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RacingThePlanet: Madagascar 2014 Blogs

A final ‘Mad-agascar’ posting of my reflections on the race
07-Oct-2014 09:49:45 AM [(GMT+02:00) Harare, Pretoria]

Ah, the simple joy of sitting on the beach relaxing after the week we’ve had. I’m now at Sakalava Lodge and enjoying watching the kite-surfers out in the bay. I can’t wait to give it a go myself, but that’ll be tomorrow after the feet have another day to rest up. It’s been 24 hours since the race ended, and I’ve had time to think through how it all came together just right… there were SO many things that could have gone wrong that didn’t… so, in the hopes that this will help someone else who is planning one of these races, I’m going to add a few reflections here on different experiences over the last week….

ADAPTATION: One of my tentmates told me at the end of stage 2 that I would be amazed at how quickly my body would adapt to the race; and since I’d made it through the first two days injury-free, I would likely get through the rest of the stages physically just fine. And it was true. I never had anything hurt from my shins up… I’d come into camp each night literally running on fumes, have a hard time going to sleep for the pain in my feet…. And then I’d wake up in the morning eager to get going and feeling excited for the day ahead, no sore muscles and no achy joints – we truly are designed and engineered by an amazing Creator!

GEAR: The WAA ultrabag was amazing when paired with the raidlight bottles and holders. All the research before buying paid off big-time with this. My tentmates were envious of the 270 degree zipper opening, and it was easy to repack items each day… the pack worked great as a pillow as well, even on the last night when empty – I just put two of my allocated water bottles inside and voila – a pillow.

NUTRITION: Pronutro and instant noodles all the way. I totally lost my appetite this week (hard to believe, yes!) and it was a matter of just eating and drinking on schedule all day and keeping up with fluids when I’d waken in the night. I didn’t have any desire for coffee in the morning, which is most unusual for me. I’d put all my food and fuel into daily bags, and this meant I didn’t need to think about how much to eat of something without running out before the end of the week… definitely a good plan for the future. Perpetuum is magic after 4 hours on the course, but after another 4 hours, nothing seems to feel quite right and nausea seems inevitable. I think I need to find a way to measure more precisely how much I’m taking in at each tinkle of my watch alarm. It’s easy with the gu, as I just take one when there’s a beep…. With a 750ml bottle holding 2.5hrs of perpetuum, it doesn’t work quite as easily. Also important – the gels and beans add up to A LOT of extra weight overall – I will need to train my body to go longer between fueling; back to square one with the heart-rate training and ensuring I’m staying in my max fat-burning zone at all times. Combining that with less hours on the course should help reduce pack weight… and speaking of which:

SPEED: Okay, so there’s something to be said for being a ‘truly triumphant turtle’ (Cynthia I know you agree with me on this one!), but I think next race I will aim to be a ‘superbly swift squirrel’ instead (yes, our brains were fried and we spent entirely too much time thinking of cutesy labels for the different speed groups… including those alpha athletes at the very front of the pack – Paul Borlinha and Ralph Crowley, I’m talking about you!)…. Point being, if I could get my hours on the course each 40k day to under 7 hours, it would really give me more recovery time in camp as well as less fuel needed per day, which would really help cut the total pack weight – I refuse to ever do this again with a 13.5kg pack at the start…. I’m going for 9kg max, and preferably under 8kg. I’m also going to aim for 10kg less on my frame – that would help the feet too I think! SHOES: The La Sportivas were fabulous – I definitely needed the 2 extra sizes up, as my feet by Stage 5 were seriously swollen and bruised… add in the blister patches and preventive taping, and your foot doesn’t look like it belongs to you anymore. But I think next time I will look for something with a little more cushioning… maybe Hokas? I’m sitting here on the beach and I still feel an insistent throb in my feet like someone’s taken a hammer to them. It wasn’t enough to stop me from a mini shopping spree in Diego this morning though! Tshirts for the kids, and hammock-swings for me and my lovie to relax in at Lake Malawi every weekend… after my training trot around the Senga Hills of course! And speaking of feet, the next issue I reflected on was

BLISTERS: This is something I’d worked very, very hard on in the months before the race. I read the book ‘Fixing your Feet’ many times over… I spent hours upon hours figuring out how to best tape my toes, insteps, heels, etc, in order to prevent blisters; what products work for me and what don’t…. But what I didn’t do was figure out a strategy for managing blisters if I did get them. I think I was in denial – if there’s a scientific term for ‘blister-phobia’, that was me. And with the conditions we had to deal with, multiple river crossings each day and lots and lots of sand and dust, blisters were pretty much inevitable. Next time, I will at some point purposefully give myself a few blisters at the start of a long training run, stop to pop and patch them, and then practice running through the pain. It does actually go numb after a while, but it wasn’t a pleasant experience for a blister-newbie.

MENTAL BATTLES: Wow, did I have some humdingers of an argument with the little voices in my head! Not sure what the strategy exists there, except to get plenty of practice pushing yourself long enough and hard enough to learn that you can actually ignore the voices! Unfortunately there’s a point where the mental battle becomes a physical battle – and this is a different level of physical battle than what you experience before the voices make their appearance – when I reached the stage where there were no more voices, but I couldn’t go more than a few paces at a time without dry heaving, I had pretty much hit rock bottom. Then there was nothing else to do but keep moving to the next checkpoint. Once I got my feet up for ten minutes, ate some real food, and added in a stronger electrolyte solution, I felt like a whole new person. And my final but maybe the most important reflection of the week.

NEW FRIENDS: Nosy-Be Tent 23… you were fabulous – Karen, Sandy, Mia, Harold (“Shoot that baby!”), Martyn (“grrr…Emergency Ward 10 going on over there”), and Paul – I couldn’t have asked for a better group to live with for a week…. I did expect to suffer through the stinkiness of seven people in a small tent with endless daily sweating and no showers for a week – but amazingly I could smell nobody other than myself…. I know we all stank to high heavens, but it was a nice surprise for me that there was nothing offensive for my sensitive schnozz the entire week. And that’s probably way too much information, but hey, I guess that’s another side effect of communal living during these events!

FINAL THOUGHTS: Can’t wait for the next one! I’m hooked… not a doubt in my mind. This was absolutely the single most intense and fabulous experience I have ever had. I may have to wait a few years while I let my husband recover from the selfishness of the training hours I've taken to get ready for this race, and the time I've been away from home…. it's going to be a couple of years while I get kids out of school and into university, and while I work on really increasing my fitness, but to distill it down to the world’s most overused cliché: “I’ll be back”….

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Posted: 22-Jan-2015 06:44:52 PM

Hello Beth and congratulations for this amazing accomplishment! I watched a video about this incredible race and I been hooked on reading everything I can get my hands on about the preparation, nutrition, tips from experienced and newbies. Thank you for sharing your insight, your words mean so much to someone like me who is thinking about Atacama Desert, Chile 2016. Wishing you the best in the future and perhaps one day I will have the pleasure to meet in person in one of these amazing events! Keep on running!!!!!

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Posted: 20-Sep-2014 12:07:08 PM

Congratulations Beth for completing Madagascar 2014! Great final blog. There is so much to learn in these multistage races - I hope this is just the beginning for you. Great refletions on the race. Enjoy keeping in touch with new friends and we hope to see you back some time. Riitta

Hannah Tippett

Posted: 08-Sep-2014 03:32:48 AM

Once again Beth, huge congratulations to you for completing this. Turtle, squirrel, whatever...I am so happy for you and proud of you for pushing through and being able to complete it. And very thankful that God kept you injury free. Let me know if/when you want to do a mere 10k... ;)

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BETH BARR
RacingThePlanet: Madagascar 2014

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BETH BARR
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Lived in Malawi, Kenya, Botswana, US and UK.
Education in Public Health: Behavioral Sciences and Epidemiology

Hometown
Lilongwe, Malawi

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Public Health / Epidemiology

Why are you competing?
I'm always up for a new challenge and this fits!

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