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RacingThePlanet: Madagascar 2014 Blogs

Tick-tock.... 30 days to go and the fundraising is underway....
30-Jul-2014 03:52:15 AM [(GMT+02:00) Harare, Pretoria]

**This posting is a copy of the fundraising letter I've sent out today to all friends and family - a total overshare I'm sure, but I really want them to understand where I am in my life and why..... too bad I can't put all my pictures in here as well! .......... One month today I head out on what I hope will be the adventure of a lifetime: A 250km, 7-day, unsupported (carry-all-your-own-food-and-gear) race in Madagascar (www.4deserts.com). The race is set up in 6 ‘stages’ with approximately 40k per day for the first 4 days (Stages 1-4), 80k on the 5th and into the 6th day (Stage 5), and finally 10k to finish up on Day 7 (Stage 6). The race organizers will have water points every 10km, and water at the camp at the beginning and end of each day (hot and ‘cold’). They set up the camp each day, we’ll have about 8 people in each tent (there’s around 250 competitors). The organizers do not provide anything else – we’re completely independent in terms of clothes, sleeping bag, food, first aid, etc. Well, they do have a medical person at each water stop and at camp also, for more serious help if needed. So, you may ask how I got here – what was I thinking, and why would I do this?? Well, here’s the short story made long: I got hooked on running about five years ago. I’ve never been a runner. I played field hockey in high school (as goalie!), and soccer in college. I never thought I could run. I wasn’t skinny enough or fast enough or fit enough… or so I believed. But one day someone threw my assumptions out the window, and challenged me to try transitioning my daily walk to a run. So I did. I started by running from one electricity pole to the next… literally 100 meters at a time… and then walking until I caught my breath, and trying again… Within a few months I could run 5k without stopping, and I knew I’d found something which would bring a whole new dimension to my life. It’s not always been easy. I’ve struggled with repeated injuries, and I must admit I have a daily battle with self-discipline and motivation to get my butt out of bed and go running, especially if it’s still dark or cold. During the entire process I’ve learned a whole lot about myself and about balancing my faith, my family, my fitness, my nutrition, and my workload… I’ve not always succeeded. In fact, I’ve definitely failed more often than succeeded at keeping a healthy balance across everything at once. But I have also had some of my biggest breakthroughs for both work and personal challenges come from this daily time of reflection where your mind roams and wanders and comes back at you from unexpected angles while you’re out running. My family has definitely also benefitted from the ‘feel good’ endorphins released on a run, which set the day up for good things by putting a smile on my face and a bounce in my step. Early last year I started thinking about training for something big. There are very few options in Malawi for races or other events to participate in. And flying out of Malawi to get to a race is expensive. It doesn’t make sense to travel for something that isn’t a big deal to me. I started exploring what multiday races were out there, and stumbled across the ‘4 Deserts Series’. I signed up for their 2014 ‘roving race’, which is held in a different country each year…. This year is Madagascar. I also found a wonderful coach (Amanda McIntosh) who I was fortunately able to meet with while on holiday in the US last year. She’s been running ultras for over two decades and has a wealth of knowledge to share. She assigns my weekly workouts and we skype at least once a month, and frequently email back and forth. Thanks to her, my injuries have been dealt with one at a time physically and mentally, keeping them in perspective and keeping on going to be ‘ready’ for Madagascar (well, as ready as I can be given all of the above). So, now the time has come, and my breath catches every time I think about the fact that my race is only four short weeks away. The fear of failure looms large. The fear of pain looms even larger. And quite honestly the fear of embarrassment if I do ‘fail’ looms the largest – hello, who knew my ego was at play here too??? (Probably everyone but me… oh well). I guess that fear is residual from my experience in England a few months ago – I went all that way for a 3-day race and ‘failed’ to do days 2 and 3 because I pulled a hamstring on Day 1. I still struggle to believe that even completing Day 1 (45k) in mud and rain and the freezing cold was an accomplishment – I just feel like I failed. And I don’t want to go there again – not physically, and not mentally. But, ego and fears aside, I think I’m ready. The many many many hours of training over the last 18 months are paying off. From the experiences gained from my “mini-Madagascar” a few weeks ago, I’m well aware that these 7 days will require more mental stamina than I’ve ever needed before (See my blog posting ‘The Neno Knee-breaker’ for details of that weekend: http://www.4deserts.com/blogs/md_competitor_blog.php?pid=MjIwOA==&blog=129). I now realize that the pain getting through this 250km will likely be far more than anything I’ve ever experienced – yes, ladies, including childbirth, which I did ‘the natural way’ last time. I’ve never felt such constant pain as I did on the last day of the Neno weekend. When I got home the last day, I went to bed with the thought “I hurt so very much, and this was only 135k and only 4 days – how on earth am I going to get through 250k in Madagascar?!?!” But I learned something truly amazing about the human body when I woke up the next morning: 95% of the pain had gone, and I could have gone out again that day if I needed to. That was a major breakthrough moment for me, and I think it’s that kind of knowledge gained over the last 18 months that I’ll need to draw on when I hurt. Now, that’s the story of how and why I got to this point…. the most important part of all of this is something I have yet to mention, and is the reason for my overshare above. My friend Karen is doing this race with me – She’s the co-founder of Child Legacy in Malawi, and I’m one of their board members (www.childlegacy.org). Together we’re using this race to raise funds to buy an ambulance for their clinic, which is about 30km outside Lilongwe in an under-served and under-resourced area. The clinic is now transitioning into becoming a hospital with full maternity and surgical services. The population they serve rely on donkey-carts and bicycle ambulances to reach the clinic in a childbirth emergency, and this just isn’t good enough. The clinic needs this ambulance to bring in patients, and to get patients into Lilongwe if there’s a major emergency. To buy an ambulance which will withstand the rigors of Malawi roads, we need to raise $45,000 – this will buy us one like you see here on our donation webpage: https://www.childlegacy.org/ambulance. So far we’ve raised about a third of this, so ‘only’ $30,000 to go. It does sound like a lot of money! But we’re in full fund-raising mode now, and so the ball is in your court – please do consider contributing to this cause. Every penny raised will go towards the ambulance – not a penny will support our cost of participating in the race, or even the cost of running Child Legacy. Even if you only have $1 or MK500 kwacha to give, your support will be deeply appreciated. For those of you in Malawi who can’t do credit card donations, we can also accept Malawi Kwacha cash or cheques, as well as US Dollar checks, and receipts will be provided by the Malawi office. For those in the US, if you donate through the website you’ll receive a (US) tax-deductible receipt. Thank you for helping us raise enough money to buy the ambulance!
The Neno Knee-breaker…
08-Jul-2014 01:11:50 AM [(GMT+02:00) Harare, Pretoria]

Well - this was a heck of a weekend! I just spent 4 days doing a "mini-Madagascar" in the mountains of Neno, Malawi along with my training & race partner Karen, with my wonderful hubby and son crewing for us… Distances were 25k, 35k, 25k, and 50k - for a total of 135k…. We walked/ran from Ntcheu to Mwanza along the Mozambican border… absolutely STUNNING scenery, and more hills than I hope to ever have to do again! So the biggest thing on my mind this weekend was fundraising… This is something I have absolutely NO experience with - I can write multi-million dollar healthcare proposals and create logic models and lists of indicators and targets, along with detailed budgets with no problem at all. But I don't know how to just ask for a donation for something that really matters to me. I wanted my Madagascar race to have something very tangible and impactful attached to it, so we are raising money to buy an ambulance for the Child Legacy clinic here in Malawi. The many many hours of walking this weekend gave me a whole new level of appreciation for the combination of distance and pain. We passed only two health centers the entire four days, and not a single hospital. The districts we walked through have a combined population of over half a million people. Anyone who is severely ill or having trouble in childbirth has a herculean task to get to the nearest health care. The need for a four-wheel drive ambulance in this part of the world cannot be underestimated. And so, my biggest task in the next 7 1/2 weeks is to swallow my uncertainty (and my pride?) and just ask all my friends and family to help us buy the ambulance. Now, what about all the other things I thought about this weekend? There were so many lessons learned, I hardly know where to start…. some of my questions which evolved over the last few months have now started to answer themselves… Socks - which kinds and how many? - Injinji liners x2 - CEP compression socks x2 This way, there's a dry pair to put on at the end of each day after redoing toe-tape…. oh… and no, I can't wait until the morning to put on the dry set, as my feet and legs have a nasty habit of swelling and throbbing in the night, making it a huffy-puffy-sweat-inducing task to get socks back on in the morning! It's amazing how much socks can handle being re-worn, so I really don't need to carry the extra weight that a clean pair every day would add to my pack. Mindgames… After hour 5 on any given day I seem to be at the mercy of my mind - I may not have multiple personality disorder, but there's definitely a voice in my head that I'd rather not claim as my own - it starts talking insistently and negatively when I'm tired and my feet start to hurt. Is there a mean-voice-killer you may ask? Yes, LOUD music and just sing-along no matter how many funny looks you get from passers-by… After thirty minutes or so, the voice gives up and goes away - for a little while at least Shoes…. FINALLY - I've found something that works - La Sportivas. Lovely shoes… since I had to go up two sizes to allow for swelling (and believe me you need the extra space!!), that put me into the range of men's sizes - sigh, yes, I do feel my femininity and [wishful] inherent sexiness threatened completely by admitting I need men's shoes - but I've ended up with a rather bizarrely black-and-flame colored pair of shoes which feel like heaven. They're so good in fact that I just did 110 of my 135k trek in them - I wore them on day 1 straight out of the box… then planned to switch back to my 'old' Salomons for Days 2-4. But my feet hurt so bad by the end of Day 2, along with a nasty ache in my knee that I switched back to the new ones. At the end of the four days, my feet were just tired and sore like nothing I've ever experienced, but I'm confident the new shoes at least mitigated the worst of it. Food… I hate freeze-dried meals… yuck! I can stomach the lasagna and the cuban beans and rice, but that's about it. Ramen noodles on the other hand, I start fantasizing about after four hours on my feet… Must be a salt/carb thing going on. Anyhow, I'm rethinking what food to take with me to Madagascar now…. Instant noodles, freeze-dried fruit, and biltong (extra-dry jerky) may be the magic combination for me. But before I can decide for sure I'll need to work out the calories and make sure it's enough. I have to say, I've never in my life had to work so hard to make sure I pack and/or eat ENOUGH calories in each day. Breakfast is a given - chocolate Pronutro with a scoop of protein powder and powdered milk - yummy. I'm actually contemplating doing the same for a couple of dinners given my gag response to the freeze-dried meals. Desitin creamy… The advantage to having had kids in the somewhat recent past, is that there are random baby products left laying around well after the kids are out of nappies. This stuff turns out to be a girl's best friend! It's a great supplement to body glide. And in the event you do chafe, this'll fix it overnight before you have to head back out again. The pack… I'm still a complete fan of my WAA ultra bag - turns out it works REALLY well as a pillow as well, since it's so flat and rectangular, even well packed. I sleep on my side, so I need more pillowing to be sure I don't get a crick in my neck. The only thing I really DON"T like about the pack are the water bottles and holders…. I've struggled with these for the last few months, and even lost one when it randomly fell off my front pack (without me even noticing?!?!) a few weeks ago. I don't like the holders as they come undone too easily; I don't like the straws as they are too much work, and the bottles have a nasty habit of leaking - and I hate having sticky fingers. So, I've decided to just go ahead with spending the extra money for a couple of the Raidlight Olmo bottles with holders. They look far better engineered that what I'm struggling with. Oh, but I should say that the bottle holders which came with my bag work really well for stashing my iPod in - easy to take in and out when I want to take photos, which is often! Music, and… I have my normal go-to music, but I have found that after a while I need something different… turns out 80's and 60's music works nicely… especially when I need to slay the mean-voice-in-my-mind. The other thing I want to try that I've not done yet is an audiobook. I think this would help from hours 7-10 when things start to hurt and time starts to really drag. And that's all for now folks… time to sit back for the rest of today, be glad I took time off work, ice my achy knee, and feel exceptionally happy that nothing else hurts!
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BETH BARR
RacingThePlanet: Madagascar 2014

Hometown
Lilongwe, Malawi

Profession
Public Health / Epidemiology

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BETH BARR
RacingThePlanet: Madagascar 2014 competitor

Bio

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

Hometown
Lilongwe, Malawi

Profession
Public Health / Epidemiology

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

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