Posts Tagged ‘challenge’

Pequeño Alpamayo - Bolívia

Exhausted medal ceremony

Made it!!!

Sunday was the Rio Half Marathon – 21km of running along the beautiful beaches of Rio, from Recreio and through the Barra da Tijuca region to São Conrado. I was slightly nervous as my training has been less than ideal for a running event like this. As I mentioned in the last post, I had run a 15km at the end of the year with the 15km São Silvestre in São Paulo, but relatively little running since then. The only thing I had going for me was a good level of general fitness from the Casa de Pedra gym and climbing training, and the LEJOG cycle ride, though not training specific for running.

Getting ready to run!

Getting ready to run!

My time for the São Silvestre was 1h25mins – about 10.5km per hour. If I managed to keep the same speed, I would manage to complete the Rio event in two hours, so that was my goal. I figured that as the Rio race was almost completely flat – with just one “hill” after 17km – I could do it slightly quicker if things went well; the São Silvestre went up and down plenty of hills in São Paulo, so more challenging in that respect.

First thing was first, it was good to be in Rio again and away from São Paulo, though this was my first time in Barra da Tijuca – I stayed in a hostel in the central area, near Novo Leblon, called Adepta hostel – a fantastic price of r$88 (about US$ 40) for a night – pretty low for Rio, especially in the wealthy area of Barra. And it was a great place – very safe neighbourhood, very quite, and near plenty of places to eat and relax. Definitely would recommend it. A couple of runners from São Paulo stayed there as well – they arrived at the same time as me – and it was good to wander around with them. The taxi driver taking us there was slightly crazy and dodgy though – he almost crashed in to the back of a car stopped at a red traffic light and braked and swerved at the last-minute, before going straight through the light. He blamed the driver of the other car for having stopped, complaining that he didn’t need to stop for pedestrians…. I was happy to get out. Aside from this, however, Barra was very nice – extremely different from the main southern and central zones of Rio – it was almost like a different city entirely

The day of the race… 7am was the start time, so we got there at 6am. Light warm ups and stretches; a bit more water… psyching ourselves up for the race with music playing loudly in a party-like atmosphere at the start… trying to make the legs feel slightly less heavy… and at 7am, off we went.

En RouteThe first minute was spent shuffling along with the peloton to the starting line – there were 3,000 runners and I was somewhere in the front-middle. The music soon faded away, and it was just the sound of our footsteps on the tarmac and the waves. While at the São Silvestre it seemed like the entire city was out watching the race and cheering everyone on, here the event was much less popular, and only a few early-morning drinkers and surfers were watching – probably more bemused than anything else. My legs felt heavy still for the first ten minutes but I was able to establish a nice rhythm of about 5m24s per kilometre and felt good after those initial minutes.

There were water points every three kilometres and I was grateful for every one of them. I would take in general two cups of water and a gulp of Gatorade at each point – one cup to pour over my head and cool me down, and one to drink for hydration. Definitely helped as it was 25C so pretty warm. I had a couple of “Gu” energy sachets, which were fantastic – I took one after 8km and the other after 15km. I prefer the taste of Blocks, but Blocks are more solid, so harder to eat when running, where Gu is what the description says… Gu-ey! So easy to eat and swallow.

I managed to keep up the rhythm for the first 17km or so, up to the main uphill. I was pleased that I managed to beat my 15km São Silvestre time by about six minutes, reaching that point at 79mins. At the uphill, though, I felt my pace dropping a little and then it turned more into a mental battle with myself. It would have been easy to slow down or maybe just have walked a little, but I refused to let myself and had to push myself forward. Am pretty sure that had I done more training, it would have helped a lot here. After the hill, it was okay again, until the final kilometre, or, to be more precise, the final 800 metres…

At that point I could see as sign saying “500 metres” to go… then a bit ahead “400 metres”.. etc… I had been quite happy with just kilometre markers before this, so the time it took me to go every one of those last few hundred metres seemed to take forever; it was like some twisted form of torture!! I am sure they did it for good reasons, to encourage people those last few hundred metres, but for me… well, I was glad to cross the line! And I was elated to have completed my first half marathon!

My final time… 1 hour, 54 minutes, 59 seconds!

Definitely extremely pleased with myself for this, and confident that I will be able to do better next time: Porto Alegre in little over 82 days on 30 June. Check the website of the organisers – if you are around, give me a shout!

(Final note… Aside from the photos from Asics, I didn’t take many pictures from Rio this time, so have included a few from last time I went – such a great city!)

We have decided what to do for our northern hemisphere winter training in January – February! It was a choice between whether to do the Polar training at Baffin Island or a cycle tour. We have chosen the latter, and will do the Polar training in early 2014, and we will be cycling from Land’s End to John O’Groats..!

A fresh and clear winter’s day looking out over Lancaster and Morecambe Bay – NOT the type of conditions we expect to face very often during this ride!

It will be one grueling journey of around 1700km, and certainly not easy that’s for sure – combating the tough elements of the British winter – wind, rain, snow, ice and a bit more wind and rain! Though the whole point is for it not to be easy: When we go on the actual expedition, we are going to meet some pretty dreadful conditions every now and then, so to prepare for the worst, we need to experience the worst, so what better than a good old British winter!?

At the same time, the terrain is varied, with good periods going through mountainous or hilly regions (the hills may be low in altitude, but they sure do take their toll on you!). Also, there are plenty of flatter areas to go through where we can cover longer distances quicker. The landscape as we go through England and Scotland are spectacular, and what’s more is that we will be camping for a good part of the journey, so the three of us we will get used to each others’ company for this journey – it’s not just the physical challenges that can be tough!

At the same time, we will be raising funds for the WWF over the course of this journey – as you may have seen from other posts, we can pretty much be described as nature lovers, and we are proud to try raising funds for an organization that seeks to help endangered animals and develop conservation and sustainability initiatives in the face of global warming. Please visit our JustGiving Page here. We hope that you will be donate generously in support of us and the WWF.

The first leg of our journey is to leave from São Paulo to Corumbá, travelling the 1,400km or so route by bike. We should hopefully be in good shape as after all, we will have been spending the good part of two years preparing for this, so something would be very wrong if we are not!

The main highlight of this journey is arriving at the Pantanal – a massive tropical wetland largely located in Mato Grosso state, Brazil, thought also extends into Bolivia and Paraguay, covering around 160,000 square kilometres. The area is a massive flood plain, and the rains, which occur largely between November and March, can make the water levels rise by up to around five meters in the season. Fortunately, the flooding is quite slow as the regions is pretty flat, and also we will be going at the beginning of the dry season when the waters start to recede.

I have lived in Brazil for five years and wanted to go to the Pantanal for at least ten years, but still haven’t been there, so am quite looking forward to reaching it (the photos on this page, whilst taken by me, were taken of these animals in different parts of Brazil, though these are some of what we can expect to see).

Aside from the massive scale of the land, you can see all sorts of bird life, marine and land animal life. You get caiman alligators,  anteaters, jaguars, macaws, eagles and… unfortunately from my point of view… mosquitos (love-hate relationship; they love me…) and snakes. Anacondas (have you seen the film…? Stupid, isn’t it…?! Still terrifies me to death, though. That’s not even touching on Snakes on a Plane…. I know, I know… pathetic!). But I suppose even them being around won’t put me off too much and I will have to get over it somehow! Wikipedia says that the place is thought to be home to 1000 bird species, 400 fish species, 300 mammalian species, 480 reptile species and over 9000 different subspecies of invertebrates – quite an amazing thought. Though at the same time sad with the human threats of commercial fishing, cattle ranching, hunting, deforestation and pollution. Always very sad to see this happening to such incredible places.

I would love to go a non-straight-forward route through the Pantanal – going off the main roads/tracks, to actually hike and bike, through the undergrowth. Not sure how much this is possible though, considering the time of year with the waters still high and I have a vague suspicion that we won’t be able to carry a boat around with us. That might be slightly impractical. I see on Google Maps that there is a road which goes through it, from Aquidauana north of the main road, and goes for about 400 kilometers or so. The images from parts of it on street view make it look like a bit of a track… so hopefully this would be a good way to go about it, making it a bit more exciting than just a plain road, and hopefully allowing us to see more of the amazing animals that inhabit the area. Then if you zoom further in on the maps, you see lots of minor roads which go through it… how accurate are these..? Are they passable when the terrain is flooded..? If passable, they must be a lot of fun!

Have you cycled or travelled through the Pantanal without going with tour guides? Or done the journey from one side to another (going north to south or vice-versa would also be interesting to know about!)? We would be really interested in hearing your thoughts about this part of the journey and the ways it can be done.


With such a project and journey at hand, it can be difficult to wrap your head around it all. Even in this modern age, where the world is (mostly) mapped out and a major airline can bring you virtually anywhere on the globe, envisioning how this can be completed can be difficult. It sometimes feels like trying to imagine the edge of the universe, the end of infinity. “What do you mean walking across the poles?” my family members asked me after I told them about my recent decision to join the 360Extremes team. Have you ever taken a look at the North Pole on Google Earth? It’s all blue. It’s a massive area of water that is simply covered in frozen ice – there is no land beneath it as there is in Antarctica. Our changing environment also poses a challenge for crossing the North Pole. With the pack ice decreasing in thickness each year, the opportunity to journey across it by foot may not be feasible for our grandchildren.

There is a certain level of mental endurance needed to complete this expedition and it is as important, if not more so, than our physical training and technical knowledge. The expedition will traverse numerous environments and ecosystems. We will need to know at least the basics of mountaineering, climbing, backpacking and back country skills, bicycle touring, and sailing to name a few. Many of these skills will also need to be used in different environments – from summer to winter, rain, snow, diamond dust; desert sands; high winds and more.

Even now as I read through my go to textbook, Mountaineering: Freedom of the Hills, my head swims with all the knowledge I am trying to absorb. Anyone can learn technical skills. What is going to make the difference for us and really help us get to our final goal is the mental endurance to persevere, keep each other’s morale positive, and keep our wits about us when things don’t go according to plan. So how do you even begin training for this? Hiking is usually my go to for a day adventure or when I need to get away without doing something overly strenuous (Ramapo Mountains and Harriman state park don’t top out much above 1,000ft/304m).

However, for training for this journey, I will be using these hills for extremely long day hikes – hikes that when I get to the trail head in the morning, seem too long to complete in one day. This will force me to think in survival mode and “what ifs” – What if I get stuck in inclement weather, or hurt myself, or don’t move fast enough? Packing for all possible situations is just as necessary on a day hike as it is on a global expedition. Many climbers have died from a day hike or climb that they have done many times before – check this recent story about a New Hampshire climber. This isn’t meant to scare anyone – it is to show how serious preparation and planning is for any outdoor excursion and how seriously we will be taking it.

For those of you up to date with this years winter in the north-east of the United States, it’s been quite mild. About a month ago we had a little snow storm that dumped around 6-7 inches across the hills. The storm started at around 4am. At 7am I was waking up and by 8am I was at the trail head. What was an unplanned hike at first turned into a 7 mile trek during the storm with ever-increasing ground snow.

It was at the 2 mile mark where I made the decision to take a long route that, once started, would be better to push through than turn back. I looked long and hard at my map, wondering if this was a good idea. I then looked down the snow-covered path seeing a mysterious trail with unknowns ahead of me. How long will this take? What time will I make it home? How much snow will be dumped in the next couple of hours? I opened up my pack to check my contents – medical kit, head lamp, extra food and water, and a few extra dry articles of clothing.

I then realized that it’s the mystery, the unknown that makes it exciting.

I came out in a snow storm on purpose because I didn’t know what the trails were going to be like. I took a step forward and began my long trek home. Hours later, the snow became a burden, and going uphill was painful. I was pushing five or so hours of almost non-stop hiking in 6 inches of snow with only my winter boots. As I approached the last mile away the trail head, my mind found excuses to kneel down, or lean against a tree.My rest periods kept increasing in length. I got tired more quickly. I remember a paragraph from a book I read called “War” by Sebastian Junger. (See full New York Times review here). He talks about exhaustion in a war-like setting – places where not only are the elements against you, but other human beings. The mentality of constantly hunting and being hunted. I’ll paraphrase but he relates exhaustion as going down into a valley from a ridge. By the time your mind thinks the body is drained of energy and cannot go on further, you’ve only barely made it off the ridge. In truth, you have so much further to go into the valley before you’ve completely bonked. In essence, it’s all a mind game.

I plan on doing more of these long hikes and hope, as the weather improves, to start doing long cycle tours, working my way up to overnight trips to really get into the habit of land travel, camping and survival. Physically, I hope to not only to gain enough strength to endure these long journey’s but to get my body used to using and consuming that many calories.

Mentally, I hope to realize long journeys are simply made up of smaller parts. Joe Simpson crossed the crevasse field after a long and already strenuous ordeal by breaking the crawl into small portions – x amount of meters here, y amount of meters there. He was severely injured and lived! Surely unhurt people can do the same!

Lastly, I’ve heard great reviews about Arno Ilgner’s “The Rock Warrior’s Way”. Not only are the mental tips and tricks useful for climbers – but for anyone when it comes to overcoming fears and doubts. Next week a friend and I will be heading up to the Catskills in New York State to hike the 24 mile Devil’s Path. Considered one of the hardest hiking trails on the East Coast, I hope the 18,000ft (5486m) of elevation gain and loss will give me an inkling into what alpine conditions are like. It should prove to be a fun, exciting and challenging time as well as good training for the 360Extremes Expedition.

In the mean time, I’d love to hear the community’s take on this – what have you done to train your mind for tough, run-out type conditions?

Yesterday was out first proper climbing session, out in the open at a place called Pedra Bela, about 100km north of São Paulo city. The rock stands out about 60 metres high at the top of a hill in a rather picturesque area, and there is a church on top of it. It is quite popular for both beginner and advanced climbers as there are parts which are only around 70-80 degrees – nice and positive – with plenty of places for hands and feet, as well as vertical climbs with few decent places to get a grip.

Heading out at 7am with a group of about 16 people from the Casa de Pedra climbing gym, we had a beautiful day for it – almost too beautiful, with temperatures of around 35C. We weren’t complaining though as, had it been raining it would have been cancelled, and it has been raining a lot these days in São Paulo.

It was great to be out of the climbing wall! Though it was very different – at the wall, there are plenty of big hand grips and places to put your feet. On the rock, we were clinging to tiny rock tips which were sticking out. Also in the safety of the gym, the “rocks” are not sharp..!  So whilst we would never get dropped on the rock, losing your balance could, and did, lead to lots of cuts, scrapes and bruises across the body!

I think both of us did well. We managed the basic climbs with no problems whatsoever, though when we got to the vertical ones… well these were hard. Natalia has definitely done well in terms of her progress in technical climbing and she managed these quite a bit quicker than me. I am slowly getting better with the technique but still need to work on it – with the last climb I did, I almost cried when I got to the top as it took so long and my legs and hands were hurting with the cuts sustained in loosing balance a couple of times! I need to depend and trust more in my feet and legs as opposed to my hands and arms.

We both, in the end, managed just about all the climbs we tried, though Natalia did one extra climb than myself – I lost a lot of energy with the climbs I did, and my fingers were burning from the cuts. Running out of water at those temperatures was not the best thing either, and there was nowhere around selling anything.

Got back home about 14 hours after we left, so it was a full day. It felt amazingly good to jump into a cold shower at the end, as in spite of a good factor 50 sun cream, we still ended up quite badly burned as well as sweaty and covered in chalk dust for keeping our fingers dry! Certainly slept well last night as well.

All worth the effort, though, and we will be back there soon – plenty more work to do and plenty to learn!

Before we started this project, I had never climbed properly before. Sure, going up the Chinese mountains along the tourist trails was something, but that was walking, not proper climbing. Having been very much afraid of heights ever since I was a child certainly was a contributing factor.

Going up escalators, I prefer to be on the side nearest a wall or where you can’t see down below. Walking over those grids in the street isn’t exactly nice either, and I can’t watch people standing on the edge of the balcony in a theatre; by the edge of a large open window on anything higher than a first floor, or at the top of a high building…Taking work from the top of our office building of the city around us… not nice at all. And, going up the mountains in China on stairs carved into the rock where there were sheer drops to the side: absolutely terrifying!!

Well, it’s something I really do have to get over and am not sure of what other ways to do it apart from what we are doing now which is climbing just about every night of the week. This coming weekend, we will be going to a place called Pedra Bella to go climbing for real in the natural environment – again, it’s another new experience and will lead to lots of new aspects of this project: In about four months or so, we will be going to Bolivia for some proper mountaineering.

I still don’t deal too well with heights – still not the best feeling at the top of the climbing wall looking down even though its only fourteen metres or so. Just thinking that Natalia just needs to lose concentration or the rope snaps, and I start to feel a bit queasy, and am always extremely happy when my feet touch the ground again. Things have certainly got to change for me to get up Everest!!! But slowly and surely am working on it and am determined to make sure it doesn’t stay any problem – at least I can make it to the top of the climbing wall now and next week, Pedra Bella awaits..!