Some airlines are made more for tall people than others. LAN is clearly catered to a more… Latin American build than I am, even in a bulkhead seat. I may be more sore from trying to sleep/ride on the LAN planes than from running the races! You know that song, “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head”? I’m the guy who’s feet are too big for his bed, nothin’ seems to fit. So, after a 12 hour flight south like that, we arrived in Santiago, Chile. This was to be the most worrisome connection of the whole trip, because if everything was on schedule, we still would only have 75 minutes from landing to departure, during which time, we had to: Deplane, go through Customs and Passport Control, get to the next departure gate, and board before the doors closed. As it turned out, we landed about 20 minutes early and had no problem getting to the gate on time. However, the Cinnabon that used to be near the departure gate had been closed, much to the chagrin of Steve H., who was really looking forward to indulging in some sweet, gooey, yumminess and had also sold me on the concept (not hard to do!). Since it looked like we had some time, I went to Starbucks to get a bite to eat. The line took forever and when I got back everyone but Dan had boarded- he was still watching my bags, what a great guy! We got onboard and were quickly off on the 3ish hour flight to Punta Arenas, on the Southern tip of the Continent, along the Straits of Magellan, in a multi-national area called Patagonia. Since we had such a long flight and lost a couple hours, we were again in a major hurry to blast to the hotel, get dressed, and run. The other runners had already gathered at the Start directly across from the hotel by the time we got there and we only had 15 minutes to drop our stuff, get undressed, prepare, get dressed and get out on the course. By the time I had prepared my feet, it was almost time for the start. When I got to the start line, I was 2 ½ minutes late and the other runners were gone out of sight! I started at exactly 3 minutes after the official start so I would know my real time and spent half of the first out-and-back trying to run them down… how’s that for pressure on your 6th consecutive daily marathon on 6 Continents after having only a little cheese thing from Starbucks to eat in the previous 12 hours? It was ok though. I liked having something to think about because the course was boring as all get-out.
The course amounted to a sidewalk with the Straits of Magellan on one side and pretty poor housing, complete with a bunch of garbage and graffiti, on the other side. We had 8 out and backs which was even more mind numbing. The sidewalk was also all concrete, so I wore my old Hoka Tarmacs to absorb the pounding. These are the same shoes I dislocated my foot in at Shawnee Marathon a few years back, but which I have since used as “recovery” shoes when I intend do a bunch of walking and which I’ve worn in between all the races, through airports, etc. I was sure I wasn’t going to go fast anyway, so I might as well walk in comfort. Well, the 3 minute late start somehow lit a fire under me and gave me a little passion. Instead of focusing on the environs, I was able to create a goal- overcome the deficit. That’s what I did. One by one, I caught up to the other 777Questers and passed them, all except for Dan who lapped me at least once. Jagjit was the last one and I didn’t pass him until the final lap. Bear in mind, this really had nothing to do with competition and, of course, none of the others knew what I was doing. It was just a distraction, something to focus on other than the pain, boredom, and wind.
The wind. Holy freakin’ moly. I have lived in the Midwest for over 10 years now. We have had tornadoes from small to massive roll through and even when it’s not a tornado, the wind we routinely get at home is unlike anything we ever experienced where I grew up… but nothing compares to what I ran in on Day 6 of the 777Quest. The wind blows so hard across the far Southern tip of the Continent that the light posts are angled to go with it! The people I talked to who were part of the White Continent Marathon group but opted not to race the Southern Cross Marathon said they watched us out the window of the hotel with a blend of pity and horror. These were sustained winds in excess of 35 mph with gusts much greater than that. When they came at my back, all I tried to do was run like I was pounding down a steep hill, heels kicking up toward my butt and trying to get as much vertical loft as possible. That way, my body, with its expansive girth, could become like a sail unfurled by Magellan himself. On the other hand, as was typically the case, I was either enduring a headwind or a crosswind. With my big size 14 Hokas and their 3” of foam platform, the wind would blow so hard that my foot would blow laterally on the upstroke and smack into the opposite calf… over and over and over. This happened so often that I began to get both bruises and chaffing on the inside of each calf. But the worst was running smack into that headwind. Forward progress was really only possible in a deliberate hike. All of us regarded the wind like an uphill in an ultra- walk it hard. I would put my head down and try to streamline my body against it, but there is no good way for a guy of my size to offset that much opposing pressure. At least my size has the advantage of keeping me grounded, but the same cannot be said for Chau. I was worried that she may just be picked up and blown into the ocean like all of the other stuff I watched flying that way! There were plastic car parts, pieces of corrugated steel, all sorts of garbage, and more just whipping across the street, sidewalk, and off into the ocean throughout the 5+ hours I spent on that course. Poor Rob, the far end aid station attendant, didn’t even get the benefit of turning opposite sides to the wind each lap nor keeping warm through kinetic energy. He just stood there, slightly bigger and taller than me, holding his post and filling my handheld bottle, stalwart to the gale force winds.
A couple other Questers indicated that this race was their low point. Exhausted, hungry, bored, sore, fighting an invisible enemy, and just going through the motions can start to expose cracks in even the toughest people you’ve ever met. Steve P told me this was his worst and he had to dig just to keep moving forward. It’s not as if either of us really believed he would realistically pull the plug on the 777Quest over mental anguish on Day 6, but he said it really got to him and put him in a very dark place. Meanwhile, Lisa started to develop a head and chest cold with a sore throat in the past day or 2. By the time we did South America, she was outright sick. It’s not like it was Amsterdam or New York cold, but with that wind, it was certainly not comfortable, and I’m sure it was even worse if you were sick. Jagjit even started to slow down toward the end and you could tell he’d lost some of his pep, whether for reasons mental or physical I do not know. I think we all felt pretty deflated. Having seen most of the world in the past few days, met all sorts of new people, seen extraordinary sights, and covered crazy distance by foot and air; here we were, in a frankly ugly place with no one even really willing or able to converse because of the wind. I felt pretty small and powerless. Socrates’ notion that we are all “Dust in the wind” was never more poignant than out on that course in a remote corner of the world being tossed about as we all did something we didn’t want to do at that moment. I couldn’t help but reflect how many people feel that way all the time. Sick, tired, caught up in a larger mission that seems futile and never ending, blown around by powers larger than them with no power to do anything but try to endure one more step or just quit. I had to start racing the others who weren’t racing me, just to give me an intermediate goal to focus on. That is a lesson I’ve learned well over the past few years since I started endurance sports. I need a goal. Something real to focus on. Something I can use to ignite my spirit. Without that, all this running would just be torture. I think a lot of people find themselves in these ruts where they can’t identify why they are doing what they are doing anymore. They just keep going forward because they feel they have to in order to complete FamilyQuest or WorkQuest or RelationshipQuest. And while many people are able to grit their teeth and push on, day by day… they may find it is less of a slog and more of an adventure or, at least more pleasant, if they could set a goal to accomplish something they’ve never done and work toward it. The goal doesn’t need to be expensive. It doesn’t need to be all-consuming. It can be small and personal or huge and grandiose. You can share it with others or not. Try to accomplish something. Something that seems like you may not be able to do, then resolve to do it. Don’t let that little voice inside tell you that you can’t, stand up and tell it that you can and you will. Take control. Even if it is only something small at first that no one else will notice. Make it a positive thing as opposed to a negative, not “I want to quit doing…” or “I want to lose X pounds”, but instead, “I want to learn or train to…” or “I've always wondered if I could...". Such positive goals get your mind and spirit on the same page, in many cases, in opposition to the body which just wants to sit and wait. Sitting and waiting for the time to be right or to feel better or until you have time, etc. just gives excuses weight. Excuses are only as legitimate as the challenge they are paired to. If you give the power to your goal, even a small one at first, and refuse to let any excuse take precedence over achieving that goal- you will succeed. Success then breeds success and the next goal will become bigger and its success more likely. This is the secret of how to break the cycle of being a "victim of circumstance" and moving toward being a victor over the inevitable obstacles life throws in your path. Obstacles are excuses. Excuses derail successful living. Choose a goal that gets you excited, passionate, maybe even a little afraid- then refuse to stop until you've achieved it. That's how you become the Wind instead of the Dust.
My body was already depleted coming into this race and my mind had taken over. Nothing like a boring, long, windy, marathon that is harder than it should be to expose cracks in one's mental toughness. It was somewhere on the course in Punta Arenas where the Spirit was finally able to take control and assure that success was only a day away. With the illusion of a real race, I finished strong, second only to Dan, and hurried over to the hotel for some food and a check on the status of our charter to Antarctica. The first window was at 10pm which would give way more than enough time to get to Antarctica and run 26.2 in about any conditions in sub-Guinness Record time. I decided to take the shower before eating and got back downstairs to the bad news that the earliest we could possibly depart would be 6am. This would put the Guinness Record in serious jeopardy and force me to run like the wind in order to beat it. So, I ate, packed, and let my excitement carry me off to sleep, hoping to get at least a chance to run for the record and figure out how to get my body to run it if and when the opportunity presented itself. No matter what, the end was near and I prayed for God's will to intersect with mine as I drifted off to sleep a bit after 1am.