I wasn't originally considering going to Iceland for the Spartan Ultra World Championships. However, I put my name in the hat for a giveaway that a podcast was doing, and that started getting me excited for the possibility of going. The pricetag of $700 plus travel expenses originally seemed obscene, but when I mentioned it to my sister, she said that she had been wanting to go to Iceland anyway for a while. So, whether or not I won the giveaway, she suggested that I go. I didn't win, but I signed up myself, and we started planning.
We did research on Pintrest and the like, and we worked on an itinerary. We'd fly in on Dec 9 in the morning, then see the South, then go up half of the West coast, before finishing the trip with the 24 hour race.
The first obstacle was getting there. My JetBlue connection had maintenance issues uncovered after we were on the plane. We sat on the plane for a couple of hours, through multiple attempts at rebooting the plane, before they gave up and cancelled the flight. The earliest they'd get me there was the following day, but that would've thrown off all of the many bookings we had made, with my sister and her boyfriend. I got my own ticket to the connecting city and somehow made it to the overseas flight. I was relieved when the plane to Iceland took off.
DAY 1: Seljalandfoss and Vik
Once we got in Iceland, we got some wifi, some food (thought the Iceland flight would have served dinner, but they didn't, so I was ready for food), some Krona, and the car.
It was dark when we landed at 6:15 am, since sunrise wouldn't be until 11:00-something (although it would start getting lighter earlier than that). Almost all of our driving was on the "ring road" that circles Iceland, that can be covered in 13 hours, from what we hear. After a coffee, bread, and cheese stop, on the way, our first destination was a waterfall called Seljalandfoss, which is right off of the road. There's a parking lot that you pull into, and the falls are nearly right there. It was cool to see a waterfall with icicles all around it.
There were some smaller waterfalls that you could walk to, not far from the main one, like less than a fourth of a mile away. Near the second falls, there was as water fountain-sized stream that shot into the air, that left a cool ice flow pattern on the ground. We would've gone farther, but I slipped on black ice and fell straight onto my back, so we turned back. We wanted to maximize daylight time for our next stop in Vik, anyways.
Vik is known for its black sand (from lava) beach, with hexagonal basalt columns that naturally formed as lava cooled. It's crazy to see hexagons created by nature!
The beach had a strange texture, because it was sand made of different-sized pieces of rock (some sections were fine, some were small pebbles, some were larger pebbles), but it was crustier than usual because it was frozen. It had some give to it. The texture was different, too, when you held it in your hand. The sand is coarser than normal sand.
There were also interesting rock formations right off of the coast. We watched the waves crash onto the rocks.
Afterwards, we got some groceries to last the next few days in more remote areas (at least farther from Reykjavik), like oranges and carrots for me. Then, we had dinner at a restaurant - they have lots of lamb dishes in this country. Food, especially restaurant food, is pricey in Iceland, maybe comparable to NYC rates. We weren't sure how often we'd get chances to go to restaurants, so we went while we could. It was good. They cook quality, tasty food here, made with wholesome ingredients. They don't cut corners.
We finished kind of early that day, so we still had some light left as we drove to our first hotel, Horgsland Cottages. Too bad it was always dark when we were there, since we couldn't enjoy the view of the mountain behind us. I chilled some beers outside in the ice and we settled in for our first night in Iceland. My sister and I went out late at night to try to look for Northern Lights. No lights, but we saw tons of stars, even a shooting star. We were only out there for about 5 minutes because it was so cold, but that was a cool moment to share with her.
DAY 2: Ice Cave Tour, Glacier Lagoon, and Diamond Beach
We head out before 7am the next morning, so that we could get to the meeting point for our Ice Cave Tour. My sister had found beautiful pictures of blue ice caves. This one ended up being mostly grey, but it was still cool to venture into the cave and look around.
Every year in October, the various Ice Cave companies scout out Ice Caves, which may develop or disappear from year-to-year depending on how the meltwaters from glaciers flow then harden in the winter. We had to drive out to the area in trucks with giant tires that can inflate and deflate to handle varying levels of ground snow and ice. The wind out there was crazy, so we shielded ourselves on the lee side of the truck while we put on microspikes.
The cave had a normal section, and a section with a stream that flowed through then went underground. Different ice cave companies have different safety policies, and ours didn't let us go to the part by the water, but I understand. It was still nice being in the cave. One spot had some blue hues to it, and one spot had something like a natural ice chimney hole that went up.
I happened to have my headlamp with me, which was nice for looking around.
After that, we went to the Glacier Lagoon, which was perhaps my favorite place during the whole trip. It's a lagoon with iceburgs in it. A path takes you around one side of it. It's big. In the warmer months, they offer boat tours. The iceburgs were different shades of blue, grey, and white. We even saw a seal / otter thing, poking its head out of the near-freezing water.
It was so great that we went twice, once before we went to Diamond Beach across the road, and again after, as the sun set. The colors, and wind causing ripples on the water were very different, so it was very much worth it to see it twice.
Right across the road (still the very convenient Ring Road) was Diamond Beach, where smaller pieces of Iceburgs flowed into the ocean and washed up and melted a little on shore, leaving a multitude of diamond-looking pieces of ice. They come in all kinds of strange shapes and sizes.
Although less daylight means fewer hours to explore the country, it does mean that the hours that you do have are all the "golden hour" like what you encounter near sunset or sunrise, when the light shades everything in a beautiful golden light. Maybe that's what I saw in South Africa, when the sun and everything looked oddly golden.
We stayed at a nice hotel that night - Fosshotel Glacier Lagoon. It's fancy, and includes a great breakfast buffet in the morning. It was the nicest place we stayed in the whole trip. There were big windows that looked out to the ocean. Still, no Northern lights, though.
We had dinner at a gas station that also had a counter where you could order cooked food... I had lamb soup. Kinda pricey, for a gas station meal, but there weren't too many options in the area. Pretty good food, though. I had a few bites of my sister's lamb burger.
DAY 3: Svartifoss & Glacier Tongue Hike
The next day, after breakfast at the hotel watching the colors of the sunrise, we headed out to Svartifoss, what I consider the premier waterfall of Iceland. Gulfoss, which I didn't see during the trip, may be what most people consider the premier one, but based on the pictures, Svartifoss seems the most unique. It has a waterfall, plus the basalt columns.
It's a 1.8k hike one-way to get there. On the way, there's another waterfall you can look over.
Conditions change from month to month and day to day, but on that day, people could manage getting to the far-off overlook for Svartifoss without crampons or yak trax. However, to get closer, even Yak Trax wouldn't be sufficient for the icey trails down to the water. I drove about 50 minutes round trip back to the hotel to get my ice crampons, and with those, we were able to take turns going down to the waterfall.
It was worth it driving to get the crampons, because it was really cool to see those columns up close. In life post-Iceland, I'm still excited whenever I see hexagons in tiles or wherever now.
We had enough time for the second well-traveled hike in the area, the Glacier Tongue hike. It's also 1.8 miles one way, and it takes you to the edge of the glacier. It was getting darker at that time, and you had to follow posts in the ground, which made it feel adventurous. It was cool exploring that with my two travel buddies.
The glacier is huge. Since glaciers are retreating, it's cool to see these things while we can.
After the hike and dinner at the national park's cafe, we stopped at the gas station for some cute souvenirs.
DAY 4: Skogafoss & Reykjavik's Sunvoyager, Harpa, Fish & Chips, and Hallgrimskirkja
On our last full day with my sister's boyfriend, we started with a treacherous 5 hour drive in snowy and icy conditions back to the capital. Thankfully, we made it safely. On the way, we stopped at Skogafoss, which we somehow missed on the way out. You get to climb up to the top (it took me about 5 minutes, power-jogging up the steps), and/or see it from the bottom, and again, it's right off of the main Ring Road.
At the top, I was goofing around with my puffin hat, pretending to fly on one foot. An international visitor asked if she could take a picture of me, too, haha, after seeing my sister taking pictures of me.
Here were the views from the bottom, where bus loads of people were:
Once in the city, we parked in a parking garage (convenient and cheap), and first stopped at the Sunvoyager, which is right by the road and on the water.
Next, we walked to the nearby Harpa, with its cool architecture. We browsed the shops there.
On the way, I found the one and only geocache that I logged while in Iceland. Epic logging shot!
The streets in downtown Reykjavik were decorated for Christmas, which made it even cooler to walk around. We stopped in souvenier shops along the way, and enjoyed just making discoveries.
We had dinner at a Fish & Chips restaurant, that specialized in that dish, made with different kinds of fish and different styles of potatoes with different sauces. Quality and tasty, as usual with Iceland.
There's a website that lets you estimate your chances of seeing the Northern Lights over the next 3 days, based on cloud coverage and solar activity. We hadn't had any success thus far, chances weren't looking good for the next few days, and we were running out of days on our trip, so my sister and I went out in the wee hours of the night, on the outer edges of the capital, to try again. For a while, we saw a faint white patch that could've been clouds, or could've been it, but it was hard to tell. The city lights didn't help. Even if you don't see it, though, you can at least enjoy the adventure of trying.
DAY 6: Kirkjufell Mountain & Snaefellsjokull National Park
The next morning, my sister's boyfriend had to fly back, so my sister and I went on Northward to Snaefellsnes Peninsula. We drove in the dark. When we first got to Kirkjufell mountain, the most iconic landmark in Iceland, the mountain was shrouded in clouds. It was all snowy there. That was pretty disappointing, but since we were already there, we started walking to the nearby mini-waterfall. While we were doing that, the clouds went away, and the mountain appeared! And actually, the shots with the clouds disappating were cool, because it was like the mountain was wearing a scarf.
We had time, so we started making our way through Snaefellsjokull National Park. It's about an hour away from Kirkjufell. It's a nice drive... all the drives in Iceland are interesting, with the mountains, the snow, harbor towns, little farm villages, mossy fields, and the ocean. We saw some miniature horses on our way! My sister was very happy.
There are different places to stop or look at, along the way. We first stopped at a volcanic crater (Saxholl) that you could climb up.
Next, we went to Djupalonssandur & Dritvik beach, which had a bunch of cool things:
1) Tangled rock formations that looked like something from Lord of the Rings
2) Lifting stones that the fishermen used to use to assess strength (they were fused to the ground by the ice, and/or too heavy on their own, for me to test)
3) Strewn wreckage from a trawler, that reminded you of Lost or something like that
4) The biggest waves I might've seen my whole life... "sneaker" ones that will suddenly burst far into the beach, that can pull people into the ocean
5) A 1k trail along lava fields (similar to what you see while you're driving to the parking lot... endless lava fields that are like waves)
7) An "elf church"
If you like exploring and adventure, this is a cool place... maybe my second favorite, behind Glacier Lagoon, with the 3rd favorite being the ice cave.
After that, we stopped at a lighthouse, in the fading light. The waves continued to crash onto the rocks.
We drove back to the hotstelly apartment on some crazy winding, steep dirt road with cliff edges that surprised you at each turn.
That night, the Geminid Meteor Shower was scheduled to hit. While we still didn't get to see the northern lights, we did get to watch shooting stars together, with Kirkjufell as the backdrop. My sister took some cool pictures of the mountain and the night sky with her fancy camera.
DAY 7: Chilling in Grundarfjordur (city by Kirkjufell)
Everyone has a different traveling style. Mine is typically start early, go for as long as you can, packing in as many places as you can while sufficiently seeing everything and soaking it in, usually on foot (rather than on a tour bus). On this day, though, since we were ahead of schedule by having seen most of what we wanted to see in Snaefellsness the previous day, we decided to make it a day for chilling at the hostelly apartment. We slept in, I coached my sister on how to crew the race, we shopped for groceries, we made food, we played cards, and we enjoyed the sight of Kirjufell from our room and from the shared kitchen's window. We had to recover from the night out watching the Geminids, anyways.
On the topic of crewing, my sister hadn't originally planned on sticking around, then she found out what I was going to be trying to do in the Ultra. On the drive to Snaefellsjokull national park, we listened to a World's Toughest Mudder podcast, that recounted someone's experience with that 24 hour race, lap by lap. It was scary and funny at the same time, to hear how cold he was in the Vegas race, and how he started being like delirious towards the latter laps, sharing personal insights with his crew member on how he wants to tackle his tendencies to procrastinate, and let it "die in the desert, choking on its own regret", or something like that. I taught her about the purpose of each food/drink item that I had brought, and I made up my plan per lap on what I'd potentially consume, or what gear I'd change out. She'd be volunteering, so I'd be on my own for the first couple of laps, and I wanted to have something to guide me even when no person was around.
It was good to kind of rest, since the next day would be the pre-race briefing, and the day after that would be the 24 hour race. I guess 6 days of travel is worth a day of rest, in any case.
DAY 8: Blue Lagoon, Harpa Pre-Race Briefing, Laundromat Cafe
The next morning, we left early to go to Blue Lagoon, a famous geothermal spa near Reykjavik. It's fancy and about $61, but everyone raves about it.
It's a big man-made lagoon, heated by geothermal power. It's big enough so that you feel like you're exploring its different sections. There's a little cave, a waterfall, bridges to go under, a silica mud mask station, a swim-up bar, and a pure Icelandic cool water fountain. It was nice going in the morning, since we saw the sunrise colors, and later on the normal daylight views.
There are a lot of people in there, but it's big enough so that it doesn't feel too crowded. With the warm water and all the bodies, I was sometimes reminded of a people stew, though.
After that, we checked in at our AirBNB, then walked to the Harpa, where the Spartan pre-race briefing would be held. I saw Spartans descend on the place. Lots of very fit endurance athletes there.
Joe DeSena was there. They had a motivational speaker pump us up with an Iceland chant. They showed us what the bibs and medals looked like. They reviewed the rules and answered questions. Then, we picked up our bibs and timing chips.
My sister met me afterwards, and we went to the Laundromat Cafe, so that we could have dinner, and do laundry (it's a place with a cafe upstairs and a small laundromat downstairs). It was $7 for the washer and $7 for the dryer, but I did see a sign about them helping to open a school in a third world country. It was good food, and a fun experience. The AirBNB didn't have any laundry facilities, and I wanted to be able to race in clean clothes - much more comfortable.
DAY 8 & 9: Spartan Ultra World Championships
Buses picked up racers from various hotels in Reykjavik. My sister dropped me off, and the bus left at 9am, with my gear bag (my large roller duffle luggage) under the bus. I tried to rest for part of it, to get sleep while I could. There were people from many countries aboard.
We arrived at an indoor soccer dome, and waited in line to enter through revolving doors. We'd be going through those doors to access the transition area after each lap. The portapotties were outside, so I stopped there before going in.
Most of the dome was for the festival area, with obstacles that people could try, a few food and souvenir vendors, an area with blow-up cots for spectators and racers to use to rest, and a main stage. The transition area was on the far side, with half dedicated to elite racers who were allowed to keep their stuff spread out in each racer's plot of space, and half with tables for the open masses to put their bags in. It was crowded, but I guess you have to balance accessibility (which would be impaired if it was too big and spread out, leading to people having to travel bigger distances to get their stuff) and crowdedness. Because people came in at different times between laps, it wasn't too bad, once the race started.
They had a countdown timer projected on the roof of the dome until the pre-race ceremonies would begin. We had about an hour to get our gear ready, before hand.
We had a list of mandatory gear that we were supposed to either wear or carry with us during the whole race, and on top of that, you want to always have spares in your drop bag to change into, depending on temps, and depending on whether you get your clothes wet during the race.
Here was the list:
• 1 backpack, running vest, or other device capable of carrying all mandatory equipment
• 1 waterproof shell jacket with hood - all seams must be taped/sealed
• 1 fleece, down, or synthetic jacket - for warmth
• 1 long sleeve thermal top – cotton and lycra garments are not suitable
• 1 pair long running pants or leggings - must fully cover the legs
• 1 pair waterproof shell pants / trousers
• 1 hat – to protect you from the cold, such as a beanie, balaclava, thermal buff
• 1 pair of waterproof gloves – must be full fingered, ski gloves would be appropriate
Medical & Safety
• 2 waterproof lights with backup batteries – you must carry two light sources, one must be a headlamp. The second can be a headlamp or handheld flashlight. Do not bring rechargeable batteries • 1 red flashing light - required in addition to your headlamp and backup light. This must be attached to your pack, vest or headlamp strap at all times
• 1 survival blanket or bivvy
• 1 emergency whistle
• 1 compression bandage – minimum dimensions 2 inches (5cm) wide x 7.5 feet (2.3m) long un-stretched (example)
• 1 foot care kit – must include 1 roll of surgical / paper tape (example), 2 safety pins, 1 roll of elastic tape (example), 10 alcohol wipes
Hydration & Nutrition
• Hydration system – the capability to carry a minimum of 1 liter (30oz) of water in any type of containers The following 2 items ARE mandatory but do not have to be carried with you on the course (may be stored in your drop box):
• Electrolyte source – such as SCaps, Endurolytes, SaltStick, Nuun. Pay attention to the recommended intake for your chosen product
• Calorie source – gels, bars, or whatever foods suit your needs. Most athletes will require between 200-300 calories per hour
It's a lot. I suppose they want to mitigate risks and liabilities. Most people who would sign up for this kind of know what they're doing and what they need, though, and some of the items on the list leave you scratching your head.
For pre-race ceremonies, they had some vikings pay tribute to viking gods, they had a really cool pump-up video, and probably another briefing on instructions.
It started with a 5K prologue run around the town of Hveragerdi. It spread out the racers without obstacles or terrain causing backlogs. I liked it. Some 24 hour races start the first lap with a normal lap that's obstacle-free, but it was good to have something a little different, with flat terrain. If we had used the race course, the single-track and crawling climbs would've caused backlogs, so it was good that it wasn't there.
I knew that to survive 24 hours of movement, I'd have to employ some sort of run/walk strategy. The longest continuous obstacle course race I had done before this was a 7.5 hour Battlefrog Extreme, where I got about 20 miles, with the last 5K done at barely a shuffle, after I blew up. I had taken that conservatively, running at my long run slow pace. It was early in my OCR career, though. Earlier this year, I did some big weekends, like overnight HH12HR, morning Super, afternoon Volunteer, next morning Sprint, or the WV morning Beast, afternoon Course Sweep, following morning Super, and afternoon Sprint, and the Carolina Beast, Volunteer, following morning Beast, Volunteer. Anyways, I power walked uphills and ran the rest, even during the prologue.
Skipped Monkey Bars and Twister on the first lap since it didn't open until 1pm, did Atlas, Bender, Vertical Cargo, Farmer's Carry, crawled up black ice woods and black ice mountain, braved the strong winds and rain at the top of the mountain, took careful steps down, Tyro, Rope Climb, Olympus fail the whole day, Sandbag 1, Bender 2, Vert Cargo 2, small water crossings throughout, Bucket Brigade, up and down trails through a Hot Springs area, lattice wall, Spear throw failed the whole day, Sandbag 2.
Those sandbags... I'm usually pretty good at sandbags, ever since a fellow racer showed me how to put the sandbag on my upper back below my neck in one of my first races. However, these sandbags were 40# plus some water weight, where that water froze and made the sandbag really hard, so that it wouldn't form to the shape of your shoulders. It hurt a lot to carry it on my shoulders and twisted my arm in a painful position when I tried to hold it there, so after the first two carries, I ended up hugging it. The first two were so hard. It was difficult to imagine having to do it lap after lap. It wasn't just the carry... it was carrying it up and down short hills, too, for what felt like long distances. Poor puffin.
After the sandbag, a bit more running, then the gauntlet at the end, which wasn't too bad... sled drag, Herc Hoist failed the whole day, bridge, and multi-rig. You had the option to continue on to your next lap from there, or you could go to the TA for the restroom, re-fueling, warming up, changing gear, etc. During the first lap, my hopes of going for 50 miles were dashed. With the tricky footing, my main goal became just to finish the min 30 miles. Many others felt the same. It turned out that the winning women got like 57 miles, anyway, so yeah, 50 would've been a tall order for an amateur like me.
(after the 5K plus lap 1)
In the pit, I had a list of things I'd do each time:
1) Log the time that I entered the TA, and take note of how many penalties or burpees I took during the lap (for analysis purposes only)
2) Take a Selfie (it would be fun to see the progression of how I looked after each lap)
3) Grab food, drink, restroom, change out gear as needed. I'd generally try to eat on the go during the lap, rather than statically eating in the TA without making any distance progress.
4) Take notes on what I consumed or did of note during the lap, and take notes of what I ate or did in the pit (for analysis purposes, and to be able to see if I was missing anything that I should be doing, in consecutive laps)
5) Make note of the time that I was leaving.
I ditched my penguin hat after the first lap, since that was more for the novelty, but it would get in the way for the rest. During the first lap, one of the volunteers joked "Congratulations, you're the first place Puffin!" I switched into a cap, to help with precipitation, plus a warm hood.
I left for my next lap after 10 minutes in the pit, wanting to maximize my time in the daylight. Sunset in Iceland is at 3:30, which is when I was leaving the TA. We started off with a Yokahama tire drag. We normally flip those things, but here, we had to drag it. It was very difficult, because the ground was heavily rutted, and those things were heavy! I got through it eventually. Then, back to the obstacles we had seen before.
Monkey bars and Twister were open now. I failed Monkey bars for my first three laps. I could've potentially actually made it on some of those attempts, if I had tried harder, because I made it in my fourth and fifth laps. After Monkey bars, we were asked to turn on our headlamps. I had a cap as rain protection then, and I wasted several minutes fumbling around with that and my hood to get my headlamp on correctly. I failed Twister the whole night.... it's normally pretty challenging but doable, but it just wasn't happening that day, maybe from the fatigue, maybe from rain, maybe from cold hands, or all of the above. Then, onto the rest.
The course constantly changed throughout the 24 hours. We saw it all. Black ice that tripped people up throughout, rain plus temps just above freezing, sleet, snow, strong winds. The course was so different from one lap to another, so you could never count on what to expect on the next lap. Could be better, could be worse. You had to keep going, though, to make the mileage before the cutoff, and make your best guess about your gear. 5 sets of burpees for my second lap.
In the TA after the second lap, I changed my base layer long sleeve shirt. I had started with a thinner one since I'd be generating more body heat early on and would have the benefit of sun. It was wet now from the rain and burpees, and the temps would drop more at night, so I switched into a dry and thicker Under Armour cold gear top. I kept the same leggings and "waterproof"pants. Not sure if they were really waterproof, because they got wet. That could've been because I was shin-deep in water in the crossings, and my leggings and long socks would've gotten soaked and would've gotten the inside of the pants wet, too. But they were durable, through all the rocks and stuff. I also never changed my shoes. No blisters in the Salomon Speedcross and Smartwool socks, and there was no use in changing to dry pairs, since I'd get wet again at the first crossing.
(After lap 2)
On my third lap, at the tire drag, my sister found me! I heard a voice say "Penguin?" I said "yes" excitedly, but thinking that I was responding to a volunteer who recognized me as the person in the puffin hat earlier, but then I realized that it was my sister. She had actually seen the curved red brim of my cap, and because of the way the headlamp just illuminates that, she thought it was the penguin beak. With so many bulky clothes on, and the giant bib, and in the darkness, it's hard to distinguish between people, even though you can normally recognize people based on their gait. It's amazing that she found me.
The bibs were also kind of deceiving. Open heat had black bibs, and elite heat had bright pink/fuchsia bibs, so without thinking, it seemed like everyone in fuchsia were girls, since that's who normally wears that color, but really, it could be anyone.
During the race, I was very conservative in my steps. What would kill me wasn't the distance, since I have a good engine. What would get me is twisting or breaking something, so as long as I stayed intact, I'd make it. I was amazed when so many athletes were able to confidently step through all kinds of treacherous terrain. Don't know how they did it.
On my third lap, I again did 5 sets of burpees, with no pentalty loops. I was proud to get tyro, bender, and rope climb every time. I always greatly feared sandbag and to a lesser degree, bucket brigade. Some racers tried to help and suggested that I shoulder carry the sandbag, or would ask me why I wasn't, so I tried to explain that it wasn't working for me. Towards the end of lap 3, we crossed midnight, the time at which the burpee penalty would go down from 30 to 15. Yay for that.
During my third lap, a comforting thought was that I was about halfway through, and that I only had to finish that and do two more laps after that. 4 more sandbags. Each lap was credited as 6.8 miles, by the way.
I finished the third lap at 12:30, and my sister's 8-hr volunteer shift had ended at midnight, so I found her, and was glad to have her helping to get me get water and start noting times and durations for me.
The cap had ended up being a hindrance more than a help during the third lap, because there was no precipitation, so I gladly took it off in the TA. It had obstructed the light from getting into the ground immediately in front of me. It wasn't too bad, but your eyes start to get annoyed by only seeing a U-shape of light around your body after a while.
(After lap 3)
It's a little scary going out into each lap. You start off in the warm soccer dome, and you know that once you go out, you're going to be hit by cold, darkness, and more wind and water on your wet clothes. You know it'll be more treacherous terrain and grueling obstacles.
Towards the beginning of lap 4, a little after 1am, after I crossed the stream with the bridge and the pipe hurdle, I saw some photographers who pointed out the Northern Lights. After 8 days in Iceland, I was finally seeing them! And there were photographers there who could help to capture the moment! I hoped that my sister heard about it, and could see it, too. I pointed it out to the first volunteer I came across, in case they didn't know. They had spread the news on the radio, though, and from a distance, I heard the announcer in the soccer dome pointing it out. I would turn off my headlamp and stop and watch periodically. Because of the elevated ground that parts of the course went on, and our distance from the lights of the city, we racers got some particularly good views. That really brightened up the mood on what would've otherwise been yet another progressively challenging lap on the course. It was such a special moment. It looked like curtains in the air, with vertical streaks. They were mostly white, but later on, one part of it was visibly green. At one point, they were really active, too, dancing, in a way, waving arms to open and close a circle, it looked like. That moment alone felt like it was worth the race entry fee.
The steep climbs were getting more an more iffy with each lap. As more racers traversed the black ice and snow, the slicker the black ice got, and the more black ice that formed. It was so much like rock climbing, finding the rare footholds and handholds that you could use to get up. Loose your footing, and you'd start sliding down the mountain to who knows where.
They installed a few ropes on the downhills and maybe one on the uphill towards the end. I was very glad for that. It was a comforting thought during the fourth lap to think that after this lap, I'd only have to do this one more time.
I started making legit attempts at the monkey bars on lap 4, and it really wasn't that bad. Rope climb was getting harder, since everything that had been wet during the rains started icing up. I hit the bell, but on my way down, ended up sliding down from a decent height. On the fifth lap, my rope climb streak would be ended. But at least on lap 4, I did my best, obstacle-wise, with 4 sets of burpees instead of 5.
(After lap 4)
I hustled through the TA after my fourth lap. I entered the TA at 5:35, and my previous pit stops took 10, 35, and 30 minutes. This one took 15 minutes. I knew I was slowing down, since my laps took 3:20, 4:00, 4:25, then 4:35. If I bonked, then the time could go up significantly.
We had to cross the finish line some time between 9am and noon to be considered a "24 hour finisher". Earlier in the day, I had heard that each lap was 6 miles, so I thought I needed 5 laps to get above 30. I left the TA at 5:50, so that left me 6 hours... should be doable. I just had to go 1 mph. I was timing myself, and it seemed like I was going at just that speed halfway through the first lap. That's a little scary. The first half does take longer, though, because of the steep, icy mountain. The hot springs area lets you go a little quicker, because it's not as steep, and the warmth of the springs keeps the trails from getting icy. It's more mud.
Since I left just before 6am, I soon merged with the start of the Sunday Sprint. They wore headbands instead of bibs. They were really encouraging. The course was more dicey than ever, so they got a dose of some really rough conditions, especially going up the mountain. I feel bad for whoever signed up for this as their first Sprint and wasn't ready for what they were about to get into. That course was no joke!
On the steep, icy downhills, we resorted a lot to unconventional descent methods. Some slid. I crab walked, since the ground was really rocky, and I didn't want to hit a rock or tear up my pants. I also went sideways, sometimes. In the hot springs, the way the path curved, sometimes I was afraid that if we lost our footing and slid down, we'd slide right into hot springs! They had warned us during the briefing that tempting though the springs may be in the cold, they are boiling hot water, and we should stay away from them and stay on the marked course.
Oh, the joys of knowing that this was the last Sandbag 1 I'd have to do, or the last Sandbag 2 that I'd have to do. Heading into the final gauntlet, my sister found me right before the multi-rig, and was able to capture the moment on video. It was a sad and slow shuffle, rather than a run, but I did it!
After the race, I got my shirt, the 30+ mile buckle, and the 24 hr finisher medal. Then, a change into dry clothes, so be more decent for the car ride back. 37.1 miles done! Since they ended up crediting each lap with 6.8 miles, 4 laps would've sufficed, but hey, 37.1 is pretty cool! I'm curious how I'd do in a straight-up trail running ultra.
We rode back home together. I thought we'd go out again to go to a restaurant, but it was tough to do more than shuffle. My left foot was numb, too, and would stay numb for a week.
Here's a breakdown of what I ate and did during each lap and pit stop:
Prologue Run: (45 min)
Lap 1 (3:20) : 2 Kashi bars, 6oz H2O
TA 1 (10 min) : Bathroom, Puffin hat off, Cap and hood on
Lap 2 (4:00) : Beef Jerky, Larabar, 6oz H2O
TA 2 (35 min) : Bathroom, 4 Handwarmers (2 in jacket pockets, 2 in gloves), Kind Bar, Supplements, Cherry Juice, Light base layer off, Thermal layer on
Lap 3 (4:25) : Nut-based Protein Bar, 12oz H2O, Belvita Breakfast Cookies
TA 3 (30 min) : Bathroom, Emergen-C, Nutrigrain bar, Cap off, Peanuts, Bone Broth, 1/2 portion Supplements, Fresh Batteries for the Headlamp
Lap 4 (4:35) : Larabar, Mini Clif Builder's Bar, 12oz H2O
TA 4 (15 min) : Bathroom, 3x Mustard packets, Cherry Juice
Lap 5 (4:50) : Stroopwafel
Thanks to my sister, who's the bestest crew member a puffin could hope for! Looking at my lap times, those are long waits between pit stops, and she was awake for as long as I was. Volunteering at the tire drag wasn't easy, either, between giving the instructions, monitor compliance with the rules, and having to reset those tires (which probably weigh twice as much as she does) when racers didn't pull them all the way to the end or left them mid way if they gave up.
DAY 10: Last Hurrah
It took a while to pack up. Lots of clothes and gear. After checking out of the AirBNB, we walked into town, to do a little more souvenier shopping, and to try the lamb hotdog, followed by a crepe.
There was a strike of Air Iceland maintenance workers that hit the day before we were set to leave. Fortunately, our flight was not cancelled!