Sunday, November 26, 2017

Racing the Planet Patagonia stage race

It was an honor and privilege to be able to take part in this race.  I am forever grateful for all the donations and for the guidance from Runwell (Linda Quirk and Kim Pawelek) and from coach Lisa Smith-Batchen.  Thanks to my super awesome wife Alejandra Hernandez for putting up with me and my training, and allowing me to do this.  Thanks to my great Runwell teammates Ashley and Brian Carr, we are friends for life.  4 Deserts and Racing the Planet put on a well organized event.  Everything was top notch, from the organizers, to the volunteers, the doctors, and the local staff. 

Basically all we did was run, recover, eat, camp and hang out for 7 days, and take care of our bodies.  There's a few details in between which I will try and get into here, and describe the best I can what transpired in Patagonia.  The first 4 stages were slated for 25 miles each stage, the long march was 50 miles, and the final stage was to be 4 miles.
I lived off Generation Ucan Bars and coffee for breakfast, Ramen noodles for lunch and dinner, Swell Balls as fuel while running, and had a bunch of snacks for treats when needed, including a freeze dried ice cream sandwich, Starbursts.  I had 3 camp meals that I ate when I was super hungry.
I used 99% of my mandatory gear and alllll my clothes.  I am happy with my gear selections. I needed to have gear and clothing that was practical, light, and did not take up space!  My training and nutrition was spot on.  I would not change a thing for next time.  Maybe I would have done just a little more steep climbing, though I did a lot.

I arrived after traveling for 37 hours, I assume this was mental training for what was in store for me!  It was great to be there even though I was braindead tired.  I got checked in and slept well.  The next morning we had breakfast and a briefing, and after that was our mandatory equipment check-in.  I had everything but was unsure about being my first time doing one of these races.  I was good to go, just needed to figure out how to get everything in to my backpack.  We needed to carry all mandatory equipment and 14,000 calories minimum for the week in our packs.  Any items that you did not bring, you would be penalized or not allowed to run.  Anything more than that, you carry more weight!  My pack was around 25 pounds.  Yikes, that is 1/6 of my body weight.  I had to run 155 miles with this thing attached to my shoulders and back! I certainly put the time in running with the pack and there was no turning back now.  After that we all got in the vehicles and were driven to camp. 

We arrived and quickly discovered that the athletes who were there already were putting on life jackets and were getting into rafts.  We had to cross rapids to get to camp!  It was off to an adventurous start!  We arrived and a lot of people were a bundle of nerves including me.  Not about running but how the hell I was going to fit everything into my backpack!  We ate, and hung out during the day and night and met some really cool people.  We were all in this thing together.  I got some broken sleep and then it was time to get up and pee, eat, and get ready for day one of running and day one of shoving everything in the backpack.  Thank God for Ashley Carr.  She was my awesome teammate and the voice of reason who helped keep me calm and get everything into my backpack!  We had a race briefing at 7:30 and were told that we would be running up a dirt road then scrambling up a hill where we would see some beautiful rock formations.  23 miles total.  That was true but before we scrambled we climbed a relentless climb!  The views were stunning and well worth the work.  As we made our way down fighting through rough brush I saw wild horses running freely.  We hopped on to a dirt path and I saw an armadillo for the first time ever.  This really made me feel happy and propelled me towards the finish line of day 1.  Back to camp to recouperate by stretching, eating and hanging out with athletes in the cold river.  Then it was eat again, stretch, hang out by the fire until bedtime.  I slept well but it was really cold at night.  Next morning it was pretty much the same deal, get up and get ready for stage 2.  We were told that it was going to be shorter than stage 1, and flatter.  This was true, but not true!  There were certainly some hills and we ran 18 miles.  What's the difference between 23 and 19, not much!  We crossed pampas and forests and yeah, it was a little less grueling than stage 1.  I felt great during this stage, and finished with some confirmation that I have got this.  The pack was slightly lighter each day as we were eating some of the things inside.  

The next 2 stages are kind of a blur.  I do recall that the weather started to change as we experienced the winds of Patagonia through out the day and while at camp.  I have significant wind burn on my face and lips to the point of them bleeding on and off for 5 days.  The rains chilled me to the bone as well.  Nothing really I haven't ran in before, but had not in a long time as we moved to the desert!  Sleeping in the cold was not ideal, but no other options of accommodations.
Fast forward to stage 5, the long march.  This was slated for 55 miles, but due to the rain causing the snow on the mountains to melt, it was reduced to 46 miles.  The rivers that we were supposed to cross became too deep and fast and were impassable. I saved something in the tank for this one.  At least I thought I did!  We had to climb over 6000 meters on this day, and a significant part of the climbing came early.  It was raining, cold and windy which turns dirt in to mud! It was slippery as well.  The rivers we crossed were frigid, and a few were rapid and up to the bottom of my shorts.  I thought the climbing would never end.  When the initial climb was over, I had tired legs, and could barely pick up my feet.  I must have kicked every tree root and rock, and fell 5 times.  My feet were destroyed at this point and I was in a considerable amount of pain.  The 2 things I really needed to get me to the finish line were very angry at me.  Negativity set in, and I was miserable.  I wanted this to be over, and my thoughts of finishing this stage in less than 12 hours in the daylight seemed bleak at best. The only 2 things that kept me going was that I knew that there were 25 million Americans out there suffering more than I was from addiction, and that 9 years ago to the day I was too weak to go to the liquor store for more booze, too weak to shower, and thought I was dying from alcohol.  I was dying, I wanted to die.  I had little fight left in me.  It was the last day I ever touched alcohol. I got through that day, I am recovering from addiction, I can do anything.  On this long march day I was stronger than I was that day, much stronger.  I could get through this, just not sure how.  The fight was on.  It was the single most challenging runs for me, but I was not going to give up.  I was going to finish this and finish strong.

 I finally arrived at an aid station and rumor had it that there was hot chocolate!  That put a huge smile on my face.  In fact, this was the game changer, this was what I needed to get me out of my own head.  It changed my mood, and changed my day.  ALL OF A SUDDEN, I AM NOW ABLE TO RUN AGAIN, AND RUN HARD!  This hot chocolate was a gift from God.  It was not the caffeine, it was not the warmth, it was simply something that helped me forget the misery.  My feet still hurt and I knew the pain was not going away, but I was no longer dwelling on it.  There were more hills and more rivers, but for the most part it was full speed ahead.  The driving rain and wind was still there, my face was still bleeding but the finish line was drawing nearer.  I saw Ashley Carr my awesome teammate at the next aid station which was also a huge boost. We discovered we had less than 20k left and that meant finishing well before darkness. I now had even more bounce in my step.  We more or less ran together for the rest of this stage.  In fact, we would finish together.  Amazing day that I will never forget.  I thought I was done, I thought at a minimum I would finish around 20 hours, and ended up finishing 11 hours 8 minutes.  I was frozen, confused as to what transpired but knew it was over. Thank you Ashley for helping me.

The next morning I wound up in the medical tent with hypothermia.  I could not get warm.  Everything happens for a reason.  I was there to witness Michelle finish her day/night somewhere around the 26 hour mark.  She walked through the night as the rivers rose, the winds got stronger, and the temps dropped.  She was frozen but overcome with gratitude and self accomplishment. I gave her  my blanket.  She told me she was a breast cancer survivor and if she could conquer that, she could do anything.  I was so happy for her.  I shared my story with her, the abridged version.  I told her I was super proud of her for finding a way to get it done.  She, is a warrior.

I found my way to the medical tent again, this time to have my feet taken care of again.  I had been doing so myself, this time I needed help. I had stubbed my toes one too many times, and had blisters under the nails.  The doctor had to drill 4 nails to get the fluid out. The is to relieve the pressure. It was difficult to walk.  The sun came out, and it was a day of resting by the fire, and drying out everything I had.  Everything was soaked from the long march.  We did not have to run today, and tomorrow was only 4 miles.

Saturday morning we were told we would start running at 5:30am.  We were up and ready.  4 miles to the finish line, that was it.  I decided that I would savor the last miles, the last moments and recollect this past week.  What an incredible week it was.  It was challenging, peaceful, fun, and beautiful.  I thought of all those who made donations, I thought of how much has changed since I registered for this race in March 2016. I thought of my broken fibula in June, and how lucky I was to still be able to recover from that and be in the race.  As I approached the finish line, I heard there was pizza and empanadas, so I sprinted to the end.  I must have had 10 of each!  We took some photos by the glacier at the end, and enjoyed the food and drinks then we took a 2 hour bus ride back to the hotel. 

It was over, but well worth all the training, planning, fundraising.  We crossed over 30 rivers, there were 50 countries representing over 300 athletes.  I met some of the most amazing athletes, and humans. 

Race Statistics

  • 289 competitors were at the start line of Patagonia 2017
  • 273 competitors completed the race; the withdrawal rate was a record low 5.5%!
  • 58% of participants had competed in one other 4 Deserts Race, including 34 members of the 4 Deserts Club - 42% were taking part in the first race!
  • A total of 108 staff and volunteers helped to make the race happen 
  • We passed through 145 gates! 
  • Tents were put up a total of 499 times during this race!

It took 32 hours to travel back, and went back to work the next day.  My feet ballooned up, and spent the next 3 days dealing with and taking care of them.  The show must go on at work we needed to prepare 4,000 turkey dinners! I will rest over the weekend start training for Coldwater Rumble 100 miler in January.  It is only 20 miles away, at least there will not be any ultratraveling!

Finally a flight to Bariloche after spending 7 hours in Buenos Aires airport.

25 pounds to be carried by me.
The usual suspects.

Ashley and Brian Car, my awesome teammates.

Wild horses.

Glorious trails I wil never forget.

Women's winner Sarah Sawyer approaching a cow that was on the trail!

Solid finish for Asjhley!

Brian Car enjoying a hot beverage.

Bloodied from the wind and rain, bled for 5 days on and off...

On the trail, coming through!

Gaucho doing his thing.

Water for camp, and sheep paid a visit!

Me, Ashley, Peter, Brian. Tentmates!

Allllll done, I was destroyed.  This was pre hot chocolate.  I was hurting like I never had before.

Typical climb.

Mas Gauchos!

Cold and wet, stil

Camping was epic!

I had 4 toenails drilled to relieve pressure.


Me, Nicola and Michelle!

Need new fet..

Glacier at the finish.

My feet blew up at LAX.  Sneakers would not fit.

Yikes.  Flashbacks to Boston Quad!

Recovery hike with Seabass!!!!

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