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RacingThePlanet: Madagascar 2014 Blogs

Stage 1
31-Aug-2014 01:02:44 AM [(GMT+08:00) Beijing, Chongqing, Hong Kong, Urumqi]

Sand, heat and wind!!! Wow- tough first day! So far this whole experience is amazing…. When I crossed the finish line today I was cheered by the two guys who are coming second and third so far – amazing – they did the 36km in under 3:15, and I came in at just over 8:30, but there’s zero arrogance on their sides… just encouragement for every person crossing the line, no matter how long it takes to do it! …. One of the guys in my tent came running to help me get my pack off and into the tent. Feeling blessed. Felt doubly-blessed to check emails and see six messages from friends and family – I had to wipe away a lot of sandy tears before I could start blogging! Please keep the emails coming – they’re really something to look forward to at the end of each day!

So, back to the race…. After a LONG night sleeping on the most wicked thorns imaginable… and popping my mat, the race started at 8 sharp. They told us we had 6k on the beach. Hmm. That was the best sand we had as the tide was out…. Then back onto the ‘track’ through the bush… except it was like Botswana! Sand was ankle deep most of the day… we seriously could have been in the Kalahari or namib deserts…. The wind was wicked strong and head-on most of the day. And it topped a hundred degrees around 1pm. As someone just said, “the sand was the unpleasant surprise of the day”…. And unfortunately may be for the whole race!

So far no blisters. And so far feeling okay – worst part is that my shoulders are sore from holding the pack at a bad angle as I leaned into the wind. Of course muscles are sore, but at least my appetite is slowly returning. And I was able to stick almost perfectly to my fuel and electrolyte plan – that absolutely will be critical to finishing this race. I had a couple of bouts of really bad nausea, but no puking thank goodness.

Well, on the downside, Karen has had a rough day – Jeremy, have Jeff send some prayers her way, and activate any and all prayer warriors. For both of us! Her right hip flexor is really painful, and she has some nasty blisters on her left foot. She also has a very sore back. But she just walked by and read what I’ve wrote so she’s still moving at least!

Okay, well, camp is on the beach tonight – stunning, but very windy! I need to go and eat some more as well before it gets dark. Tomorrow is 46k – a lot longer than usual, and we start at 7am…. So I’m expecting I may not be in before dark…. And may not get to the cyber tent before it closes….. if you don’t hear from me tomorrow, consider that a good thing! Please keep the emails and prayers coming our way!

Decompressing physically from work…. and gearing up mentally for the race
29-Aug-2014 01:39:25 AM [(GMT+02:00) Harare, Pretoria]

August 28th ….. Flew up to Diego (Antsiranana) yesterday. In the Tana airport I met a bunch of volunteers and runners waiting for the same flight – pretty easy to spot as most of us were carrying one of three packpacks – the OMM, the Raidlight, or the WAA (mine). There was also a Japanese film crew. Everyone seems very nice – a vast mix of ages and experience in multiday ultras: From newbies like me to those who’ve run 11+ of these races before; and from a few in their early 20’s to some in the mid-60’s…. But the camaraderie is immediate; probably because we all have the same tough 7 days to get through ahead of us. The flight to Diego was nice and smooth, but during descent, the closer we got closer to the ground, the bumpier it became and the more the pilot seemed to increase the speed of the plane. We landed in heavy wind and rain blowing horizontally – more than a little unexpected in the dry season! About 3,000 feet up I decided to stop fretting – either way the plane was coming down, and all I could do was pray that it would be more of a controlled than an uncontrolled landing. It was a fast and very bumpy landing, and everybody cheered when we landed safely and screeched to a halt at the very end of the runway. I’m staying at a little place called Sakalava Lodge, in the Baie de Sakalave – just north east of Diego. It didn’t make sense to stay in a little town for the two extra days I have here when I could stay in a little hut on the beach for a fraction of the cost and exponentially more enjoyment ☺. It’s lovely here – a kitesurfing paradise. I can count 16 kites in the bay this morning. The temperature is perfect – maybe 80 degrees with a strong breeze – but the humidity is incredibly high – it’s quite something coming from winter in Malawi, where it’s so dry your skin cracks, to this humidity where you feel like you’re inhaling water and everything stays damp. I’ve not had any opportunity to train in really humid conditions, so I’m glad I’ve brought extra electrolyte tabs with me. I think I’ll need them in the race. I’m also glad for the few extra days to acclimatize and get used to sweating just while sitting in the shade. Anyhow, this place is gorgeous. The food is amazing – such a strange mix of African and French…. Grilled whole fish stuffed with garlic for dinner…. A chocolate-filled Mandazi (African doughnut) and fresh pawpaw with half a lime for breakfast. And the most incredible coffee. The only downside is that there’s no diet coke… all the drinks are sugary, and even the fresh squeezed juice has tons of sugar added. Yuck. The good news is that I’m finally starting to unwind. I can literally feel my mind slowing down. I’m sleeping very soundly with less crazy dreams – although last night I dreamed I was in DC with my colleagues and under immense pressure helping them rewrite our annual plan… must be residual guilt I guess from insisting I do this race and not go with them. I woke up with a headache at midnight after that dream, but after taking some brufen I went back so sleep and don’t remember dreaming any more…. I also don’t have any ‘to-do’ lists racing through my head today, which is a nice change. The only decision I need to make in the next two days is whether to reduce my food for the race so that I have less weight to carry, or whether the extra weight is worth feeling a little less hungry. What I don’t know is whether I’ll actually physically need those extra calories to make it through all seven days, so I’m working on a compromise… In this humidity I’m guessing I’ll crave salt far more than sugar. And since I have all the sweetness I could possibly want in the energy gels, I think I’m going to ditch my sweet snacks (jelly babies and nutella). But I’ll keep the biltong and potato chips – I get a lot of protein in the biltong, which I’ll need to prevent muscle catabolization as much as possible. And in the chips I get a lot of carbs for refueling, as well as the fat, which will help prevent hunger pangs at night. And as well as being practical, both options are lightweight and yummy – not a bad deal overall. Since I’m only taking a small packet of instant noodles for dinner each night, and nothing for lunch, I think the snacks will be important. Breakfast will be a cup of coffee with powdered milk, and half a cup (dry) of Pronutro with 2tbs powdered milk. And yes, I’ll be loading up on meat, fresh veggies and fruit after a week of eating all this processed rubbish!! Anyhow, if I go with those choices of snacks, it brings my pack total to right at 11kg, before adding 2.5 liters of water (another 2.5kg weight). I know from reading the other race blogs and updates that people’s packs range in weight from 6kg to 16kg. I will be carrying 5.8kg in just food and fuel – yes, I was a little obsessive about thinking this through – I made a spreadsheet which auto-calculates everything for me depending on what I food options I go with. It seems to me that the lighter and faster a runner you are, the less fuel you need on the course since you’re out there less time, and so the less your pack weighs… the more you weigh and the slower you are (in case there was any doubt, yes, that would be me), the more fuel you need on the course because you’re out there twice as long… and the more your pack ends up weighing. The more the pack weighs, the slower you’ll go…. And the more fuel you’ll need…. Hmmm… not really fair, is it? Unfortunately for me, crash dieting when you’re training for an ultra just isn’t an option…. However, all those glasses of wine in the last year were definitely a choice I now regret! I could have been at least ten pounds lighter with a little more self-discipline… although to be honest, I seem to only have a finite amount of self-discipline to spread across my life, and mine ended up all being needed to put in my training hours (and even then it probably wasn’t enough!), do the grocery shopping, and cook dinner for the family each night when I get home. I’m sitting here chuckling to myself – just writing all this down makes me already think through “next time” scenarios…. And Jeremy has told me unequivocally that this race is it (at least for a long time). The training is really rough on the family – too many hours away from them on weekends – and I do have to agree with that. The last three months especially haven’t been fabulous – I’ve been gone from 5-12 hours every Saturday and Sunday, and along with working full-time and trying to keep up with my online schoolwork, it’s all a bit much for them and for me. So I think I’ll have to respect Jeremy’s wishes and wait a few years for the “next time” – and there will be a “next time”, of that I’m sure – I can already feel the call of it…. And maybe “next time” I’ll have talked him into joining me ☺ Although there’s a one-in-a-million chance of that happening unless I’m allowed to have a motorcycle support rider… in which case I’m sure he’d happily volunteer!! Well, I think there’s just enough time for a nap before lunch… I could definitely get used to this life!
I'm here!!
27-Aug-2014 06:23:10 AM [(GMT+02:00) Harare, Pretoria]

Blog August 26th Wheels up in Malawi yesterday…. feet down in Madagascar today! Wow, this is really happening! I'm a complete bundle of nerves…. thrilled to bits that this dream is coming real, and scared to death I'll fail, even if I give a thousand percent of myself. Over the last 18 months, a lot of time, money and effort has gone into preparing for this next week, and what if it's not enough? The "what if's" are filling my mind a little too much…. I think it's time for some more "positive visualization" as Coach Amanda would tell me. Anyway, I digress…. so, I'm in Antananarivo - "Tana", the capital of Madagascar - and it's lovely. Obviously poor like Malawi, but not quite as poor. The biggest contrast is that it's so CLEAN - there's an occasional plastic bag on the side of the road, but the roads are swept and the tile sidewalks outside restaurants sparkle. And where there would be a rubbish-filled stinky-water ditch in Malawi, here it's been carefully rounded out and walled to catch rain water and there are little rice paddies everywhere…. and I mean EVERYWHERE.. Amazing. They drive on the right side of the road here… and everyone approaches you speaking french…. All those years of French lessons are rushing back into my head and words I've not thought of in years are suddenly on the tip of my tongue. Not that I can possibly string them together or conjugate verbs to make a complete sentence… wow just the thought of trying brings back high school nightmares! Since I travelled via Kenya, we flew down the length of Madagascar to get here. I'll turn and fly back to the north tomorrow to Antsiranana, but that's another story. Anyhow, as we were approaching the island (mini-Continent more like), all I could see was the ocean stained red for miles and miles around the north end of the island, and all I could think was "this island is bleeding"! It's the dry season so it's not even like there's tons of rain to wash silt down the rivers and into the ocean. I don't know if it's normal for the ocean to look like that at this time of year, but the next thought in my head was "where are the trees to hold the dirt in place"? Although we were up at altitude, the sky was completely clear and it was abundantly clear that there was no forest in sight. Very sad. Okay, so maybe I'm a little like a new tourist to Africa asking where the elephants are when they arrive in Joburg….. but really, sure there should have been forest somewhere?? I kept my head glued to the airplane window most of the way down and hardly saw anything but brown…. it could have been Malawi. There must be forest somewhere in this country, but I'm starting to really understand what 95% deforestation looks like…. It's bad in Malawi, but it's exponentially worse seeing the reality in a country which is renowned for it's rain forests. Truly sad. In some ways it's worse than watching a child in pain, because at least a child can scream and cry for help. The land is literally screaming here, but maybe nobody is listening. On a brighter note… I'm stuck in Tana for 23 hours before I can head back up North…. I found a little local hotel online which is near the airport - Les Hautes Terres - it's a lovely old colonial style house with uneven creaky wooden floors and stairs… my room is enormous and old-fashioned, has kiddie-duvets on the beds, and looks out over some rice paddies - yes, I was serious when I said those rice paddies are EVERYWHERE :) I'm completely sleep-deprived since my Malawi-Kenya trip yesterday took many more hours than planned - sitting in Lilongwe airport for four extra hours wasn't Plan A…. late arrival in Nairobi and then an early departure this morning… I got to hang out with the fantastic Hersman family in Nairobi for a few hours, and sleep was definitely NOT a priority at that point as we had over a year of catching up to do… but now I'm here and I'm slowly starting to unwind. I've had a few weeks at work that have been of an intensity like nothing I've ever experienced before - it's pushed me to my breaking point, and I really struggle to get my mind to slow down and relax, even when I'm not at work… I realized just how bad it actually was on the flight here from Nairobi when I could not resist getting my laptop out of my bag and wondering what to-do lists I could possibly come up with since I didn't have any work to do (on purpose!)…. I literally started making up a meal menu and corresponding grocery shopping list for the month after I get back home, and then mentally slapped myself silly…. seriously!?! Who make menus and shopping lists that on the second day of their holiday??? I made myself watch a tv show off iTunes instead… which made me start putting together a to-do list of everything I need to put on my iPod before the race starts this weekend…Eesh… what's with me and the to-do lists today?!! Anyhow, now it's time for some lunch and a long nap. Time to slow the brain down, take a deep breath and start focusing on the reality of the upcoming race… I am excited. I am determined. I am going to finish!
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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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