chilling feet

chilling feet

Monday, June 12, 2017

Running at the South Pole During Winter

(Photo courtesy of Hunter Davis. I can't run outside but that doesn't mean
it isn't pretty. Can't see this with the naked eye as we cannot detect it.
But we can see some pretty nice greens sometimes)
I've been a runner now since seventh grade, putting me at around twenty-five years in the business. I did not actually really enjoy running, not truly, until the summer after my senior year of high school though. That puts me at the end of my teenage years as a person who chooses to run because I love it.


I have discovered, sometimes multiples times a day, since the moment I started running this is an activity most people do not understand. "You run for fun?" How many times have I heard that? "But running is what other sports do for punishment. Why would you voluntarily run?" And I understand. I completely get it. If you do the math from above, I ran for around six years before I fell in love with the...activity...pastime...obsession...way to stay healthy...no, the day I fell for running it became something more to me.


I found I loved running during a grueling summer of training for my first year of college. I was preparing to run cross-country and track against some of the best collegiate athletes in the world and I was terrified about not being ready. To do enough mileage for our weekly workouts everyone on our team was running twice a day except for on Saturday and Sunday. So I found myself on an abandoned street at 4:15 am on a dark and humid morning on the streets of Memphis. Something inside of me considered the decisions I had made, the courses I had taken to end up at that exact moment. How can I explain the part of me that suddenly realized running was so much more for me than a way to get attention? What words can I use to show how it had transcended being a mere tool to help me deal with the financial burden of paying for college through a scholarship? A part of me shifted and like a young man seeing his good friend as a beautiful woman for the first time, I realized I was in love.


Nineteen years. Such a relationship is not without its ups and downs, its squabbles and moments of doubt. Within a few months of my initial pledges of devotion to running I went through a severe IT band injury and spent almost a year apart from my new love. Miraculously, after a surgery and a lot of rehab, we made our way back to each other, but nothing would ever be the same. It would take me time to realize this was not necessarily a bad thing. We spent so much time together during those college years that when I went to graduate school I spent some time away from running. I could not stay away for long.


Then came the post-collegiate running. Running only because you want to do so. With a renewed relationship running took on a wholly new life and there have been some truly great years. This is where my running story connects to Antarctica. I have not run many marathons but have enjoyed the experiences of training for them - not always the day of running the race, depending on multiple marathon factors. I think anyone who has run a single marathon knows exactly what I am talking about on this one. Training for three marathons with my brother and few friends brought wonderful long runs and forged lasting relationships. When I was living in New Zealand running was again a wonderful common ground that brought my good friend Ben into my life. He convinced me to run a mountain marathon and, though I sustained an injury I'm still nursing, I was amazed by the experience of running over ridgelines in some truly amazing mountains.


I have read about some runners who attempt to complete a marathon on each continent. I was never much intrigued by this feat myself but after completing one on two different continents I find myself oddly motivated. Not too many people find themselves with the chance to complete a marathon on the six major continents, and even less find the opportunity to visit the seventh, let alone run a marathon there. And, believe it or not, there are a number of marathons that take place down here. Most are done around the stations and are put on by people who love to run, or for the sake of runners on the station. There is also at least one put one for the whole purpose of flying to Antarctica to compete in a marathon. Depending on the route you take, getting to the starting line of one of these marathons is quite difficult and can be extremely expensive. None of these marathons will be happening while I am here. Why? It is too cold. The ones that do happen are in the summer and our time here does not overlap.


So do I give up on the chance? Or do I like some bumbling idiot decide there is still a way to get this done? We have three treadmills, yes I cringe just writing this, and I made the decision to train for and run a marathon on these machines of stationary monotony. This is one of the weirdest decisions I have made in the world of running and there have been many moments so far to make me doubt the sanity of such a choice. I know almost any runner who has run a marathon in Antarctica will question the validity of this quest on the grounds that it is simply not the same as running out on the unforgiving ice and snow in extremely cold temperatures. And a big part of me agrees. I will, however, not allow a small matter like timing to rob me of this goal. I could argue that the many shortcomings of running long distances on a treadmill come with their own obstacles, which in my opinion truly make running more difficult. Having done a few runs outside before the weather became too difficult, I can say it was actually quite enjoyable. At the time I was not ready for 26.2 miles. For now I will forget such objections could exist and will simply plod forward on the treadmill towards the finish line and hope it does not drive me to insanity.


At this point the longest run I have successfully completed is sixteen miles. Yesterday I hopped on the stationary running machine and hoped for eighteen miles. Four episodes of The West Wing Season two later, I was struggling to keep my body going and I was running short on my time goal. During my run I had to back off my pace and thus was only nearing sixteen when I needed to finish up and head to a meeting. I was not too disappointed as I had still beaten my longest run on the treadmill by a full mile and I had just gotten another good long run in the bank. Today's run will be a nice short recovery run.


Will I make it to a full marathon distance? I hope. My legs have been hesitantly accepting the new routine and if I can keep putting in enough time on my strengthening exercises and stretching they should continue to be fine. The hardest part for me has been dealing with the acclimation to altitude in combination with the treadmill. I have still not become accustomed to running the pace on the treadmill I usually run back home on the roads. The mental aspect to continuing to run in an unchanging environment, even with the help of television shows, has been trying to say the least. And yet, very slowly, progress has been made. I've decided pace might just have to suffer.


It is my hope I will leave here having added one more continent to my marathon belt, even if folks will add an asterisk to it. It is really something I am doing for me anyway. As I run the dark winter months away down here at the South Pole I hope the rest of you are not taking your wonderful outdoor and ever changing runs for granted. Enjoy them! Get on the trails for me. Go for a few runs in the rain. Run with some friends. For goodness sake, just enjoy it.