Lost Girl of the Week: Nancy Yeomans

Adventure Travel, Antarctica, Asia, Fitness & Workouts, Greece, Lost Girl of the Week, New Zealand, Peru, Travel Philosophy — By on February 19, 2010 at 1:37 pm

Mongolia Sunrise to Sunset logo Nancy Yeomans has run more than 20 marathons, as well as countless shorter distances, all around the world.  She can be found living and running in Newburyport, Massachusetts when she is not traveling.  Nancy is an Air Traffic Controller by day and a Travel Agent by ‘moonlight’.

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I’ve always loved the mystery of an unfamiliar place.  I credit my wanderlust to my parents: as a kid we would often go for drives to nowhere just to see what was there.  My love of running came later.  It is a combination of both passions that led me to run marathons (26.2 miles/42 km) all over the world, most notably a marathon on all 7 continents.  Running in a foreign place, and making an adventure out of a road race has been my favorite form of vacation for many years.  Running a race far from home lets me focus on the destination in a way that a casual traveler might not.  Take a cruise ship to Antarctica and you’ll see glaciers galore from your cabin.  Run a marathon in Antarctica and you’ll run up and down that glacier.  Twice…

My first foray into the marathon distance was less than auspicious.  I’d been running track since junior high school and started running recreationally when I got my full-time job after college.  A group of people I worked with were also runners and one of us came up with the bright idea to run a marathon.  Mind you, none of us had ever run further than 8 miles and the marathon we chose was only 2 months away.  The Rhode Island marathon was in November and held in Newport, RI.  Five of us were running it and some friends and significant others were coming along for the weekend.  Having no expectations about what running 26.2 miles would be like, off I went, totally unprepared and untrained.  I finished the run, couldn’t decide whether to cry or throw up, and promptly stated that I would never do such a thing again.  Furthermore, if I ever mentioned wanting to run another marathon I should be reminded of my pitiful self at that moment.  The memory soon faded however, and all that remained was the feeling of accomplishment.  That and the enjoyment and camaraderie that came from sharing the experience with my friends.

I’ve run marathons in several of Europe’s capital cities and while it wasn’t my first one on the continent, my favorite to date is Athens, Greece.  The course itself isn’t anything special, but the marathon distance started here in 490 BC, so there’s that story to think about while you run the 26.2 miles from Marathon to Athens. And it’s quite a thrill for an average runner like me to finish a race in an Olympic Stadium.   I ran the Athens marathon in 2006 while on my honeymoon.  I wore a t-shirt with the word ‘BRIDE’ printed on it in Greek, and made my new husband (good sport that he is) wear the matching ‘GROOM’ shirt.  Accompanying us were 17 very good friends, also runners, most of whom we met while on other marathon running trips.  My memories of this day are almost as special as my wedding day.

August, 2001.  My friend and fellow runner, Jay, tells me he’s had a dream that we were running with a bunch of penguins.  Translation:  we need to run the Antarctica Marathon!  Ok, sign me up!  We recruited a couple of other runners, as well as my new boyfriend (now husband) who had never run a marathon before, and headed to ‘El Fin Del Mundo’.   This marathon is truly at the end of the world.  A 2 ½ days sail from Ushuaia on a Russian icebreaker just to get to Antarctica is required.  Antarctica is the coldest, windiest, driest place on the planet and the year we were there also boasted an unusual amount of snow.  Trudging through 6 foot snowdrifts, up and down a mile long glacier – twice, falling into crevasses (just me, not everyone), was what awaited us on this epic journey.  During the course of the 18 day trip, we also met an amazing group of people who have become some of our best friends.  I think this was the marathon and trip that changed my life.  I discovered a desire to go more, see more and do more.  This is when the concept of running a marathon on all 7 continents began to take shape in my mind.

The Mongolia Sunrise to Sunset 42k and 100k run is one of the more obscure distance runs.  There is not a lot of information about it, not too many people have done it, and even signing up for it is not easy.  But after traveling to Beijing, flying to Ulan Bataar then Moron, Mongolia and taking a 6 hour bumpy van ride over no discernable roads to Lake Hovsgul, Mongolia, I discovered that it was worth the trouble.  The experience includes a 5 day stay at a yurt camp by the lake.  The marathon itself starts at 4:00 am.  The first 2 hours was spent running through the woods with nothing but my headlamp to guide me.  My reward for this was the view of the sun coming up over the distant mountains of Siberia.  My running partner Pam and I were literally Lost Girls for a time on this run.  We inadvertently took a wrong turn and started heading back the way we had come, adding 5 miles to an already long run.  The course runs along the lake, up and down several mountains, through fields and rivers and has a grueling stretch uphill through dense woods.  It was here that I learned the trick of dunking my sore muscles in cold water (the lake in this case) to help with the pain and swelling.  I had a HUGE sense of accomplishment when this one was finished.

I first heard of the Inca Trail marathon from some of my Antarctica marathon friends.  The hard-core ones.  The ones who told stories of 100 mile ultra-marathons and multi-day stage runs.  Despite being intimidated by this, I found myself chewing coca leaves and running along the legendary Inca Trail one day in June, 2005.  The course is an already impossible 27.5 miles, but (just for fun) the year I ran it the course had to be extended another 8 miles due to political red tape.  The altitude, terrain and distance make this one of the toughest marathons out there.  Adding to the difficulty is the fact that there is no stopping once you start.  You are responsible for getting yourself to the end of the trail.  Most of this run was solitary for me.  I was surrounded by the Andes Mountains, ancient ruins and a black dog that ran with me for a while.  I viewed Inca fortresses while traversing up and down several passes along this pilgrimage trail.  This extended marathon took me 12 ½ hours to complete and remains the most physically demanding feat I’ve ever endured.

I can sometimes be a little obsessive, especially when I’ve made up my mind about something.  My 5 day trip to New Zealand for the Auckland marathon is proof of that.  I had 5 continents under my belt and was anxious to finish the last two.  The marathon was in late October of 2005.  After the last few in far-flung places in the world this destination seemed quite tame.  Not a bad thing!  Everyone speaks English in Auckland, there are McDonalds’ all around, and if you so desire you can take a taxi to the start of the marathon.  Quite civilized after dodging seals and yaks on the last couple of marathons!  This is a very pretty point-to-point course that crosses the 1021 meter Harbour Bridge and concludes with an out and back along Auckland’s Waterfront.  The spectators couldn’t have been friendlier and it was a beautiful day for a marathon run.

January, 2006.  I was getting married this year so time off from work and funds were limited.   I was absolutely determined to finish my quest before becoming a married woman.  The Marrakech marathon was held at the end of January and it was easy to travel there, run the marathon and travel home.  This was one of the places to which I wish I had allotted more time.  Marrakech is exotic and mysterious.  The marathon course wound through olive groves on the outskirts of the city then headed out into the suburban area, all in the shadow of the snow-capped Atlas Mountains.  Further from the city we passed by an area of mega-mansions hiding behind 10 foot walls.  This was the only marathon I’ve ever run where I passed by camels resting on the side of the road.  I ran several miles with a young local boy, struggling to converse with him in French, until he got tired and had to stop.  For me, the finish of this one was a big event, but the marathon finish was extremely anti-climatic; not even a medal to show for my effort.  I bought myself a gaudy necklace and called that my medal.  Mission accomplished!

Running a marathon on all 7 continents was a great desire of mine that I was fortunate enough to be able to fulfill.   A sense of adventure is mandatory…in Antarctica I had to veer off course to avoid an angry fur seal!  None of these trips, short as some of them were, were just about the run.  I went wine tasting in New Zealand, saw goats climbing the trees in Morocco and ate Peking duck in Beijing.   I met amazing people on my travels and many of them are now my cherished friends.  Perhaps most importantly, I learned that I can do whatever I put my mind to.

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