Friday, August 30, 2013

“We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.” ~ Anaïs Nin

After months of training and gear planning, I was finally in Iceland enjoying a week of sunny weather in Reykjavik before the race. A few days before I was about to check into the event hotel in Reykjavik, I received my tent assignment. This was all starting to feel very real! The tents were randomly allocated unless you had previously requested to share with someone specific and since I had no team at this event, I was randomly assigned a tent.

When I first saw the list of tent mates I gasped, 2 guys from Australia, 1 guy from Saudi Arabia, 2 from China, 1 from England and a woman from Belgium. All were younger and more experienced than I was and I was already dreading the lack of privacy I was about to encounter. Thankfully these concerns were very short lived, privacy died at the check in hotel when I was assigned a roommate and discovered we had one double bed. There is nothing like sleeping on the same bed together to get to know someone quickly!

Jacqueline, is a 4 deserts member which meant she had done all 4 of the yearly races that Racing the Planet organizes so she had experience and was very generous with her advice about what to leave behind. I resisted on some items but in the end her advice was invaluable, she made me take a bunch of stuff out of my pack that I was not going to need.

Saturday morning we all had to attend a briefing and then it was runner registration and gear check. The volunteers were brilliant and it all went off without a hitch. Soon it was go time and at 2pm on Saturday we boarded buses and started the long bus ride to Camp one. We were assigned buses by tent number and I was thankful that my new friends Gabriel and Lee were on the same bus as me (they were in the tent next to mine). We stopped along the way to look at “Geysir” and then continued on. The four hour journey was a great time to get to know each other.

After driving through some very desolate terrain, we arrived to some awful weather at a relocated Camp One – the original site at Kerlingjafol had literally been blown away and there was no way they could have us stay there. Even the relocated site was very windy and this turned out to be a taste of things to come. My tent mates all seemed really nice but I still had a fitful sleep that night and a dream that I had run away! I wondered if that was wishful thinking!

Because the weather was so bad they not only had there been a change to the camp but also the course for Stage One, we were rerouted to run on the gravel road that we drove on yesterday. It was tough to be on that road all day, endless barren terrain on either side of a dusty road, relentless wind and the occasional bus or truck flying past you at horrendous speeds. The highlight of the day was seeing a Raven, the landscape is so hostile there is very little sign of life and it turns out it was the only big bird I would see all week.

It was good to arrive at Camp 2 after 28 miles on that long road. First priority was to find the tent, take off the pack and refuel. My tent mates were amazing. I joked with Mo and asked him if he had won the day, turns out he had! He kept the lead all through the race. I was the last one in to the tent that evening and yet everyone was really nice. They asked if I needed anything and seemed genuinely happy for me that I made it through the day. I felt windswept but in general really good.

Camp 2 had a cabin where the cyber tent was set up and we were able to eat and hang out in the cabin for a while to get out of the wind. It was a nice opportunity to get to know a few more competitors. I spent the evening talking to a group of runners from America who were running for Runwell. Conversation was mostly about running and food – a lot of talk about food was had during the week.

That night brought another fitful sleep. The wind was relentless and the tents’ fabric billowed all night. Soon enough though it was dawn and time to pack it all up and get going for Stage 2.Right from the start, Stage 2 was defined by the relentless wind. We ran on the same gravel road as yesterday for most of the morning. The upside was that the wind was on our backs, but a couple of runners took the downhill road too aggressively, landed on their faces and were out of the race after receiving medical treatment for facial cuts and a broken rib. Ouch!

Around 10 miles in on Stage 2 we finally left the road and traversed across a desert like landscape towards the glacier. We crossed a river over a bridge, climbed a hill and there we were at the shore of the glacier lake at the foot of Langjökull. The wind was still howling at this time and the glacier lake had 2 foot waves just from the wind. I never felt more alive! The energy at this spot was exceptional.

With the glacier lake behind us we turned a corner and found ourselves on the other side of the mountain where there was no wind. We were in the “land of the trolls”, every rock formation had a face in it. It was truly magical. The silence here was also impressive, it was the first time it had been calm since we began the race.

The calm stayed with us as we descended into the valley leaving the glacier even further behind us. After what felt like the longest final 6 miles to reach the end of Stage 2, there were buses waiting for us at the finish line. Once again the organizers had to move the camp due to the never-ending wind.

Luckily for us, the new location for Camp 3 was calm and it had a stable where we were able to get out of the wind to socialize, eat and use the cybertent. In the morning it was still relatively calm and it looked like it would be good day. After what was now becoming a familiar morning ritual of making food and packing up we were back on the buses on our way to the start line of Stage 3.

Stage 3 was amazing! The sky was blue all day and I knew if I got to the end of this stage that I was very likely to finish. A handful of people had dropped out already and I was determined to stay in good sprits and get through today. It was not hard to stay positive, the scenery today was spectacular. We crossed the area where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet and the rock formations around here were simply spectacular. The road was hard to run on though, it was very rocky and by mile 18 I met up with Raj who was having a rough day. Motivating him helped me stay positive. Although the sun shone all the way until we reached Camp 4 I was thrilled to be done with this stage, I knew now that I would finish the race.

Camp 4 itself was a dustbowl. It was set up behind a hill and it felt like we were in a wind tunnel. It felt oddly familiar to have the wind back after the calm day before but it did not leave much desire for socializing so I landed up going to the tent early. Another fitful sleep … this was the theme most nights … and it was back to packing up and heading out for Stage 4.

Stage 4 started off with a short run over moss covered lava fields and then through a lava tube. Going through the lava tube meant crawling on all fours over rocks through a cave made of lava for about a quarter mile. It was quite an incredible experience and in some way it felt like a privilege to be able to experience it. It is not every day one gets that deep inside the earth, and a very new earth at that.

After the cave I headed out through the lava fields feeling quite energized but by around mile 14 I realized I might have gone out too hard in the morning . It was around this time I met up with Raj again. I was really glad to have him around that day, he lifted my spirits when I was feeling a little rough and we stuck together all the way until we got back to camp. Once we passed Thingvellir and some farms we started to climb and we started to cross over geo thermal fields. At one of the check points the volunteers had boiled eggs for us. The eggs had been boiled in the geothermal lake. It was the Best Egg Ever! After 5 days of rehydrated food a fresh egg was incredible. It also gave me much needed energy to get over the next couple of hills.

There was a storm brewing and we had to move fast to get to camp. We were 20 minutes away from camp when the skies opened up. By the time we arrived at camp I was soaked to the bone. My waterproof pants were no longer waterproof after days of wind and I had been wearing a water resistant layer that had not handled the last 20 minutes well and it was drenched.

That evening after I had dried off, I made dinner and went back to the tent to sleep and get ready for Stage 5, the long stage. Camp 5 could have been nice but the rain did not let up and during the night we all got soaked in the tents. In the morning everyone in the tent was sure they would not let us start the race since it was still raining and it was the long stage ahead. It was really a dreadful thought knowing we would be out all day in wet weather and for 41 miles!! They did however make us start which was a blessing in the end, I don’t think we could have stayed in that valley where the camp was much longer, we needed to get moving.

Besides the rain Stage 5 started out fine, I knew what lay ahead and I knew I had a lot of time to do it in. My goal was to get to the finish by the time the sun went down. (10pm.) The weather was awful at the start and did not improve. After an entire morning of rain, we had near gale force headwinds approaching the black sand beach. The poncho I had put on in the morning completely disintegrated but I got so fired up by the wind on the beach and I just wanted to get the hell away from the sand blowing onto me so I pushed pretty hard to move forward and at the check point at the end of the beach I was happy to find out that I was already at half way!

After the beach we had a mile long scramble over lava rocks on the beach. It was pretty treacherous at times but also quite exhilarating and my legs enjoyed the different muscles being used. After the lava rocks the trail took us through a kind of a wasteland of marine trash, it was odd, there was a lot of green but scattered throughout the fields were bits of fishing or boating debris. The weather was turning bad again after a brief respite but the wind was on our backs most of the time, I met up with several competitors that I had seen on previous days and we shared a few miles together. Although the final road was very long I knew it was almost over. I made it to the finish line at 9:45pm, there was a bus waiting.

They had arranged for us to stay in a gymnasium in a small village after the long stage so we could rest and recover before stage 6. The gymnasium was heated and it had showers and we also had access to our drop bags that contained a pair of dry pants, a clean top, a swimsuit and warm socks. After not having washed in 6 days a hot shower and clean clothes were the nicest things ever.

We hung out in the gymnasium all of Friday while our shoes dried. I had a sleeping spot by Gabriel, Lee, Chris and Veronica from Runwell. We sat around most of the day and ate as much as we could get our hands on. (There was a lot of trading for food.) I was also convinced to go for a swim in the pool next door. The Icelanders have such a great culture of public pools most towns have one and they are all geothermal. I slept pretty well that night – finally.

On Saturday morning we were back on the bus looking for the start line for Stage 6, this would be the last 10k of the race and would take us to the Blue Lagoon and the official finish. This last section was beautiful, lava rocks covered with moss, I stumbled a few times and eventually fell about 5km from the finish. My only injury of the race was this scrape on the knee and it happened just as I took my mind off the race. I was thinking about what I would do when I was finished! The fall did made me laugh though and I got my mind back into the race and finally I was super happy to finish.

Lee and Gabriel were at the finish line, so was Mo (amazing tent mate and winner) as well as other happy finishers and volunteers. Everyone was so happy, what a moment to enjoy. 250km done and dusted! There was meat soup on offer and after I inhaled a cup of it and some bread, I made my way to the Blue Lagoon to soak my weary body and celebrate.

Back at the hotel the first thing I did was get a sandwich and lie in the bed for a few hours. I was still in awe that I had completed the race and that I stayed intact. I did feel pretty spent though, that I can’t deny, but I did feel an overwhelming sense of accomplishment. I could see that same sense of accomplishment on peoples faces at the awards banquet that evening.

I am so grateful for the friendships I made. I was anxious about meeting my tent mates and they turned out to be the most wonderful generous people you could ever meet - after every stage they would welcome me back to the tent and even though they were runners in the front of the pack they were so humble about their efforts of the day.

There were many competitors I made friends with along the way; there were The Vikings! (Chris and Jakes) who taught me to sing “God Bless America” during the long stage. Ted and George who always had great conversation. Gabriel and Lee who were a shining light at the end of every stage, Raj and VeeJay with whom I shared many miles with, they were both so generous with their spirit and for that I am thankful and I am glad to know Veronica from the Bay Area who showed more tenacity and determination than I have ever seen in anyone. So proud of her finish.

I feel so lucky to have had this experience; to have seen the scenery and met so many amazing people from all over the world who share a love for this kind of activity is a blessing. I genuinely miss the people I met. I feel like for a week we were a tribe and I guess for that week, we were.

For the official press release from Racing The Planet look here.


  1. WOW! I'm not at all surprised you finished this - I've seen your determination before. But all that wind, that rain, the boring gravel road start; those are all things that would have been very challenging to me. It's SO cool you chose to do this, did it, and came out of it so well! Thanks for sharing all this!

  2. Yay!!! Now we are Extreme Marathon sisters :)Well done my friend. Awesomeness!