A brutal course spanning the country of Southern Chile... 14C/58F fjord swim from a barge to shore Bike through rough Chilean roads with over 8300 ft of climbing and wicked winds Trail run through rural country with over 1000 ft of climbing
Patagonman Xtreme Triathlon
Sunday, December 9, 2018
Race morning started early with a 1 am alarm. I put my sports bra, underwear, and heart rate strap on, all three which I’d be wearing all day, and my sweats with flip flops. Aaron and I grabbed my gear bags and headed out to the six block walk to the shuttles. We were quickly assisted into a nearby 11 passenger van and we piled in with the other 3 athletes with their support and baggage and quickly were on our way. The rest of the group spoke Spanish among one another. I made Nutella and banana sandwiches and tried to not worry about how bumpy the road was and how miserable it was going to be on the bike. The other athletes yammered away the whole trip, but the hour drive seemed to go by quickly. We came to a stop and lights filled my window and I was surprised to see that it was the huge barge shop that would be taking us to the swim start. The gate officials allowed our van down to the transition area and we grabbed our things and headed to the bike racks. The bikes were not in much of an order, but it didn’t take long for us to find mine. I ran through the necessities and everything seemed to be in good working order from the transport in the back of the Chilean truck. We filled my water and nutrition, set my gears an my bike computer up, and sat down to wait the hour and a half until boarding. The wind was already gusting and it was cold sitting still. The bike racks swayed dangerously a few times and people grabbed them to hold everything steady. I emptied my bladder one last time and put my wetsuit on to help me keep warm. Finally, it was time to load the boat. I stood in line and they took my name and number before letting me on board. The boat was big, with the whole first deck empty to run and stretch, and two higher decks with balconies to overlook the first. Photographers and a few race support stood over and cheered for us. The barge had large, open windows for most of the sides, and the wind cut in and made it very cold. I found a few athletes I knew and we headed to the back to huddle in a protected area. It was a very slow additional hour to where the swim start was. When they opened the loading ramp, we all gathered to get our bearings. Announcements over the loud speaker were garbled and no one could understand which language was being spoken. The barge turned various ways and the collective finally came to the conclusion we were swimming the alternate course. Two naval ships were visible ahead by the time we stopped turning and we discussed which boat was ours sight and buoy. The general consensus was the one on the right with yellow lights. The ship’s crew got out 2” hose and started spraying athletes down with water from the inlet. We prepared for our jump, but we’re held for an additional ten minutes while the race crew attempted to hang the official banner from the ramp. The ramp could be lowered all the way to the water, but was raised 8-10 ft so the banner was our back drop as we jumped from the boat. They allowed five athletes at a time step up on the ramp and jump. I was among the first twenty, still unsure if we were starting to swim when we jumped, or if we’d be gathering in the water and wanting to be in the lead pack. I took a breath, put a hand on the front and back of my goggles to keep from losing them, and jumped. The water actually felt much warmer than expected, and I was pleasantly surprised to be comfortable in my wetsuit and booties. I swam to the others and we gathered near a speedboat for the start. The boats kept moving and athletes started swimming; everyone was confused of what the protocol was from here. More time passed as the last frightened athletes finally got up the courage to jump off the boat and we confirmed the path. Finally, they counted down from ten and the loud horn from the boat blared through the wind, and we were off.
I started at a very relaxed pace, focusing on not burning too much energy and keeping a steady tempo with my kick, stroke, and sighting. Only about every third or fourth sight could I actually see the boat I was aiming for, but I was right on path nonetheless. The waves occluded my view and it was hard to decipher white swimming caps from white caps of the waves. Occasionally, I was sprayed with water from the gusts and I was surprised that the fjord water was not salty. My watch buzzed 500 meters, then 1000 meters. I had no one in my sights when I breathed or sighted, which was not surprising to me, and reminded me of my Alaskaman swim. The water was deep and there was no sign of fish, wildlife, or other obstacles. The sun wasn’t up yet, but the sky was brightening, so I paused to look around. The whole pack was far to my right, appearing to sight for the boat to the left. I was immediately angry that I had apparently swam off course. I turned to sight to the other ship and picked up my pace to catch up. My watch buzzed for 1500 meters and I started cutting between swimmers. I looked up again and saw the lead pack on the right side of the first ship. I cursed and re-sighted again. Apparently I was right the first time. I kept my angry pace to overcome the swimmer in front of me. I finally came up to the ship and swam around it, thankful it was obviously not running. I rounded the far side, and almost ran into the large chain that held the anchor in place. I dipped between it and the boat and made a hard turn towards the port. I finally overtook the swimmer in front of me and started sighting to port. It was a fairly decent size, at least a mile of coast and I knew I would have to figure out which of the lights to sight to as I got closer. I focused on trying to find a rhythm with the waves and sighted to the brightest light. My watch buzzed 2500 meters I tried to wait until 3000 to stop to look around again, but it seemed to be forever and all I could see were waves and feel the spray. I lifted my head again and sculled, finally spotting a cluster of red flashing lights. I re-sighted again and picked up my pace. I was pretty upset about the organization of this race so far. I never once saw a speed boat or kayak support that was apparently out here and I didn’t think I was that far ahead. I could hear the clapping and cheers of those in front of me getting into transition, and was waved about fifteen feet to my right to find the ramp. It was a sudden block of concrete and I crawled on it, taking a minute to get my feet and balance stabilized from being tossed with the waves for the past hour. I took my goggles off and smiled for dozens of cameras and hundreds of cheering support crew and jogged from the water, looking for Aaron. When I cleared the crowd, I found him and started taking off my caps and wetsuit. He ran to my bike and started getting my things ready. I told him it was a shit show and asked if I made it in the top ten, to which he replied, I was the first female out of the water. He rushed around, trying to hurry me through. I took my time, enjoying sitting down and went through the process of changing into my bike gear, making sure everything was in order before leaving. I saw a blonde girl running out of transition with her bike as I got the last of my things. I ran around and was redirected through a very narrow path of cones to read my timing chip. I started my Garmin and it was off for the bike leg.
There were a fair number of people on the roads, cheering. Most clapped and cheered; some shouted in Spanish. I couldn’t understand most of it, but some was “Woman! Woman!” and “Go!” I enjoyed the views of the Puerto Aysen mountains, river, and canyon as I cycled through the first 35km. It was quiet and only a few riders whizzed past me. I was excited that I passed the female that has overtaken me in transition, later finding out it was Lucy Gossage, the pro who would later win the female division. I saw packs of wild dogs, sheep, and the local police standing by at the few intersections to make sure we stayed on course. The cheat sticker given to us by the director was incredibly helpful, but I’m not sure it was necessary. I passed a farm where a couple dressed in traditional Chilean clothes stood at the top of their driveway and stared at awe of me cycling past in my spandex. There were some small climbs and descents and a few rough patches of road, but I made it to km 35, the first aid station, in good spirits. The wind that I had felt earlier that morning had not been a factor in the protected in the canyon. I knew my strongest part of the race was over and it was going to get harder from here. I made a quick stop for water and Infinit and stretched, and kept on. I started a climb, and as I rounded another bend, I saw the familiar tunnel ahead, and recognized the start of the section of major climbing. More riders started clustering around me. Some sections of the cobblestone road were so steep, riders zig zagged across the road to ease the climb. It continued with varying grades around the mountains, awarding us with fantastic views of Aysen behind us until summited to find the breathtaking views of Coyhaique on the other side. Construction workers greeted us not long after to alert us of the section of washed out road. The road narrowed to one lane and became a steep decline. I squeezed my breaks intermittently to avoid losing control on the narrow, winding road, but still managed to pass a few nervous riders. Then, ahead was the half mile or so section of new road, made of only dirt and rocks. Aaron had cautioned to carry the bike across this section to avoid flats or wrecks. I took a deep breath, tightened my grip on the hoods of my handlebars, braced myself on my pedals, and started down. I was too absorbed in staying upright and between the hazards, that I could not look around, at my speed or distance. My bike vibrated and shook and absorbed most of the impact. My nutrition and water spray out of the refill ports and everywhere. I tried to avoid large, sharp rocks and squeeze the breaks to control my speed a little. I passed another rider and whizzed by a huge line of cars that were waiting their turn to cross, and finally cleared the dangerous section of road. My only thought during that point was that I must be crazy and how dangerous this bike course was. I checked my tires and wheels as I coasted and was happy my bike and myself survived the worrisome part of the race. I cruised through the undulating hills and turns into town, recognizing there I was and following the police instructions. There was more traffic and I weaved through the cars and at times was held up by it. People started lining the streets as I passed through the park; they shouted things at me in Spanish and I waved and said, “gracías” in return. A guy even tried to run up the hill with me. I was still the top seeded woman at this point. I climbed through town and finally made the last turn onto the main drag toward Castillo. The terrain was open, rolling fields, and I definitely felt the wind, but was thankful for it to be mostly at my back. More athletes passed me on the climbs, including the first and second woman, riding in a pack of male riders, around mile 50. Finally, the halfway aid station at the 90 km mark; I was assisted with refills of water and on my way, temporarily passing riders who had overtaken me. At km 100, I stopped at the top of a small climb to stretch and was on again, feeling refreshed. The wind was strong at my back, occasionally gusting to the sides as I negotiated around large potholes, portions of cobblestone, and undulating hills. I passed the “monster pothole” the race director warned about and turned for more brutal climbing. The road twisted and turned with climbing followed by more climbing; every time I thought I had reached a summit, more incline awaited around the bend. I counted the miles until km 135 where I would get to see Aaron and replenish. I was also looking forward to shedding some extra weight with my arm and leg sleeves, hat, gloves, and spare water bottle I wasn’t using. It felt like ages that we climbed and the pack thinned. Finally, I rounded a bend and the 135 km aid station was in sight, orange support vests, and vehicles crowding the rural area. I was thankful to see Aaron waiting for me. We filled my bottles and and I shed some layers. I told him I was done with climbing to which he responded, “the last 20 k is downhill.” I knew this, of course, but we both knew that meant 15 km more of climbing. I took a breath, and mounted my bike, mentally preparing for another 1200 ft of climbing. I rounded the mountain, climbed for a few hundred feet and was met by a sudden unexpected downhill. The road was bumpy, full of potholes and cobblestone and bridges, but worst of all was the swirling wind. The road weaved through the mountain pass at a steep grade with strong crosswinds. I gripped the hoods so hard I felt my hands bruise. I struggled to keep my bike upright and dodge the road hazards. I reached the bottom and, again, questioned the safety of this course. As the thought crossed through my head, an ambulance passed by going up the hill. The road flattened and turned into the wind. I grounded away at zone 3 power going 4-6 mph. I alternated from Aero, where I could cut through the wind, to the hoods where I was more stable and not fearing losing control. I counted the tenths of miles and hundreds of feet of climbing left. I turned at mile 90-something and was greeted by a great view of the valley below and more mountains in the distance. I made it to the downhill. I started crying from relief. The wind was even stronger, if possible. I gripped the breaks going down, the wind pushing me from all sides. My legs shook from fatigue and effort of keeping the bike under control as I fought the wind and the switchbacks. I couldn’t look down at the speedometer or drink my nutrition for the whole last 30 km due to the winds and struggling just to keep my bike upright. I screamed into the wind. Everything hurt. I was nearing the longest I had ever been on the bike and definitely the most climbing and wind I had ever encountered. The downhill seemed to take just as long as the uphill portions and I still counted down the miles. I made it into town and was greeted with lots of cheering and pointing as I negotiated the side streets. Four miles to go when I suddenly saw transition ahead. I thought it was a mirage until I was close enough to see everything clearly. I dismounted and walked through the cones so my chip could read my split. I pressed the lap on my watch and told Aaron to stop my bike computer, but the bumpy roads had made my full nutrition splatter so much, my bike was covered in a thick coat of sticky which made it nearly impossible to press buttons. I sat down to cry with relief, but Aaron wouldn’t let me bask in my accomplishment. He took off my shoes and helped me change my clothes, throwing my running equipment at me. I later learned that he had seen a number of cyclists lay down and not get up and he was afraid if he let me sit, I wouldn’t continue by my state. I finally was ready to go and said I’d see him at km 30 in 4-5 hours. I walked through transition and through the chip reader, started my watch and started running.
I hit the trail with an older gentleman, and very early on lost him when I started running. I was hungry and tired from my bike, but running actually didn’t feel all that bad. I knew I still had hours ahead of me, so I made a plan; the race course we had been previewed showed the first 5-10k with about 1000 ft of climbing and the rest downhill, so I would run the downs and as much of the flats (if any) and walk/hike the ups. I ran up a rubble road and was diverted to a trail that ran through the countryside toward the mountains. The trail turned to a single track dirt and quickly turned to a very steep uphill climb. I counted my steps, feeling strong, but conserving my energy and heart rate. I overcame a second male athlete who was having a hard time catching his breath on the trail. I would count two hundred steps, and stop to take a breath (and maybe a picture), and continue on. Around mile 2 on the climb, I rounded a turn and found the assistant crew in charge. He asked how I was doing. I responded with “tired,” and he asked “but happy?” He seemed to not be satisfied if I didn’t answer yes, and I really just wanted to continue on. “Of course,” I responded, “you sure know how to make a sufferfest!” The trail continued as ups and downs for the next two miles, and some points I struggled to find the orange Merrell flags and white trail tape. I finally was able to pee and felt relief of the loss of the weight and pressure and knowing I was at least partially hydrated. There were a few points in the trail where I had to jump over some creeks, but nothing I worried about until mile 4 where I came to a large creek that I clearly had to fjord. I attempted to skirt the outside, my shoes sticking in the thick mud and I climbed through the brush, only to be stopped by a barb wire fence, forcing me to backtrack. I then embraced the extreme in this trail marathon and went in, over knee deep, into the cool water and walked the ten or twenty steps to the other side. My ‘waterproof’ trail shoes were filled with water and my socks squished as I started running again. Over the next mile or so, my feet dried to the point I didn’t notice it anymore, but instead was covered with dirt from the thigh down. I still looked forward to my spare shoes waiting for me at kilometer 30. I ate some sports beans to satisfy my desire to chew and took an Infinit. I drank a bottle and a half of water by the time I found the first aid station at the 6 mile mark and refilled quickly before continuing. The trail turned onto a gravel road and the race continued on it for the next 18 miles. It weaved through pastures, lakes, rivers, and farms. I saw sheep, chickens, and wild and domestic horses, and lots of beautiful scenery. I only saw about a runner every mile and I was averaging about a mile every 14.5 minutes with the climbing. There were portions that definitely rivaled Alaskaman’s Alyeska climb, but in much shorter segments. My legs didn’t feel too bad, but I had to stop a few times for a few seconds to catch my breath and my motivation. It didn’t even cross my mind that my feet, knees, hip, and back didn’t hurt, which was unusual for this stage in a race like this. I made it to the second aid station at mile 8 and wondered why there was still so much climbing around the blind turns. Miles 10-12 climbed a significant switch ack hill that awarded with beautiful views of the land behind me, lakes, and mountains. I made it to the half marathon, but didn’t stop to celebrate. A few male runners would pass me and yell “vaminos!” And wave for me to run with them. I waved them on and continued with my plan, conserving my energy for the additional half marathon ahead. I wanted to get to the 30 km station by 4.5 hours into the run and needed to stay on pace. I looked at the actual time for the first time all race and was happy that I made it to the half marathon before 12 hours into the race. I started calculating and switched my watch to my overall time; if I could keep under 15 minute miles, I could keep this trail marathon under 7 hours. I felt like there were more ups than downs and started running some for short distances, but was able to keep my miles well under 15. I started seeing some people running the other way and gathered that they were support looking for their athlete. One yelled a slew of Spanish, but I gathered he said something along the lines of kilometer 30 was just ahead. I started running some switchbacks and then was surprised to see Aaron standing on the side of the trail below. He started running with me when I caught up and said the aid station was set up just at the base of the hill. I asked him to run ahead to get my shoes and coke out for me. When I caught up, I struggled to sit and change my shoes and socks. I gave him my extra nutrition and water that I didn’t need to carry, and started on. He trailed slightly behind to catch everyone up via text message of my progress and snap some pictures. We ran through cheering support crews and it was satisfying to see it still so full so late in the race. I looked at my overall race clock: 13:09. I asked Aaron what I needed to hold to break 15 hours, but did the math that 15 min/miles would make it. I told him my goal and my plan of walking and running and we set off. There was more uphill than I had expected, but it was a much lower grade. We walked and ran until we finally made it to the top of the hill and had a steep, switchback decline. A girl ran past, the first I had seen since the bike. I tried to keep her in my sights, to have the possibility of passing her back, but she had way more left in her tank than I did. We ran down the hill to a humongous waterfall and the road flattened. Four miles to go. I counted them down as we ran on the never ending road. Three. Two. One mile left and still no end in sight. Aaron started to get upset, wondering if we had missed a turn. I snapped at him, fatigue, hunger, and impatience setting in and his negative attitude not helping my tired state. I had been basing my energy off a marathon run and this was going to be long. I tried not to let my emotions get the best of me. Aaron flagged down a car as I continued to run to ask them for directions. They said the turn was one kilometer ahead. We neared the intersection with the police directing traffic and a girl ran by and yelled “ two kilometers left.” I switched my watch to view the total time to see if the goal of breaking 15 hours was possible; it would be close. We turned onto a concrete road and started our run-walk again. We could see the water and mountains of Argentina, but the end of the road was obstructed. It felt like forever to make our way down the road and finally I saw what could only be described at a finisher shoot and an arch at the end. I had two minutes on my clock to make it. I gave Aaron the goal and we started running; and I picked up my pace and started really running. A girl stopped me and tried to get me to sign her shirt, and I felt bad that I turned her down. We neared closer, and I actually started pulling ahead and had to call for Aaron to catch up, telling him to finish with me. We crossed the finish line with twenty seconds to spare. The race director greeted us and told me to ring the bell overhead and hung a metal around my neck. A long day, completed with my fastest swim time, fastest marathon time, fastest iron distance time, most climbing ever done in one single bike ride, and most climbing in a run. It had by no means been easy, but I had become a Patagonman.
Life is for the strong. It is earned, not given.