Early in 2013 I ran my first marathon up at the North Pole on the Arctic Ice Sheet. One of the people I met on that trip contacted me a few months later and suggested I sign up for an Ultra event in Madagascar. I pondered over it for a day before deciding what the hell, why not?
Racing the Planet Roving Race - Madagascar 2014
As part of my preparation I learned I would need to get several vaccinations prior to traveling to Madagascar. I contacted a travel clinic and arranged to start receiving the vaccinations in November. The clinician was ecstatic I was coming in nearly ten months ahead of my trip. Apparently, many people show up days prior to leaving and expect the vaccinations to work. Not so. I opted to get a whole slew of optional and required vaccinations to cover my bases. I received the following vaccinations over several months of visits: Yellow Fever (one shot), MMR booster (one shot), Typhoid (four pills), Hepatitis A/B (three shots), and Rabies (three shots). Pleasantly, I did not experience any side effects from these vaccinations. Once I reached Johannesburg I began taking the anti-malaria medication Malarone which did give me a nauseated stomach for about three days. Thankfully, those symptoms cleared up prior to the start of the event.
My training regimen had been uneven and entirely amateur in nature. In January I was more than a bit concerned with my apparent lack of progress. Running even a couple of miles was thoroughly exhausting and wrought with pain. I had one breakthrough weekend late in January, which was a boon to my attitude. Training seemed to be a roller coaster of confidence-building and destroying. One day I was flying high with the miles melting away; the next run I could barely make it out of town to get started. I was extremely frustrated at times. Once I began including my backpack on weekend runs my gains were hit and miss, but surprisingly the weight was not the problem. The biggest hurdle was keeping the bag cinched tight enough to prevent it from jostling around. It was a fine line between just right and so tight I risked injury from restriction and bruising. Running with the pack slightly loose not only produced rubbing and chafing, but it also zapped my strength from wasted kinetic energy.
The months leading up to August were spent building stamina and endurance. In addition to running miles on pavement, a tremendous number of hours were spent at the gym on the elliptical machine. Once I started spending Saturday mornings on the elliptical in full gear people really began to take notice. I frequently was asked what I was training for and how much my pack weighed.
Assembling my gear for the trip was a careful and exhaustive process. The weight of each item was the primary factor driving decision making. Anywhere I could shed a few ounces was important. Food was the principal element occupying the bulk of my backpack. Freeze dried dinners, energy bars, recovery bars, and endurance powders were what constituted my primary meal plan for the week long event. I planned to supplement those items with snacks purchased locally once I arrived in Madagascar. A minimum of 2,000 calories per day was the requirement, at least 14,000 calories for the week.
So there I was, a year after signing up, about to set off on a journey that would culminate with a seven day 250 km multistage endurance race nearly halfway around the world. All that was left to do was board my flight leaving Seattle.
Seattle (5 hours)-> Atlanta (17 hours)-> Johannesburg (4 hours)-> Antananarivo (2 hours)-> Diego Suarez (Antsiranana) = ~28 hours flight time.
Apparently the flight from Atlanta to Johannesburg is regarded as the second longest non-stop commercial flight currently offered, which covers 13,582 miles and clocks in at 16 hours 40 minutes. My scheduled flights once I reached Johannesburg stopped lining up. I had an overnight in Johannesburg before heading to Madagascar. I met a number of competitors while waiting to board my flight to Antananarivo. Racers were easy to spot. We all wore odd clothing and carried even stranger backpacks with these bizarre drink bottles attached to the front shoulder straps.
There was a challenge placed before me even before the race began. My checked baggage between Johannesburg and Antananarivo (Tana for short) did not arrive on the plane with me. As I stood in the airport watching bag after bag come down the carousel, it became a little unsettling the longer I waited. When I realized no more bags were coming, and mine hadn’t materialized, it became a terrible feeling of hopelessness. Roughly one third of the items I had planned for the race were now missing. There was no hope of the bag catching up to me before the start of the event either. To say I was angry and frustrated would be an understatement. I filed a lost luggage report at the airport, then wandered outside to catch my shuttle to the hotel for the night. Once there, I had a three hour emotional roller-coaster pity party for one in my hotel room. I finally decided since there was nothing I could do about the bag, I might as well just push on and see where I ended up. I made a list of all the items I had with me, and all the items I was missing.
By complete happenstance, during dinner at my hotel that evening in Tana, I met a retired couple from Oregon who were finishing up their three week holiday in Madagascar. I told them about my trip, the race, and my lost bag. They offered to give me quite a few of their supplies, as they were flying home the following day and had no further use for much of what was filling their luggage. Their generosity began filling in the gaps of what I was missing. I still needed several items, but my outlook on the trip improved dramatically that night.
The following morning I had to be back at the airport at 4am for an early flight North to Diego Suarez. Once at the airport I met up with many of the other competitors and began to relate my tale thus far. Lee and Tanya were especially concerned for me, but agreed that I was likely to find charity in spades from fellow competitors once we arrived in Diego.