Nadia i told her i felt like I just open door number 3 just to find door number 4 behind " honey" Nadia said " I think you open door number 87" " you been doing this for a long time"

Somebody said to me that i somehow attract trouble when explaining my past relationships. I am pretty mellow but my life is anything but, ironic isn't?

So here I am, exactly where I found myself a few years ago, unable to fall back asleep, the reason why I started running is because i couldn't sleep, i am so grateful to have some races coming up, i am sorry they are so far and i will be long for long but i need to be out there alone in nature to figure out what is my role in the universe, is trough pain that we find ourselves. And with hope this is somehow a way the universe is giving me the push I need to finish the quest i have in front of me, the universe reminding me the is not over, and that i still have a lot of work to do.
Oh, by the way I peaked behind door number 87, i saw door number 88.


Monday, January 12, 2009

When love is not madness, it is not love. ~Pedro Calderon de la Barca

Happy New Year everybody.

I am back from Panama where I spent most of my vacation training on a treadmill on the boat. Not that I am complaining. My kids and I where treated to the most amazing beaches,fantastic food and we where with great company, my boyfriend and his family and the boat crew was amazing. I did have a chance to go into one of the islands to run some trails unfortuantelly they where short,and I also trained on the beach pulling a log to prepare for my Arctic race. I tried running the outside of Contadora Island to make more mileage but I had to scramble some cliffs to make it from beach to beach, after slipping and scraping my shins, I decided to run back and forth on the same stretch of the beach doing speed training. the jungle was to thick to run on the trail but I sure enjoyed hiking on it.
Panama City is a running friendly city, it was nice to run on the malecon( boardwalk)the night before we all came back to Canada.

I am crazy busy finalizing my 7 races on 7 continents in 7 months, I am leaving for Brazil Jan 20th so forgive me if I can elaborate more about my trip to Panama, just enjoy the pics!