We did it! Racing the Planet: Madagascar Ultramarathon

It has been several days now since the end of Racing the Planet`s 2014 Roving Race in Madagascar. Rich and I are happily tucked away in Cape Town and enjoying not needing to move. We`ll be discussing the race in further detail in the days to come, but for now, as we know some readers may have missed our race updates, we`d like to take a moment and share those posts with you.

Each post was written at the end of the day, after the different stages. These posts had to be uploaded to the Racing the Planet website via satellite, therefore we were unable to upload and share our experiences here in real time.

STAGE 1
31-Aug-2014 01:51:29 AM [(GMT+08:00) Beijing, Chongqing, Hong Kong, Urumqi]

Some like it hot, and sandy.

Looking at the course guide this morning, I assumed that this would be a nice and easy day to ease us into the day to day of running an ultra.

I was wrong. What was meant to be nice and easy was actually hot and exhausting. The beginning was lovely, 10km along the Indian ocean, trekking along beach and rock. Rich and I even saw a whale pop up from the ocean along the way.

But once we got past the first checkpoint it all went downhill for Rich and myself. It was hot, felt like 50 degrees in the sun, and the terrain consisted almost entirely of sand jeep tracks. With every step we sunk a bit into the sand, sucking out our energy and putting way too much pressure on all our joints. We began to opt to walk alongside the trail as much as possible, often opting to walk directly in the sun’s path and walk on a hard surface, rather than take shade and sand. By the time we reached the third checkpoint, my left knee and hip were killing me, like a pinching in my side. Rich as well began to feel a steady hurt in the right knee, and several blister hotspots.

Eventually, we did finish. By eventually, I mean nine hours that felt like an eternity.

Tomorrow is meant to be more of the same.

We’re not excited

Competitors climb along a coral reef (Stage 1)

Competitors climb along a coral reef

STAGE 2
01-Sep-2014 01:24:23 AM [(GMT+08:00) Beijing, Chongqing, Hong Kong, Urumqi]

Thing I never thought I`d do. Today was tough as can be. 10 kilometers further than yesterday with an hour less sleep.

The sun was absolutely brutal, and the sun has burned the back of my hands to oblivion. Luckily today I was dressed for the sun, so that was the only bit of me to burn, though the back of Rich’s arms look awful. A lot of people seem to have dropped out of the race already.

Despite the toughness, the day was full of some very crazy experiences that I’d never even dreamed of.

1. I sunk knee deep into mud while attempting to navigate a rice paddy. Rich only went down to the ankle, though he did have to save another American who nearly lost her shoe to the paddy.

2. Was actually happy to be covered in mud, as it reduced the impact of the sun’s heat

3. Ran through the middle of Africa is the pitch black

4. Had to be led through the jungle by a local when we could no longer see the flags and took a wrong turn into a village.

And my favourite:
5. Waded waist deep through a fresh water river in the middle of Madagascar at night. Felt like I should have been out there with Bear Grylls.

Overall, stage 2 was really difficult and thoroughly exhausting. Rich only has a few more blisters though. Somehow I’m still blister free. Despite the long day I think we both still feel really good, though a bit sore.

View of a baobab forest (Stage 2)

View of a baobab forest

STAGE 3
02-Sep-2014 01:24:00 AM [(GMT+08:00) Beijing, Chongqing, Hong Kong, Urumqi]

Halfway there

Today was absolutely a testament to why you should not drop out of these races. Though a longer day at 42 kilometers, today’s course was fantastic. It is as hot as ever, but we passed by the famed Red Tsingy of Madagascar, along cliffsides, and through stunning canyons made of red clay. I can’t wait to see all the pictures that Rich has taken.

Rather hysterically though, we got to watch NHK’s media team (the national broadcasting company of Japan) crash a drone with camera into the side of the tsingy.

Rich is doing really well. He’s super strong and almost pulling me along. I’ve taken to copying the movement of his feet just to keep up. It is working as pretty good motivation. We both tired though with about 5 kilometers left.

It has been quite sad seeing so many people pull out of the race. A few people we’ve walked with have quit due to things like dehydration and heat exhaustion. I understand why they’re leaving, but it is always hard to see a friend go.

Well, we’ve completed 3 stages now, only 3 more to go. We’re halfway to the end!

A red tsingy canyon (Stage 3)

A red tsingy canyon (Stage 3)

STAGE 4
03-Sep-2014 02:24:05 AM [(GMT+08:00) Beijing, Chongqing, Hong Kong, Urumqi]

4 STAGES DOWN, LONG MARCH TOMORROW

Today was awesome. Rich and I did really well. At the first checkpoint we were in 189th and 190th place for the day, and finished the stage in 145th and 146th place. We really kicked it up a notch, and got into camp before nightfall!

The stage was hot once more, but we occasionally encountered clouds. The trail was a bit mundane, though we were traveling through tall grass. No more sand!!! We passed by a sacred lake, which was absolutely stunning, especially as we were walking on the cliff above the lake. The final section was through a local village. The kids were so excited to see us, trying to shake our hands. It was really quite cute, especially since they were all speaking to us in French.

I’m really happy, and bright red from all the mud and dust.

Tomorrow we have the long march, 77km of pure pain. Despite the distance I think that Rich and I are both in really good shape going into this course. We both have pretty minimal blisters and no injuries to speak of. I have all the faith in the world that we’ll get through it, and that you’ll see us crossing the finish line on Saturday.

The sacred lake (Stage 4)

The sacred lake (Stage 4)

STAGE 5
05-Sep-2014 09:30:25 AM [(GMT+08:00) Beijing, Chongqing, Hong Kong, Urumqi]

We did it!

It took over 21 hours for Rich and I to complete the 77 kilometer course but we finished! I couldn’t be more excited or more proud of us. The course started out as usual, super-hot and sandy, but the cloud gods decided to bless me on my birthday and some big old grey ones rolled in.

The highlight of the course was the grey tsingy that we walked alongside for several kilometers. I can’t say that the rest of the course was particularly interesting as night fell around 5:30 and we were plunged into darkness well before reaching checkpoint 5 (there were 8 sections to the course).

Unfortunately, getting to checkpoint five after dark meant that we had to complete the river crossings for the day after dark, therefore our socks really never had a chance to dry, and the blisters had all the room in the world to start building and growing. Neither of our feet are particularly happy today…

We did get to stop in at checkpoint 5 for a meal and an hour and a half rest, which was hugely needed in order for us to keep on pushing forward. The two of us grouped up with 2 of our other tentmates for the rest of the course. There have been 41 drop-outs, and yet everyone in our tent is still in the race!
The four of us powered through the darkness, traversing what must have been high grass plains, more river crossings, and lots more sandy roads.

Rich was in a bad way starting from about 15 kilometers from the finish. His legs and his feet had all begun toshin feel as heavy as lead. I’m so impressed though as he was just able to put his headphones on and power through the rest of the course.

The last 2 kilometers seemed to take forever. By this time all of our group had plugged into our MP3 players and were pushing as long as hard as we could, but being so close and yet so far was incredibly draining. We made it though, getting into camp just as the sun was rising.

Several hours have now passed. Rich and I are beginning to feel human once more and are dreaming of cheeseburgers. Even though most of us are heavily blistered and struggling to walk, spirits are really high. Only 10 more kilometres left and this challenge will be complete. I can’t imagine that we won’t be able finishing the race tomorrow morning. I’m so excited!

Clouds gather along Stage 5

Clouds gather along Stage 5

STAGE 6

(Rich and I did not write a post directly after Stage 6 – we were too excited to have finished, however it really was a great day, and will try to recreate if for you now.)

Our 10 kilometers started at 7am and we were digging into some lovely samosas and beer by 8:30. We tried to run most of the course but were too plagued by blisters and knee pain to really want to. Both of our heels had sustained a fair amount of damage over the week, and even though we are both forefoot runners it killed, every time we put a foot down the backs of our heels would rub against our trainers and everything would just burn.

The first 7 kilometers was on dirt track running from one village to another. It was uneventful except for the small undulations in the hillside and the old women who tried to run alongside us as we went by.

The last 3 kilometers found us running along tarmac, through a city. Locals lined the streets, waiting for our arrival. They all cheered us on, and little children waved the pink flags marking our course at us as we went.

We ran as much as we could through this area, which the locals loved. As we ran along cheers would erupt from each side of the road, urging us on. A couple of times I`d hear people yell out that there was an American running. No one seemed to care much about the Aussie to my right (hehe).

About 400 meters from the finish line, we could see the black Racing the Planet banner waving ahead. I screamed `Oh My God, we`re almost there` and hand in hand, the two of us sprinted off. We were ecstatic to finish and have those finisher`s medals were hung around our necks.

It was a brilliant end to one heck of a week.

I can`t wait to do another one. Now, just to convince Rich that we should…

We did it! Race completed

We did it! Race completed

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