TER Report: Days 3 & 4 – The Negative Split
After two days the obvious physical fatigue was starting to set in on all the teams. We were almost at the halfway point but we knew better to think it was going to get any easier. Mentally, this was the day to break the competitors. It started a shift in ratio to the muscle and battle between the ears. The race was staged so that the first two days on foot were slow and strength orientated. Just the sort of stuff to tire you out. Most of the time after the bike, we were moving at slower paces or equalized by the kayaks and down river sections. It was hard to “make up” time but we found plenty of places to loose more of it.
The final two days gave us access to trails for the first time in the race. Not exactly what would normally be considered trails but the trees were cut down and there was an option to run and larger paddle sections with navigation up river that could allow us to get back time. Paul and I were about three hours behind and we knew that the last day would be shorter. Day three was our last shot to make it happen. It was time to “Go Fast and Take Chances”.
Day 3 –
Starting the day we would paddle across the lake on the sit on top kayaks and then down river to the first checkpoint. From there we would continue on with a point to point trek that would take us from our camp in Chaiguata to the final camp in Inio at the very south end of the island. Linking trails together within the park, we would travel the route of a seven day hut to hut hike between the camps. The race director, Victor had done this very route backpacking last year. Some of these huts were checkpoints themselves and we also had checkpoints that were each a kilometer or two off trail that required some forest chomping to get before moving on. We turned ourselves inside out to run the entire distance in just over ten hours. Brutal. Once we reached the Inio camp we would stay for the last two days and again the organization would move our gear for us by the time we arrived. When we did arrive we had about another 25K kayak paddle up the river from the ocean bay to grab some final checkpoints before finishing the day. It was going to be another long one.
Things were not starting off good. We had a scramble in the morning and after running down to the lake, Paul and I found that all of the competitors had already started paddling across the lake – getting further behind. Once we got out of the boats the running started. We were in the swamps guided by endless wooden walkways and bridges between diving in and out of the forest. It was actually a nice change and felt good to get running.
We caught the lead teams after the first section of trails and worked with them going after the first couple checkpoints. The frustration in my head was building. It was great to work with the other teams but we were loosing time and just marching along. Paul and I would take lead at times cutting though some bushwhack sections and someone a few people back would find a better route. This would inevitably cause the “train” of teams to follow the quicker lead. This helped move all of us along at a faster pace. The issue for me is by the time I scrambled back over to the group I was at the back of the line. Next step was another inefficient explosion of energy to get back in the front and cut bush until the process repeated itself.
Heading back from that checkpoint, Paul and I had a talk. This is it. This is where we need to make a break and take the opportunity that was before us. We were looking for a way to get back in the lead and it was right before us. I still had hesitation about running not being a strength, the fatigue I was feeling, the distance before us but I knew this was our one chance. Lets have ourselves a RACE! We made the decision that when we got back to the trail we would run with everything we have in us and not look back. Just do it. We needed to break from the group and run like it was the last day on earth.
The meadows and rolling hills turned into some sections that were slow muddy climbs and sketchy descents. The further south we headed the more the climbs became longer and the trials would open up to run more and more. There was plenty of options in the terrain to finish the day faster than we started. We were looking for every second. The smooth surfaces of the bridges allowed for vo2max sprints across them, the muddy downhills became an opportunity to shoe ski to preserve momentum. If we were going to fall, we would fall forward. The sections that nobody would think was safe enough to run, we ran. Three days and three hours into the run and I was keeping a higher heat rate than I ever thought possible. I fell over and over again. But I always got back up.
My falling however had now become a problem. I was taking some all out car crash knock the wind out of myself body slaps and it was taking a lot out of me. It was a risk to us being in the middle of nowhere and I just could not get into a rhythm. I was slowing us down and giving away buckets of precious energy. We were running so hard that we burned though all of our fuel running on water alone. Not a good place to be when you are about 30K away from anyone else. I knew I was about to face the biggest bonk, meltdown or perceived limit I have experienced yet. Again, not a place you want to run yourself to, but I acknowledged and learned more about myself in that next section of South American jungle than in another time in my life. Cannot really express it all here but I did not bonk, meltdown or even fade. If there was one thing I became overwhelmingly confident about it was that it was going to take a hell of a lot more than this to take me down. I stopped focusing on what I needed and instead on what I had. There was very little at the time and that was simple. I ran the next few hours better than I had all day. I stopped falling for the most part and my feet found a rhythm all their own. I was leading us out and it felt like I was floating like water downhill and turning around the trees and roots with the very center of my core. Effortless.
“You don’t so much out run your opponents as outlast & outsmart them & the toughest opponent of all is the one inside your head” ~Henderson
A while later we took our only stop at a bridge with about two hours to go, Paul was digging in his bag hoping to find some Perpetium he thought might have been in another pocket. Score! We had some powder to split and were off again. The climbs became more sustained and the downhills winded deeper and deeper into the forest. At one point we came to a lookout and could just start to make out the ocean in the distance. It was awesome to see the ocean and our destination. At the same time, it was shocking to see just how far we still had to run. I had a lot of people ask me in interviews after the race ,”what was the hardest part?”. My answers were all over the place, mostly without much thought and whatever I felt like making up at the moment. We ran every last step like were running to save a child or inches away from getting a knife in the back. Emergency mode. Keeping that focus in the deep forest when you have not seen anyone else for hours and your running on fumes…that is the hardest part. Sometimes, that is what_it_takes.
We were the only team to make it out of the woods before dark. That was some extra motivation in itself at the end. We ran into the Inio camp with purpose and a plan to get into the water as quick as possible. This was another advantage as we started the paddle because the tide was going out and there were sandbars lurking just under the surface. The rain had stopped we had absolute glass for water to paddle over with the reflection of the heavens above to fill us up. The sunset said goodnight on one side and the moon was greeting us on the other. The closest the moon has been in many years . We got food, Vitargo and a pick me up at the transition area and were off to paddle into the night. We were happy…very happy!
Finishing the day we moved into second place, twenty two minutes behind team Ecuador and about ten minutes up from third place. A large leap but not enough to take the lead and just enough to make the next day require something special. It was a huge effort that had everyone questioning if we had anything left. There was no doubt that we left it all out there.
Day 4 –
I have to be honest and say that I was pretty worried getting up the next day. “Moving” at all looked to be a challenge when my body felt like it was filling every inch of my sleeping bag. We had well over 35 hours of racing and a huge load in our bodies at this point and the swelling, stiffness and damage from all of the efforts and falls were grabbing at my attention. Finishing day three with over four hours of paddling after 12 hours of racing is a treat you only get to experience in adventure racing. Yet there was something else grabbing our attention that put all of that on the back burner. Twenty two minutes. We trusted the routine that we had started each morning and allowed it to fall into place as we got moving.
This was the final day and it was going to be short…and fast. After a quick paddle, we would head for the forest and have access to the best trails yet. The variety, beauty and speed that peaked the race. From swamp filled crossings, caves, beach sand runs, twisty moss covered everything in the glory of sunshine to bamboo forest so deep that the blocked out most of the sun. They saved the best for last…and so did we.
“Always be strong in the end” ~Gordo Byrn
Although I had a lot on my mind as we lined up in the boats there was only one focus. We MUST be the first ones to the kayak checkpoint. Everything we had in us went into leading the day from start to finish and we needed every second to make up 22 minutes. There were no questions and I saved the learning for later. Time to do work! We got out front and managed to hold onto our position. My core felt like it was going to start a fire! I remember Paul saying, “this is the last time we will paddle in Chile (for a while anyways) so lets leave it all out here”. No doubt about it…we buried every paddle stroke and got back to the transition area just minutes before the rest of the teams.
The first part of the run was on a fire road and we took off at MAX speed. My eyes were searching frantically for the trail we were looking for, that would be to the right, so the feeling of vomiting would subside as we would be forced to slow our pace once on the single track. I had completely forgot about how swollen my legs were or that they were even sore at all. There was a need to separate ourselves and get out of sight before we broke away from the trail to bushwhack to the first checkpoint. We made it there alone and after a short tunnel thought the woods, into a stream and across a meadow we arrived at the checkpoint still in the lead but wondering if we were putting a dent in the 22 minutes.
On our way back from the checkpoint we saw Marco Ponteri and Mario Ruggiero the Italian team. By the time we reached the trail they were right there with us and we started running together. They were holding a quick pace and for a while Paul and I just did everything we could just to stay with them. One checkpoint turned to two, three and then four and we would ended up running another six hours on the last day. The falling and struggling were far behind me now. My feet seemed to find footing and the energy was endless. I felt like Bilbo Baggins dancing through the forest and the weight of my pack did not even feel so bad. This is going to make running down the Queen K with people handing me water feel…well, it made me realize I have a lot more to give.
Paul and I would switch off with Marco and Mario taking leads and pushing the pace out front. When I was in the back at times I could swear I heard the voices of the Ecuador team right on our heals. If we could just stay with the Italians we would have the best chance to put time into the rest of the teams and we had navigators to help make route decisions faster and with greater accuracy.
Pictures complements of Pavel Paloncý
As we reached the final beach run of just over a kilometer in length we had lost one of the Italians. We were all pushing a pace that was right at the edge. I dropped my only flask of Vitargo and it was about the only calories I had left. We had two checkpoints to go and there was very little that was going to stop us at this point. I have never felt the pull of the finish line like I did in those final hours. The last few cave sections and beach runs felt like I was watching the race unfold from the helicopter above.
One final checkpoint to go and it was the lighthouse at the end of the island. No navigation needed. I could smell it. Paul was just about out of calories also and starting to feel the effects of it but we were again out front alone with the 22 minutes heavy on our heals. I was chomping at the bit… On and off the trail we scrambled down the last beaches and the lighthouse drew us in.
The realization that any trail, bush, beach or ocean before us would would soon be behind us was setting in. I floated up to the top of the lighthouse to grab the last checkpoint pushing for every second yet it felt like time was standing still. Total and complete dreamland.
“Numero dos, numero dos” I yelled as I came around to the doorway and handed over our passport to get the last punch of the race. I had to circle the top of the lighthouse before I could get back our passport and the views that caught my eye as I ran around snapped me sideways. I could see endless ocean and islands, the forest we had conquered, the river we paddled the night before and finally, as I came around, I saw the finish line…the finish line!
the last checkpoint!!!
I remember hearing the emotion in my voice as I told Paul, “I don’t want to loose by 2 minutes”. Lets go, lets go, lets go! We spun down the stairs and saw the Italians now making their way up to the top. Marco had recovered and they were looking strong on the way up. It was all so surreal by now. We searched our packs for any calories we had left and I found a half a bag of FRS chews Paul had given me when we started the day. I handed them over and Paul was unwrapping them and popping them in his mouth as fast as our feet could shuffle down the stairs.
Across more wooden walkways and down staircase after staircase we made our way to the final shore for the final run to the finish line. By now the Italians had caught up to us and we were once again running side by side with them. The pace quickened again and again as we ran through more water, up another wooden pathway and back to the beach again. They had started to pull away and my cadence felt maxed out and the rhythmic breathing from the day had turned into an all out vo2max sprint. “Please do let them get away from us” I yelled to Paul. As they started to pull away I grabbed the bungee from my pack and handed it over to Paul. With him strapped in I leaned forward with the confidence of his six foot three body to brace us as we moved again onto the heels of the Italians. Part of the learning from this race was a discovery at just how competitive I am… We were already ahead of Marco and Mario in the overall and had worked with them all day pushing each other to gap the rest of the filed. At what cost would I feel we needed to cross the finish line for the stage itself? It was a rare opportunity and an honest thought amongst the scramble of the last few moments. Just as we moved back onto their heels they looked over their shoulders at us and then pulled away.
The last 600 meters felt like an eternity. Paul was quickening the pace now but I was fading. Hold on. When we reached the final wooden stretch, I heard no noise, I did not feel my legs or the burning in my lungs and I knew without looking just where the finish line was at. And just when I thought it could not be any more of a dream crushing experience, the Italians showed what true gentleman they were and crushed us. To our surprise they had stopped just a few meters from the finish and turned to face us with their hands outstretched welcoming Paul and me under their arms to join them in crossing the finish line together. These guys were tough competitors but they were bigger teammates. World class sportsmanship, a moment I will never forget.
Perhaps it was the elation of finally completing the journey, the waves of fatigue setting in or the crash from the final sprint, but the next few moments were unreal and cannot be described. We finished. We finished together!
We got news that team Equator was 2 minutes behind us at CP1, about ten minutes behind at CP2 and had fallen 45 minutes behind us by the next checkpoint. Paul and I won the overall race by over an hour. Every second does count and there is deep satisfaction knowing that we left it all out there, every second of the race. After over 45 hours of racing, the Italians made a leap into second place overall just one minute ahead of Equador in third place. One minute! Did I mention that they stopped and waited for us to cross the finish line together? It was an honor to be up on the blocks with these guys and everyone who competed in this race. Racing in the Northern Patagonia forest with my hero Paul and coming from behind to take the win for Team Sole is going to be a tough one to beat…but I’ll give it a go.
“Everything is possible for him who believes” Mark 9:23
It was as close to the real deal as I have ever been. Only seven of the teams completed the entire course but many of the teams still went on to finish the last day. These people do not give up. Neither should you. You never know when a win is waiting behind your next exploration.
A huge thanks to our supporters that kept us going strong when we needed it most. Agility Guard and Sole was with us every step of the race and we put down pounds of Vitargo along the way to keep us fueled. The last day we were taking in triple nuun bottles that snapped us back to life at times. Yum! The focus on recovery using 110% gear, SportMulti and OmegaXL help reduce swelling got us going strong again each morning. A huge advantage in a stage race. We were saying our prayers and taking our vitamins. Hulkamaniacs! With all of the crap we marched across it is a miracle in itself that I never sprained my ankle once. If you know me you know what a miracle that really is! The prayers, txt messages and notes I got from everyone was HUGE. I cannot express that enough and it was great to have those thoughts and people along with this memory. One to remember.
Live Wide, Love Deep