Monday, October 10, 2016

A Moving Celebration

This post was written for Marathon Tours and Travel


One size doesn’t fit all when it comes to long-distance runners’ motivations. The reasons we run vary as widely as our body shapes and personality types. There are the Seven Continent Club members, the Abbott World Marathon Major doers, the Runner’s Country Club enthusiasts, the elites, the speedsters, the BQers, the enjoyers, the maniacs, the charity raisers, those who run for new a PR/bling/dessert/stress relief/in memorandum/to prove they can/who lost a bet, and the list goes on.

The great thing about our sport is that there’s space for all.

The bad news is that the largest races don’t necessarily agree.

I fall somewhere between a Runner’s Country Club enthusiast and a marathon enjoyer -- one of my greatest motivators is packing my bags and traveling to see 26.2 miles of a new place on foot. I’ve run 3 dozen marathons and ultramarathons in places as close as my local trails in San Francisco, as quiet as the rainy streets of Reykjavik, and as remote as the islands of Antarctica. I’ve even checked an Abbott World Marathon Major and a BQ off my list when I qualified for the Boston Marathon in Chicago.

And yet running on varied terrain at different paces around the world left me unexpectant of what I was to experience at my most recent international race.

What I found was a race that made room for everyone on a joyous weekend of celebrating a storied city.

A race that said one size can fit all.

That race was the BMW BERLIN-MARATHON.

The pre-party
Marathon weekend began on a high note: A Saturday morning breakfast run from the Charlottenburg Palace wound its way through the old Westend neighborhood and finished with a victory lap in the 1936 Olympic Stadium, where Jesse Owens forever changed the sport of running.
Olympiastadion
That note kept ringing loudly when a mini-marathon (4.2 kilometer) footrace and an inline skating marathon screamed through the streets of downtown Berlin in the evening, inviting everyone to glance at a course that welcomed different activities and all abilities.

The big event

Then there was the marathon. The energy in Berlin was palpable as hoards of individuals from around the world marched toward the great Reichstag lawn -- the front yard of Germany’s Parliament during the late 19th century. This expanse of grass acted as a meeting spot for friends; allowed runners an area to stretch; and offered efficient signage for drop bags, port-o-potties, a warm-up area, and the walk into the lush Tiergarten to find our starting corrals.

As we lined up on Straße des 17 Juni, it was impossible to miss all the shirts representing various countries and hear countless languages being spoken. Even though we weren’t from the same area and we didn’t talk in the same tongue, the expanse of heads gazing toward Siegessäule, Germany’s victory tower, focused on the same goal.
Siegessäule
The sites

The marathon itself winds through 10 neighborhoods filled with jagged spires, old cathedrals, gothic architecture, patina statues, tree-lined streets, and a million cheering faces. History buffs can’t ignore passing through Potsdamer Platz (a former gate on the Berlin Wall), the Berliner Dom, the Symphonic Konzerthaus, the German Chancellery, and an emotional finish through the Brandenburg Gate. 
Brandenburg Gate
The sounds

There’s no shortness of creativity bursting from Berlin’s seams, from artists to architects to designers to chefs to musicians. In true form, each block had no less than one band playing. I’m not talking commissioned bands performing in a quiet corner of a race -- I’m talking corner after corner of folk bands, punk bands, boy’s choirs, marching bands, mini orchestras, jazz bands, solo trumpets, solo drums, solo accordions, solo alpenhorns, and of course the beautiful song of human voices cheering on their loved ones. The audio presence of the race was enough to amp anyone up.

The scoop

The BMW BERLIN-MARATHON is the third largest marathon in the world, and it earns every bit of its deserved fame. Unlike other large marathons, anyone can run it. You don’t have to run a qualifying time to enter and you don’t have to be fast to toe the start line, even though this course attracts the fastest runners year after year. 

It’s one of the only races where you can run with the greatest athletes in the world, sightsee your way through hundreds of years of history, watch world records being set, and join your fellow friends in a celebration of unity and peace.

Finishing the BMW BERLIN-MARATHON

                     

Alyssa Yell is an avid ultramarathoner, adventure enthusiast, & lady of athleisure. When punching the clock, she plays with words & fights with grammar. 

Monday, May 9, 2016

Solitary Liberation: El Calafate, Patagonia

This post originally appeared on SAANO Adventures.


After a life-altering adventure to Antarctica, the choice was easy to take a side trip to Patagonia while I was at the southernmost point of South America. Who would pass up the chance to see two more countries on their way home from the least-visited continent?

But the truth is that this was my first big trip I’ve taken, and I was doing it by myself.
As an introvert in a cramped city and a thinker at a busy tech company, solitude is something I find myself craving daily—the vast, lonely expanses of Patagonia were calling.

And I had no idea what I was doing.

The months leading up to my trip were filled with me shaking the nerves of getting to the bottom of the world and gathering the supplies needed to succeed there. It didn’t help that the number of times I heard, “I wish your boyfriend was going with you,” or, “Why do you want to do this solo?” in preparation of my travels had me questioning. Being asked, “You’re here by yourself?” during my journey was uninspiring. It’s hard to explain to people who won’t understand that being by myself is something I’m great at doing—and is something I even welcome. But I wondered whether that time and place in the world was the best opportunity to test my resolve.

If taking myself from San Francisco to Antarctica to Patagonia wasn’t enough, my luggage got lost via the Ushuaia airport, and I showed up in El Calafate, Argentina, with nothing but the clothes I was wearing and a book in my bag. The moments of emotional distress and the panic of what to do without my things tried desperately to reinforce the question of why I was there solo.

But as it turned out, the day I waited eagerly for my luggage before busing across Chile ended up being one of my greatest memories of Patagonia.

While I waited impatiently for my bag, I took myself to Glacier National Park for an ice trek.
Ice Trek on Perito Moreno, Patagonia Argentina
Ice Trek on Perito Moreno, Patagonia Argentina
Perito Moreno, Patagonia Argentina
As a single traveler, I didn't often get pictures with me in them, and I used strangers as props when the moment struck. At one point, I saw a woman standing on her own on top of a rock, and—as it felt fitting—I took a photo of her looking at Perito Moreno. As I was taking the photo, the glacier calved with her looking straight at it, and I switched my camera to video.

I went up to the woman and offered to share my video with her because we both caught a great ice show at an ideal time.

Shayli was also traveling by herself and understood my lost-luggage woes. We ended up chatting together for a few more hours that day, and I truly learned that when traveling solo, one can be on their own and never be alone.
Perito Moreno, Patagonia Argentina



                     
Alyssa is an avid ultramarathoner, adventure enthusiast, & lady of athleisure. When punching the clock, she plays with words & fights with grammar. 

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Antarctic Expectations

This post originally appeared on SAANO Adventures
Chinstrap Penguin - South Shetland Islands, Antarctica
“You came for a marathon but discovered something much more important.”

Those were a few of the words I received after uploading my first attempt at a highlight reel from my most recent vacation. The comment was left by a race director who conducts 26.2-mile races on all 7 continents, and his words stopped me in my tracks.


There’s a growing group of crazy people who are running a marathon on every continent, and while I haven’t officially committed myself to that asylum yet, I figured I might as well get the “hard” continent done before it becomes too popular to enter.

So I etched my name on a 3-year waitlist to run a marathon in Antarctica and patiently waited my turn.

My trip to Antarctica turned out to be about so much more than running. In fact, I venture to say that the marathon was the boring part of the trip. I love running -- but the race was no more than a check in the “I ran a marathon in Antarctica!” box. I’ve run less-than-ideal weather races, but none in below-freezing temps, 50 mph winds, or ankle-deep sticky mud and wet riverbed rocks. (And we had good weather by Antarctic standards!)  


However, I can say I’ve now taken a zodiac boat from a ship to get to a race. And I can also say I had a penguin greet me at the starting line!


It was everything after the race that was truly spectacular. I got tossed around in a tiny ship sailing the world’s most violent ocean. Mountains of pristine blue glaciers towered over our deck. Bellowing humpback whales spouted air outside my cabin window. I kayaked next to icebergs, a leopard seal chewed on our zodiac, skuas and storm petrels soared effortlessly overhead. I jumped in below-freezing water and listened to the thunderous crack of glaciers calving into deafeningly silent harbors.


Each day in Antarctica was my new favorite day. As we sailed the Gerlache Strait down the peninsula -- ducking in and out of coves and navigating around 10-story tall ice cubes in an ocean that more closely resembled a Slurpee than a body of water -- the only words I could utter were clichés: “Is this another planet? Is this for real?"


What took my breath away was the abundant wildlife surviving in the harshest place on Earth.
Leopard Seal - Turret Point, Maxwell Bay, Antarctica
Leopard Seal - Turret Point, Maxwell Bay, Antarctica
The stunning sunsets contrasting against a black and white world.
Paradise Bay, Antarctica
The delicate balance between marine life and mountain life that’s easily upset by a degree drop in temperature.
Gentoo Penguin on Brash Ice - Neko Harbour, Antarctica
Antarctica is the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen.

And what’s more were the friendships. There was no WiFi or Internet or movies or TV on the ship, so I talked to people. Actually talked. I’ve nearly forgotten what it’s like to not have someone look at their phone or flash their eyes to a screen at some point during a conversation.


For 10 days I played cribbage with like-minded polar travelers, heard stories about peoples’ home lives in countries around the world, talked about places traveled to and places yet to be seen. I gained a greater appreciation for the beauty of unplugged interaction and absolutely no noise. (Except for maybe some camera shutters clicking at whales in our periphery.)


I experienced the awe, the grandeur, the majesty of a continent that none of us can find adequate adjectives for. We established a bond based entirely on the humbleness of seeing a land where we felt so tiny and so powerless.


I left Antarctica with the knowledge that I can travel to the most remote corner of the world on my own, dream bigger-than-life dreams, and do really scary shit that people find excuses for. I learned that whatever I put my mind to, I will make it happen.

Indeed. I came for a marathon, but I discovered so much more.
2016 Antarctica Marathon - Winner of 0-39 female age group - Alyssa Yell

                     

Alyssa is an avid ultramarathoner, adventure enthusiast, & lady of athleisure. When punching the clock, she plays with words & fights with grammar. 

Friday, April 8, 2016

Marathon #24: Antarctica Marathon

My plan to write about my training for the Antarctica Marathon failed miserably. 

Not only did I spend any & all free time I had working extra jobs to fund my trip, I wasn't even sure the training I did would be adequate for Antarctica's climate and terrain. I stayed entirely in California, in pretty unseasonably warm San Francisco weather, and I ran a marathon as a training run -- and that was one of the limited long runs I did. 

Whoops.

But! My training was adequate, my gear was perfection, and I have so much I want to say about preparing for the race AND about the trip to Antarctica. (And then I have even more to say about Patagonia, because I decided if I'm going to the bottom of the world, I might as well see three more countries while I'm down there. Normal, right? Totally.)

Please humor me & my very first attempt at making a highlight reel with some poorly shot video and some better-shot photos. Accept this for now, and stay tuned for more. 



Saturday, September 12, 2015

Next stop: The end of the world

Re-do
I had no intention of writing to this blog again, so let me backtrack a bit. 

This last year has ranked pretty high in Alyssa's personal-development years. I ran a lot more trails, I got into doing ultra distances, but more than any of that, I fell in love with being outside. 

Big-name races started to lose their appeal to me & I kept wanting to find trails to explore. When the trails got too hard to run, I started hiking. Big day hikes, multi-day backpacking trips, tenting in campgrounds, sleeping in a VW in a trailhead of a National Park. This "I-love-not-camping" girl has turned a sharp & unexpected corner.

Motivation
It's all fueled by the desire to work hard for a visual reward.


The Lost Coast
Skyline to the Sea
Lake Sonoma
I spend a sick (really, it's sick) amount of time looking at pictures of the wilderness. A lot of those pictures are of things we have in the Bay Area, which ends up inspiring weekend plans. 
Bolinas Ridge
Russian River
Yosemite 
But I also look at a lot of forests and mountains and alpine lakes and vast bodies of water that couldn't be more foreign to me. 

The secret is, I'm envious of those photos. I want to see those things myself, not from a filtered screen. The list of things I want to see was starting to get long and I didn't have time to chip away at that list because, well, reality bites; I've had jobs that couldn't afford me more than weekend trips.
Like the time I crammed Iceland into a long weekend

I took a new job that will hopefully afford me more flexibility so I can act on this dream to live the visual life I'm obsessed with right now. 

Combining a lot of things in one, which is not out of the ordinary for me to go all-or-nothing: I want to see another country -- so I'll see a few. I want to be on another continent -- so I'll be on a couple. I want to run and I want to hike -- so I'll do both. 

Next stop: The end of the world
I'm going to Antarctica next spring, and I'll run a marathon there. After that, I'll be doing some exploring in a couple Chilean national parks.

Purpose for the re-do
In my search to find information on Antarctica and, more specifically, the challenge of running there, I'm not locating a lot that isn't redundant publicity pieces. I want to change that. I hear nothing but incredible things about the entire southern experience, and I want a place where I can talk about my training leading into and the journey itself. If not to help someone else who wants to run it too, but to remember this big bucket-list thing I've forced into motion.