chilling feet

chilling feet

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Antarctica : South Pole : Poleympics

This past weekend, as we celebrated the Fourth of July, the South Pole had opening ceremonies for the first annual (or possibly fifty-first annual depending on who you talk to) Poleympic Games. Peter, our station electrician and local man of intrigue, told the station a few months ago he would be hosting these games and has set up a wide range of events for the entire community to compete in by department and state. For example, Sarah and I are competing for the Medical and Materials departments and the state of Tennessee. As you can see in the picture, Peter created a torch (or one of the fanciest lights you will ever see in your entire life, bested maybe only by the fragile leg lamp displayed in the movie A Christmas Story - quite a fitting prize for an electrician to make wouldn't you say?) as the overall prize for the department with the most points. He has also had medals made for individuals who win each event.

What events? Glad you asked. The weekend kicked off with the Beer Can Sprint. We have a tower on station encapsulating a stair case to connect the station proper (where we live and eat) with the underground part of our station (the area with our power plant, storage arches for food, fuel, vehicles, etc). Underground is maybe not the best description as it is mostly an area under arches that have been covered by ice and snow. Anyway, this beer can, as it is called because it resemble a giant metallic beer can, houses a ninety-two stair climb. As a person who works down in the arches this is a climb I make at least twice a day. Even after all this time I am slightly winded by the slow process of walking up each day.  Two main factors: the beer can is not heated and the South Pole is at an elevation of almost 10,000 feet. As I have describe before, the feel of this elevation changes vastly depending on the barometric pressure, allowing our bodies to perceive a greater or lesser elevation depending on the day.

The Beer Can Sprint. An individual time trial straight up the ninety-two steps in a pursuit to defeat all other challengers in full ECW gear. This means all contestants had to wear their cold weather gear issued in Christchurch, New Zealand. Heavy boots, big coats, and Carhartt pants. As a long distance runner I am fully aware of a few personal shortcomings. One, I have never possessed what some people refer to as speed. Two, any speed I may have been able to muster once upon a time has mostly been driven out of my legs by the sheer amount of long distance miles I have accumulated over the years (I also cannot jump anymore). Three, my inner-self cannot tell the difference and always thinks I can win a race out of sheer will power. So, yes, I signed up for this particular race and did my very best to bring home the gold. And, yes, I was soundly defeated and placed fifth, I think, out of the ten or so guys who competed in the beer can sprint. The winning time, by Gavin Chensue, was around about 20.8 seconds, besting me by around just over two seconds. It was a fun event and the guys who competed in it seemed to enjoy themselves.

Our next event was the Individual Sled Pull. Though I may have been deluded enough into thinking I had a chance in the beer can sprint, I was wise enough to know this was an event I should simply watch. Instead of agreeing to drag a sled carrying forty-five pounds from the geographic pole to the ceremonial pole (a distance of around 150 meters give or take - it's dark and hard to tell these days), I agreed to time the event. We only had four brave folks compete in this event. It is outside. It's cold. You have to drag weight. Two people mysteriously forgot they had signed up. I agreed to help time the event and determine a winner, which still meant going outside but got me out of having to drag anything around. Just prior to heading out into the cold Peter whipped out some light up toy light sabers (see picture - I stuck them in the snow around the ceremonial pole so the sled pullers would see where to go) for us to use outside. Yes, I was super excited to have them with me. This event was a grueling man crusher. Our four guys finished and the top three could not move for a while. When we finally made our way inside our top two guys just laid on the floor for about ten minutes before they were willing to go anywhere else. Coughing, with mostly likely slightly burned lungs from the frigid air, and moaning, I was glad I had left this event to others. I have signed up for the team sled pull but that will not take place until next weekend. Hopefully it is not quite as bad.

The next day at noon we had an event in which I was much more comfortable competing. The Poleympics 10k. I have been doing some running since arriving in preparation to try and run a marathon while I am here. This 10k actually fell quite nicely during a time when I needed to try and get a workout in anyway. It is difficult to make myself do too much on these treadmills. The pace is off on the machines making it quite difficult to keep my running self-esteem as I feel I'm running way too slow all the time. Factor in the altitude and the dry climate, and I just feel like crap most of the time while running. The race was fun though. It is a quite different when you are not gaining or losing ground on your competition. The best you can do is set your pace as fast as you think you can handle it and just run. I started by setting my pace at just under seven minutes per mile. Back home I can run this pace all day long and when in the kind of shape I am in now can put in ten to twenty miles feeling quite well. Here this pace is the best I can do just short of dry heaving, being too cotton mouthed to run, and feeling like junk. I slowed the pace down a little for mile four and five and then sped back up for mile six when I was sure I could keep going.

The best part of the run for me was watching a VHS version of the movie Prefontaine as we ran. Not only a great movie about one of America's best distance runners, but a nicely motivating flick to watch while running. I did manage to take home a gold medal in this particular Poleympics event. We only had six runners total and each person really put in some good effort. We were at about 11,000 feet for the day and the six miles were not forgiving. With only three treadmills we divided ourselves into two heats. Sarah ran in heat two and completed her first 10k of running the whole way since college! Her feet betrayed her slightly and she ended up with some really nasty blisters. She ran through them and finished anyway. Way to go Sarah! And then there was the guy who ran a 10k in firefighter gear and on air. Yes, he did. He went through five bottles of air and sweat a ton in all of his gear but he did finish the run. Why? Who knows. Why do we run without the gear? I guess we all have our reasons.

Then we played ping pong. Having rolled the die for the worst spot in the tournament, one of only two non-bi spots, I played Hunter in the first set. No excuses. I am not the ping pong player I should be and I paid the price. I have not put in the hard work to hone the skills I know I have for this particular miniature versions of a real sport. We did not even need to go to our third game as Hunter beat me in the first two games. Head down, I Charlie Browned it right out of the gym in utter disgrace. The one saving point of this whole deal is that later on in the night Hunter, the guy who so soundly dispatched of me, beat the number one seed for the tournament, or the guy everyone is afraid to play. I am now hoping Hunter wins the tournament. It is easier to lose to the best than to some guy who just got beat by another guy later down the road. This is how I'm seeing it anyway. The picture is of Martin and Peter playing the game directly after mine. Martin did not have what it took on this particular day either. When the tournament is over I will write an update.

Those are the only Poleympic events completed/half completed so far. There has been some eight ball games played but no results yet. It was a really fun way to celebrate the Fourth of July weekend down here. We also had some delicious BBQ the cooks whipped up for us and it was super tasty. Oh and you might be wondering about my new haircut. Yes, I currently have a mohawk. Our Materials team decided we would show some real team spirit in preparation for the games and the 4th (well most of our team), and we shaved our hair into some sweet mohawks. Just look at the awesome team pic. 

Till next time...

(Prepared to climb the beer can)
(And I'm a flash)
(working it and watching Pre show me how to run)
(Sarah trucking on through)
(Sarah and Daniel rolling on)

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