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NEXT ROVING RACE: MADAGASCAR 2014

RacingThePlanet: Iceland 2013 Blogs

The Sprint Home and Wrap Up
27-Aug-2013 01:28:25 AM [(GMT-05:00) Eastern Time(US & Canada)]

"The miracle isn't that I finished. The miracle is that I had the courge to start." -- John "The Penguin" Bingham

 

We completed the 40 mile long march in horrible conditions... the wind and weather were so bad, we were evacuated to a secondary camp site that happened to be a community gymnasium.  Rather than another two nights on hard rock, listening to the wind howl against the tent walls as the rain came down -- we had the wonderful confines of a hardwood floor and a HOT shower in the attached locker room.  Some of the purists grumbled, but there would have been a riot if they had tried to stop people from getting their first bath in a week.

 

The race is organized so that people could have two days to complete the long march, if necessary.  If slower runners didn't make cutoff times at the checkpoints, they could shelter in place for a few hours of rest before continuing.  Given the 20+ hours of daylight in Iceland in August, everyone managed to make the time cut offs -- and as word spread that camp was going to be indoors that night, there was no way in hell people were going to hole up at the half way point.  I suspect a few people who decided to quit were beaten by the brutal weather and then too tempted to get indoors and warm....

 

So we spent the whole day inside, resting in our bags and waiting for the final 6mile run to the finish line.  If you looked at any of us, you wouldn't believe that we could run 6 yards, much less miles.  I had started to blister badly on the ball of my foot at around mile 35, but also my ankles and knees were finally and truly shot from the terrain. I had reached bottom on the long march at the checkpoint just after mile 33 -- my knees were starting to throb, and I reached into my front pack for my emergency stash of ibuoprofen and tylenol to just get me the rest of the way.  I pulled out the ziplok baggie to find that my spork had punched a hole in it, and the bag was now waterlogged.  Looking at the goopy paste of advil and tylenol, I turned the bag inside out and sucked the mushed up stuff still in it.  It was a grim moment that defined "I'll do anything right now for a hit of pain killers."  If there had been a nearby pharmacy, I may have threatened the owner to bash his head with one of the readily available lava rocks for a frigging advil gelcap....  again, Thank God for Vitamin I -- even if I had to use dissolved pills like an oxycontin freak.

 

As we came to life the morning of the final stage, most of the runners were barely walking.  It took me about 10 minutes to get to a kneeling position out of my sleeping bag, and then Gabriel helped lift me to a chair so I could begin the daily ritual of bandaging my feet.  If there had been a betting line as to whether many of us could get those last 6 miles in, it would have done brisk business.  One uplifting moment was when I strapped up my backpack -- now devoid of all food, it felt outrageously light.  Given a half ration of water and no more consumables, it weighed more like 12 lbs than 30.  With this one positive thought providing a lift, it was time to get it done.

 

We had to be bused back to the starting line for the final stage -- which was described yet again as 5 miles of "difficult" terrain.  Unsurprisingly, we were starting out again downhill through lava rock, before crossing a highway and onto a gravel path to the Blue Lagoon.  We worked our way from the bus to the starting line, unfortunately yet again starting out in a not great position where a lot of slower runners would be bottlenecking up in front of us and slowing our pace.  Still, having threatened the life of at least one of my teammates if he pushed to run too hard through that rock, I wasn't expecting more than a leisurely pace anyway.

 

And yet...when the countdown finished and we were off.... and compared to 40 miles the prior stage, this was a damn near sprint.  Although still caught at the back of the pack in too much traffic, having to wait where the runners lined up single file down some of the rocky hillside, we hauled ass anywhere we could down the final stretch. Downhill, through the broken terrain, all I could think about was getting this over with -- the only motivation at this point was being DONE.  No explanation for where the energy came from, other than pure adrenalin of knowing the end was near.

 

We came to the gravel track that indicated we were less than 2 km out -- and there, in the rain and wind we found our friend Lilly from Stage 4. With a big smile, she joined up with us and said she wanted to cross the finish line together with the Hombres de Maiz.  With about 250 meters to go, we were joined by our tent-mate Martin, who had sufficiently recovered from bad leg injuries and problem after we helped get him in from Stage 4 to be able to run it out today.  As we came over the rise, through the spitting rain, we saw the finish line and cheering crowd.  I could easily spot my family as Raimundo had arranged for matching bright green jackets for all the teammates' family members who had come out to see us.  The Guatemalans pulled out their country flag, and the race organizers and volunteers started chanting "Hombres de Maiz!", our war cry as we approached each checkpoint.  The final push to the finish line was met with huge hugs and tears. 

 

My girls crowded all over me, hugging me and holding any part of me they could grab.  Catherine's first comment though, was "Daddy.... you smell REALLY bad!"   Although the warm shower in the gym had helped, wearing the same shirt for 6 days and 155 miles had done its damage.  Allison was quick with a kiss and big smile.  Paul Gennari and his wife Teri had also made the trip -- Paul said there was no way he was going to miss seing this through to the end, and I think he was just as proud as I was.  We had a tent reunion as we cheered for Iris as she came across the finish line (Christian, of course, had raced through at a fast pace and finished in the top 30 overall), with cheers and kisses.  The Hombres de Maiz team exchanged our jerseys with our new Swiss friends, with smiles and laughs about the shared adventure.

 

After some recovery time at the Blue Lagoon, we caught the awards dinner that evening.  Our team placed second, behind a wonderful and strong Irish team that ran consistently every day, working well together and staying injury free. The Irish team consisted of two active duty officers and a female runner who had auditioned for their effort -- they were fantastic, talented, and wonderful people.  Real credit, though, is also due to the Chinese team that came in 3rd.  After they bonked on the 4th stage, one of their teammates suffered a bad leg injury going into the 40 mile long march.  Rather than drop out and disqualify the entire team, they came to the decision that they would carry on together -- through absolutely punished weather, and unforgiving terrain. I really don't know how they did it, but they must have carried their injured teammate most of the way -- taking almost 18 hours to finish that day. The final stage's difficult terrain posed even more of a challenge, and they were the last people to cross the finish line at 3.5 hours to do those last 7 miles.  It was an absolutely heroic effort, and I don't think our team would have survived that, or even attempted to stay together.

 

The Overall Winner, Saudi Mo Foustok, was not only an artist in terms of running across the varied terrain, but a true gentleman.  Always quick with a warm smile in camp, Mo finished the 40 mile day in just over 6 hours.  After getting warmed up, rather than staying in camp, he asked to return to the stage 5 finish line (in those hellish conditions), where he stayed for hours with just a few race volunteers to cheer in all of us schlubs as we dragged ourselves to the end -- congratulating us and cheering us the final few yards.  At the race's end, when I introduced him to my children, rather than say anything about himself, he kneeled down to my smallest daughters and said "Aren't you proud of your Dad? He did an AMAZING thing!"  At the awards banquet, Mo's victory speech consisted of praising all the ordinary runners who fought and struggled to finish -- his best quotation -- "I could learn many things from you -- your commitment and desire and will to go on despite the conditions, for that long a period of time -- I don't think I could do what you did."  He was true grace and nobility by example and in victory.

 

Our final result was a time of 42 hours, 43 minutes.  We finished 101st out of 270 starters, putting us just around the top 40% overall and for our age group. Just around 220 runners finished -- a much lower dropout than the desert races, but the big danger of dehydration was not a factor (lol).  Apart from a few hypothermia cases (thankfully they eliminated the two river crossings, by order of the Medical Director), insanely nasty and unrecoverable foot blisters, broken/sprained ankles or injured knees did in the most people.  There were other runners, including our great tent-mate Sergio, who were toppled over in the strong winds and fell onto the jagged lava rocks -- sustaining head injuries that required medical attention and lots of stitches. Half the runners had completed at least one 150m race before Iceland – with a considerable percentage of them adventure race junkies who are committed to endurance racing as their passion.  Many of them have already booked for Madagascar in a year, or the Sahara desert in the Spring.

 

In review of my “rookie” effort, there was a lot of room for improvement.  I was almost over trained for the distance, having completed so many stair workouts, and multiple 15-30 mile trail runs.  But my poor balance and lack of confidence in the worst of the rocky terrain slowed us down considerably, and it was frustrating to see trekkers who we had passed earlier on the runnable portions of the course go past us as they used their trekking poles to navigate ground that had me slowed to a crawl.  Balance work in the gym would have been helpful. Similarly, I could have done more to toughen my feet for the pounding they took – dirt trail running wasn’t enough.  We made some tactical errors too in starting each stage at the back of the pack (I usually didn’t make it to the starting line until 5 minutes before the start, which held up my teammates), and then being stuck in bottlenecks where the terrain only allowed single file running added hours to our time. For example, we lost well over an hour in the lava tunnel of stage 4, stuck behind some competitors who froze up going through the dark narrow caves – while earlier competitors shot through in less than 20 minutes. Finally, I carried way too much weight in my pack – close to 30lbs,. vs. the race leaders who had less than 15. While I had marginally better, and more, food – it wasn’t worth lugging that much extra weight 155 milles up and down hills. That being said, these are the types of criticisms that are easily done back in the warmth and comfort of my home – versus just focusing on making it to the next checkpoint. I was fortunate to have supportive teammates who allowed me to “learn” as I went.

 

It wasn’t the weather that made the race tough – at least for those of us from Northern climates.  The cold and rain was fairly typical New England weather, between December and March.  Running headlong into 60mph+ wins was brutal and sapped your energy, but also survivable. It was the debilitating effect of constant and prolonged exposure the combination of conditions, while putting up huge mileage, that wore you down.  Running a marathon in a Nor-Easter, and then having to sleep on the rocky ground in the freezing cold before turning around and having to do it again (for SIX days) – that combination was rough. But I have to say, without a doubt the toughest factor for me was the terrain. Those frigging lava rocks just crushed my feet and ankles.  Imagine walking down a rocky beach or lakeshore barefoot to the water, where you keep stepping on sharp rocks that hurt like hell – and then imagine that for 155 miles. It sucked.  My running shoes look like someone took a machete to the soles and hacked gouges out of the treads, followed by a Rottweiler chewing on them for a while.

 

If you looked at all the competitors who completed the whole race, you would see all different ages, body types, and levels of athleticism.  These runners had one thing in common – resiliency. They had the unwavering belief that, despite the conditions and pain, they would keep going. It was a great mindset to learn from.  I have been asked many times if it was “fun.”  HELL NO.  But it was worthwhile.  Every morning, after a sleepless night on the rocky ground, in a cold and wet tent, you would have to get up.  Your leg muscles ached and your knees screamed – just getting out of the sleeping bag hurt. You worked on prepping your feet for a few minutes – taping up blisters and then coating them in Desitin Zinc Oxide Diaper Rash medicine, followed by Body Glide.  You threw on a nasty, wet shirt for the nth time, loaded up a pack on your sore back, and then walked out into the howling wind and rain – to run at least 30 miles on the worst terrain imaginable. The enjoyment was in the grim determination and satisfaction that as miserable as you were, you were going to do it.  That NOT going forward was somehow worse.  And just as importantly, you had several teammates you had committed to, who were right there suffering alongside you. 

 

Before I sign off, it would be criminal to not thank a few people.  First, we were very fortunate to be paired up with some fantastic tentmates during our journey – Sergio from Chile, who was set to win his age class before high winds on the second day and a bad fall on rock left him with an 8 inch gash in his face and head, a bunch of stitches, a mild concussion, and a forced withdrawal. He stayed for the duration of the race to encourage the rest of us, and even better, shared some wonderful prosciutto he had brought along which got us through the long march.  And our new Swiss friends – Martin, Iris and Christian – they are friends for life and we hope to see them in New York (and Guatemala).  We had many long laughs that made the nightly and morning suffering more bearable. Thank you for your friendship.

 

There are several people in New York that were instrumental in helping me prepare. Dr. Drew DeMann of Manhattan Spine & Sports Medicine gave me a 11th hour tune up that was hugely important – I was having knee pain for a week going into the race, and his assessment, expertise, treatment and support the morning of my flight was absolutely critical. Drew has always been a friend that is there in good time and bad, and he gave me the confidence to push through the pain during the race without worrying about injury. The physical therapy he gave me before I left was fantastic – the psychological therapy of allowing me to feel good about pushing myself was invaluable.

 

Not enough can be said about our trainer, and my close friend Paul Gennari.  When I approached Paul last November and said “I want to do a 150 mile ultra marathon endurance race”, despite my overweight condition and 10 years of inactivity, his immediate response was “If you listen to me and do what I tell you, you’ll get there.”  Any success I had to this race is due to Paul’s guidance, support, and friendship. This successful race is as much his victory as mine – hours of running stairs and gym workouts only tell part of the story. His faith is the most important part.

 

Of course, my family was hugely supportive of this ridiculous endeavor. Allison allowed me to disappear many Saturday and Sunday mornings for 6-8 hours on long training runs and hikes – yet again leaving her with the burden of handling 4 kids on weekend mornings.  She cheered me every step of the way, and helped with all of the logistics as well.  Again, this was a selfish activity that took me away from my family for more hours than can be justified, and I couldn’t have done it without their support.

 

Lastly, not enough can be said about my teammates on the Hombres de Maiz.  I effectively crashed Ramiro and Gabriel’s race, as they had already entered months before I signed on.  They were exceptionally graceful (and dangerously optimistic) about allowing a fat rookie gringo to join their effort – having won the Atacama Desert Race several years earlier.  Ramiro had completed 3 endurance races before this, and his strength was admirable.  Gabriel, a veteran of Eco Challenges as well as ultra marathons, became a very solid leader and his support got me through many tough moments – the lava cliffs may have finished me off without his support at my side.  But Raimundo will always be my hero in this experience.  Having sworn to never do this kind of race again, he agreed to do it if I committed.  Raimundo not only handled most of our logistics (and amazing gear), but was the heart of our team in so many ways.  When we came across struggling runners, his instant decision was always to help others, regardless of our discomfort or desire to move forward.  An accomplished ironman triathlete and part of the winning Atacama team, Raimundo’s true strength lies in his Christian character and focus on others.  I could not ask for a better friend.

 

I can’t thank you all enough for your many messages, cheers, and words of encouragement that you wrote on my blog during the race.  The allotted 15 minutes of internet time to read messages from home were absolutely critical – it means a lot to me and made a real difference.   While the day I finished the race, I swore I would NEVER again do anything like this, if any of you got some crazy idea to take one of these races on….. think about Sahara 2015.  Because if I could do it, you can too – and doing it with friends makes all the difference.

 

With love to you all,

R

Stage 5
09-Aug-2013 07:48:49 AM [(GMT+08:00) Beijing, Chongqing, Hong Kong, Urumqi]

One more night....in a leaking wet tent Woke up at about 2AM to a pool of water by my head;  fortunately I had put my rain poncho down on the floor below my sleeping bag.  But started the next morning with cold and wet clothes. Didn't matter much, as it was rainy and windy from the moment we stepped outside.
40 miles today for the "long march" to the sea.... and rain and high winds from the get go. We started down the hillside down a narrow rutted horse trail, but making good time. Then.... another lava slope for several kilometers with no trail and picking steadily through the rock. The winds again built steadily and was a straight headwind that intensified as we came off the mountains and headed to the ocean.  No runnable trails at all for the first 12 miles.
There is only one way to do this thing -- a checkpoint at a time. Like the old saying, "How do you eat a whale? One bite at a time."  As JG always said "It's a long race.....think about yourself at the finish line and then plan your way back to the start." That was really good advice, and I just focused on the next checkpoint -- "I can do 7 miles easy...."
Early in the race, I decided that if my mind started to get down, I would focus on mental pictures of my kids, one at a time -- Isabel from mile 5 to 15, Catherine until 25, Jojo until 35, and Caroline to bring me home.  I would get a negative thought, and then instantly try to flash their picture in my head to give me a little extra push and get my mind set back on track.  It really helped a lot -- more when I get home and finish, but the #1 most important attribute needed to do this thing is not athleticism, but actually positive attitude and resiliency.  And thinking about my girls helped when I did lose focus.
When we turned the corner at mile 13, leaving just under 27 to go, our team said  "just a marathon to go...." Raimundo yelled "Welcome to the 2013 New York City Marathon!" and started singing New York New York, like they do at the beginning of the race at home at the Verrazano Bridge.  Nothing like running a half marathon to GET to the marathon. 
We got onto a gravel track (more rock), and an absolutely bitter headwind. Yes, the rain was still driving. But we ran for a solid 10 miles into the face of 50mph+ winds right to the coast.  Two women from Colardo fell in with us, as well as two Brits, and we took turns running in pairs at the front so that everyone else could draft behind us. By the way, the women had racing resumes that would make your jaw drop -- older than us by a number of years, they had done several eco-challenges, NZ Southern Traverses, multiple stage races, and all the premier desert races.... No wonder as soon as we hit the beach and the head wind faded, they took off.  They used their trekking poles like masters, and finished way, way, way ahead of us.
When we reached the black sand beach, the headwinds became a cross rind, and we were able to run along the packed black sand on the Southern Iceland coast.  The sand was being whipped so hard that all our sunglasses are etched, and you had to cover your entire face from being scratched up.There is no land between there....and Antartica.  Huge waves threw foam that literally came down like confetti in the wind way up the beach.  It felt great to run on the sand.  And then.....we hit the new lava hell.
Coming off the beach, we went along lava cliffs where molten lava had literally poured all the way to the ocean from the mountains, and had cooled in slabs and boulders.  You had to climb up and down rocks as the ocean crashed to the side, 20 feet below, sending foam up over the top.  This was tough, both mentally and physically. And I was fried..... without a doubt, my lack of confidence in my balance and footing is the biggest detriment to our times. But we all picked our way through slowly, as trekkers with poles that we had dusted on the beach and in the headwind running caught us.  Although the mileage was short (less than 1), it felt like it was never going to end, and we lost a lot of time there.  When we got done and hit the earth, Raimundo turned and broke down, giving me a huge hug. For some reason, this small obstacle really pushed us.
From there, more running, more rain, and more wind. Just more of the same as we ran through sand dunes and tundra grass, until we got to the last long 5 mile gravel road.  My feet have been absolutely pounded by these rocks.  We ran by the freshwater lake where Allison and I went winter snorkeling last November, to the famous cliffs of the Viking Parliament (Game of Thrones films scenes there, including "the Wall".
At  5 miles, we saw one of our tent mates, Martin, limping in front of us. Martin is a very strong runner and usually beat us in by at least an hour every day.... and we had somehow caught him at mile 35.  He saw us and we knew he was totally, completely bonked. Shins, knees, some weird blood knot in his leg.  Raimundo made a very, very easy call --- "Martin -- we're going to run it in with you the whole way."  The guy looked so relieved to have the company -- apparently he had bonked at around mile 15 and had gutted it out for another 20.  We shifted to a shuffle run when he could, and walked when he couldn't, and just grunted it the rest of the way.  Martin is from Switzerland and has been a fantastic tentmate.... it actually felt like a privilege to help him get in safely, and probably an hour or more faster than how he was moving before we got there.  We got to the "finish line" in under 11 and a half hours -- there was actually no finish line as the high winds had mandated that all equipment be removed.  With the driving rain and insane winds, the course organizers were forced to break camp and move us to a gym at the nearest town to avoid mass hypothermia.  Some runners were out there until well after midnight, and I can't imagine how mentally strong they were to gut it out for that long in that hell.
There was a big hug and some crying (Raimundo, as usual).  We only have 6 miles to go tomorrow, listed as "difficult" broken train for 5, and a gravel track to the Blue Lagoon.  The posted race times have been screwed up for the past few days (they had us for a 17 hour stage 3, when we did it in 7, for example), and we are in a dogfight for 2nd place against the Chinese team, who bonked in Stage 4.
Good thoughts for tonight, lots of Vitamin I (Ibuprofen is the only thing keeping most of us going.... I don't have a joint that isn't screaming in pain). The course designers are true sadists.... the downnhill gravel paths take out your knees, then the lava rocks take out your ankles, then the narrow rutted paths wreck yo ur hips.  After the other 150 miles, 6 miles seem short -- but right now the 50 yard hobble to the porta-potty seems like an odyssey.
Best to all and thanks for the messages -- I owe you all so much for taking the time to give me encouragement on this ridiculously pointless and selfish effort....
R
Stage 4
07-Aug-2013 03:04:22 AM [(GMT+08:00) Beijing, Chongqing, Hong Kong, Urumqi]

 roc
We are oveer 100 miles into the race, with the long day tomorrow to get us to 150.  Today is a tough day to put in words that sum up feelings, but it was memorable. 
After a horrible night of little sleep, we tried to channel some positive momentum from yesterday (pre- lava rock "highway to hell"). The stage started with a half kilometer cross-country leg on broken tundra grass -- the trekkers wih poles actually found themselves ahead as the runners picked their way through the terrain.  We got to a lava tunnel, and had a 400 meter underground spelunking challenge. It was cool, but we got there towards the back of the pack as we didn't get to the front of the start and got caught up in the grass. What should have taken 20 minutes turned into an hour plus grind as their was a long line to get into the tunnel single file, and we ended up trapped behind a few "bottlenecks" who were extremely slow coming through.
By the time we got out of the tunnel and did some more no-trail tufted grass running, our 10k (6 mile) time was approaching 2hours.  Another rough start.  But we turned it around as the second stage consisted of mostly running, through 12 inch  deep wheel ruts.  Although the ruts were narrower than my hips, meaning we had to run "fashion model" style swinging your hips, we turned it on and started passing groups that were well ahead of us in the lava tubes.  By the end of stage 2, we were humming.
I had lead our pace through that section, and we were running 10 minute miles.  But I started to mentally crash. The lack of sleep, sore legs, etc... combined with the rising headwinds to put me down.  And by mile 13 (over 90 miles in), my head was in a bad place -- all the other problems and complexities in life started creeping into my thoughts -- just attitude killers.
And then something just broke through. I thought "I need to channel this into a goal RIGHT now."  So I focused on catching the next group of runners, and then the next.....and the next after that.  We ended up passing half the field before the finish line....one at a time. 
At mile 16 or so, the course hit the mountains (more like hills in Iceland -- 900 meters).  The next 7 miles were all uphill, through the mountain pass towards the coast.... in a steady 40 mile per hour headwind the whole way trying to take us off the hill.  I had one of the strongest moments of my race -- Paul Gennari, if you are reading this stuff.....the stair work was not in vain.  I crushed the mountain climb and hurt a lot of people catching them.  That's all you Paul!
So from a disastrous start, we ended up with a great day.  Taking out the lava tunnel bottleneck, we ran 24+ miles in about 6 hours -- including 862 meters of mountain climb. 
Another highlight of the day was that at the second checkpoint, a Chinese girl asked to run with us. Lily is from Shanghai, and I think she weighs 100lbs.  Happy person, and she jumped right into our pace  When we hit the headwinds and the mountain climb, she tucked in right behind me and Raimundo and drafted her way up the hill. I'm not sure she would have made it. But she went the rest of the distance with us..  The best part was at Mile 23-- we caught and blew by the Chinese team that had an hour head start on us (they have dropped to 2nd place as an amazing Irish team is crushing the field).  Not only was that personally fulfilling, but also they looked at Lily in absolute shock -- that she was going to beat them to the stage finish and had passed them in the mountains.  She started to fade with less than a mile to go but there was no way we were going to drop her -- we waited up and cheered her in. Just  great.
Quick hot meal tonight and then sleep. I am beyond dead.  We ran a lot of 10 minute miles today, and pushed the climb.  And it is raining torrentially right now -- the wind and rain would qualify this as a Nor'Easter in the States.  I feel for the runners still stuck in the hills.  But tomorrow's long march brings us 95% of the way home. By the time I read any of your responses, I will be done with 150 of the 156 miles. Love to  you all -- RM
STAGE 3
06-Aug-2013 07:23:57 AM [(GMT+08:00) Beijing, Chongqing, Hong Kong, Urumqi]

130 kilometers or so down -- just over half way. After last night's beautiful (although freezing) campsite, we woke up to the bluest skies and NO WIND.  Spirits across the entire race were high to see the sun, and we started the race in picture-perfect conditions. Today's stage was called "black sand paradise", and it was a great name.  We ran through the black sands, framed by dark cliffs on both sides with glaciers higher up.  The cross country portions were (as usual) hideous, as the tufted grass required you to hop from step to step.  But you couldn't get a better day, and our team needed it after yesterday's tough points. 18-20 miles of the day was on runnable ash and sand, and we kept a decent pace on most of them.
This was the first start where I could see the competitive individual runners start, and it was just amazing.  Somehow, they have managed to pack their mandatory food and kit requirements in under about 12 lbs -- less than half my pacl.  And they shot out of the starting line like they were fired out of a cannon.  They are unbelievable athletes on broken terrain, almost surfing the loose rock downhills and never slowing.
Which brings us to the last 4 or so miles of today's course.  Every day, the course director finds a way to absolutely screw the "runners" and slow them to a crawl, while the adventure racers power through.  Today, at mile 22, we ended up on a lava rock gravel road -- freshly laid pumice stones about the size of baseballs that shifted under your feet, with very sharp edges.  We went from a jog/run to a crawling walk. We did 22 miles in 5.5 hours, and took 4 hours to do the last 4.  Lots of people limping into camp just because of that last stretch, cursing up a storm.  The medical tent is full of blister cases.
For me, I felt very strong today -- somewhere around mile 60, my knee pain faded out, and I felt totally healthy for the first time in the race. Paul Gennari should be laughing -- he calls me the tin man as I usually need 100 flights of stairs just to get the creaks out.  Before the Lava Rock "Highway to Hell", I was all systems go. Tonight is going to call for some footcare.
The team got through some close calls of intra-squad homicide from yesterday and all were relaxed today.  But we've gone through the full repertoire of jokes -- punchlines like "Timbuktu" and "He Says You're Gonna Die" etc....  Sven and the Peachy Baboon also made an appearance. 
I can't tell you how much I appreciate the news, emails, and comments. I just waited an hour for the cybertent computer access, before I started working on my feet tomorrow and preparing my gear.  Messages from home have been a great motivator and I owe you all a huge amount. With love -- RM
Day 2--
05-Aug-2013 06:37:38 AM [(GMT+08:00) Beijing, Chongqing, Hong Kong, Urumqi]

Wow -- 28 more miles down in just a crazy day.  The weather stayed dry last night and today, which was fantastic.  But the temperature plunged to about 28 degrees and the wind maintained a steady 35 mph blow. Our campsite last night was on hard hard rock.... and Allison, you can appreciate that taking the "heavy" pad was the right choice and the envy of my teammates.  As one of the Appalachian Trail hiking bloggers I followed said, "there's ultra-light....and stupid light!"  So it was a tough night sleep.  We've got a great group of tentmates, a couple from Switzerland with one of their friends, and a Chilean Doctor named Sergio.  It's a good group that has looked out for each other.  Unfortunately, Sergio (the strongest runner) got blown off stride by the strong winds and wiped out on the lava rocks. Very bad luck, but he is sticking around to help as a volunteer on the medical staff.
 
Yesterday's knee pain and sore feet weren't feeling great this morning, but some quick "Vitamin I"  (ibuprofen)  had me serviceable by start time.  Man was it cold, and our teammates from warmer climes really had a very tough time with the conditions. olar Bear northerners with extra "insulation" didn't mind so much.  The race started with a long downhill, with that 30 mph tailwind. We were flying on a rocky dirt track.  We caught the Chinese leading team a couple miles in, and stayed on their heels with some pressure and feeling good. That changed around mile 6, at the first very steep big uphill. We slowed to fast walk the hill....and the Chinese guys didn't slow one bit -- same speed as the downhill.  That pretty much cleared up the issue of whether we could contend.... and it was a good thing as three team members have barking knees.  Some of the guys were feeling the effects of the sleepless nights and extreme wind and cold, so we settled in to our own race.
We held up at a very good pace, running the flats and downhills (of which there was a lot) and walking the rises.  Beautiful, beautiful rugged scenery.  The course was interruted by several miles of un-tracked rock lava fields, which slowed me down as I have horrible balance. After mile 15, we droped down into a valley and crossed over a stair bridge above a rushing glacier stream.  But after we entered that ash rock valley of death, conditions changed.  WInd came tunneling through there at a steady 40 mh rush, directly head on.  There were times where you literally got turned around by the wind, or blown off step.  At the far end of the valley, we had a steep, no trail straight vertical 1,500 foot climb into what was measured as 60mph+ headwinds.  Our time could be measured in hours per mile, rather than the other way around.  It took us almost 2 hours to clear the 1.75 mile stretch.  But the view from the to was simply spectacular and made the day.  The valley behind us, and two massive glaciers in front.  We came down the far side, to the shores of the glacier lake -- ice spilling right down into the sea. While it was a small lake (about the size of Quaker Lake in Pawling), the winds had whipped up ocean-lake waves against the shore. Another climb at the end, and then we settled down into a long track of broken downhills for the last 8-9 miles.  Taking out the valley/mountain wind tunnel, our time wasn't far off from the day before, despite the busted knees and tired legs.  We probably ran 70% of the way.
Our camp for tonight was substituted again, as wind and sleeting rain conditions shut down the original location.  Instead, we are camped out in a farmer's field --- it looks almost EXACTLY like Montana in Springtime. Nice soft grass under the tent too and warmer conditions. Morale sharply improved, which was very much needed on Team Hombres.  Tomorrow is a shorter stage, but it feels good to have 56 miles or so down.  A lot of runners dropped today with injuries given the wind conditions.  A lot of people stick around to help volunteer....but there is a bus taking people back to Reykjavik tonight as well.
Thanks everyone for the blog messages.... we all line up at the cyber tent as soon as we come off the course! I owe you all for the encouragement -- not it's time for my freeze dried dinner of what is supposedly "lasagna with meat sauce" but looks a lot like dog vomit....
Stage 1
04-Aug-2013 03:51:02 AM [(GMT+08:00) Beijing, Chongqing, Hong Kong, Urumqi]

28 miles down.... And what a first day.  We left Reyjavik in buses, and drove four hours. Our original campsite and stage one course was scrapped because of dangerously high winds and cold weather.....which still made for a wild windy night.  Morning came, with light rain and high winds.... The good news was that the planned river crossing at mile 20 for 50 meters in waist high water was also rerouted because mass hypothermia sounded like a bad idea to the medicaldirector.....
At 8 am, the race kicked off and 200 of us started running through a tough 30mph headwind and light rain.  todays stage was almost entirely on gravel road because of the course change, which made it actually tougher because the course changed from a downhill shot on ash and dirt to very rutted gravel.  still, the rain stopped and the sun came out. Despite the cold and eind, spirits were high.  it reminded me of running in Cambridge during the Winter.
We ran past two amazing glaciers (long glacier may have been one of them), and some beautiful, wild and rough glacier fed rivers (thankfully we were pardoned this morning from running THROUGH them).  our team power walked the uphills and ran the flats and downhills.  i felt strong until about 16, before my knees and feet started feeling the effects of the rutted, rocky gravel road.  my teammates  were all Fantastic.  gabriel (elected captain) fended off some early mutinies and kept us together.  it’s not easy being team leader when every member runs his own company!  Raimundo and Ramiro kept up a great pace and were generous in allowing the weakest link(me) some extra walk time to get acclimated to how you run these things.  We kept within sight of the lead time, and hope that some recovery time tonight loosens up our muscles for a good showing tomorrow.
Every day we get mail around 4pm local time, throughthe racingtheplanet service (cant check our own email).  the messages we receive are NOT private, so if you send anything,i would love to hear from you and keep it clean! No anthony weiner selfies!
Love to my family --RM
Pre Race
03-Aug-2013 02:47:18 AM [(GMT) Greenwich Mean Time: Dublin, Edinburgh, Lisbon, London]

Running 250 kilometer….156 miles – over five days. It sounds crazy, and then you start training, and it seems doable. And then you find yourself in Reykjavik Iceland, listening to the wind howling at north of 35 mph as the temperature plunges and the storm rolls in…. and you ask yourself “why?” In 2004, I had a pretty bad accident. I broke my hip and right femur, both collarbones, my left shoulder, all the ribs on the left side of my body, cracked my back in a few places, and dinged my head. After a long hospital stay and an even longer wheelchair/walker/rehab visit – I basically got as fixed up as the doctors could and then stopped doing any real physical activity. 9 years and 40 lbs later, I needed to clean myself up… a lot. So I thought “what’s a ridiculously tough goal I could set for myself, having not run a marathon since 1999? Or more than a mile since 2004?” And that’s how I have ended up sitting in Reykjavik Iceland, waiting for transportation to Camp #1 for the 250km “Racing the Planet” Iceland event. One of my closest friends, Raimundo Riojas, very generously allowed my to join him and his friends from Guatemala as they took on this challenge themselves. Given that entering as a team requires ALL team members to run together for the entire race or get disqualified, they took a significant risk by letting me join – and Ramiro, Gabriel, and Rai are truly inspirational in their friendship and support. I started training for “real” in December. After being Paul Gennari’s worst client for 15 years (Julian actually told Paul that I was his “waterloo”), I think I made up for all that aggravation by working with him steadily for the last 8 months. As of a month ago, the office workouts were up to 300 stories of stairs, roundtrip. Seeing Paul at the finish will be a great moment. Training for ultra-long distance races is a very selfish endeavor. It requires leaving your house on Saturdays and Sundays for 8 hour run/hikes….. not very much help when your wife and kids want you. I am inspired by Allison’s recommitment to running as well – she will do the NYC Marathon for the 5th time this Fall in support of the US Olympic Committee Fundraising effort. Given that I will never match her times for 26 miles, I had to change my focus to 150 miles instead and hope that the prospect of sleeping on the ground without showers for a week keeps her to the “sprints” instead. So we are now waiting to head to Camp #1 for our first overnight, before the race begins at 8am tomorrow morning. We did our medical and equipment check-in…. My gear weighed in at a solid 13 kilos with water…. Ironically weighing about the same as the weight I have lost in the last year. More than half the weight is in food….so the pack will get lighter as we go along (and be 1/3 lighter by the time of the “long march” on Day 5. Our first wrinkle was announced this morning….Campsite #1 has to be moved as the rain and wind at that location were deemed unsafe for the overnight location. Stage One is tomorrow at 8AM, 28 miles…
ROBERTO MIGNONE
RacingThePlanet: Iceland 2013

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ROBERTO MIGNONE
RacingThePlanet: Iceland 2013 competitor

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Hometown
New York

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Finance

Why are you competing?
I am running with 3 great friends from Guatemala
-- Iceland is a beautiful country and this will be
an amazing challenge!

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