Where do I begin?
Many of you know the lead up to Patagonia for me was quite uncertain. The week I was set to start my block of training for Patagonia, I tore my gastrocnemius (one of the calf muscles). It turned out worse than anticipated and three weeks post tear I was still on crutches. I couldn’t get a straight answer from the physio as to whether this race was likely to go ahead for me or not. Six weeks post injury and I still couldn’t do a single calf raise and I was still walking with a heavy limp.
I looked into cancelling everything as it looked futile but I’d be at least $4k out of pocket. With all my medical bills following the calf tear, the credit card had already taken a beating. I was really stressed and unsure what to do.
Then I went to see Ainslie Bryce, myotherapist. She wanted to dry needle my calf. I was unsure – the physio hadn’t recommended this, but what did I have to lose? The next day, I did six calf raises. The page had been turned.
I went to see my osteopath Brendan O’Loughlin at Melbourne Osteopathy Sports and Injury Centre. I was an emotional wreck. He had a different view to my rehab than the physio and said he could take over from here if I trusted him. I did. Two weeks later, I was running. That left me with five weeks to train after roughly 10 weeks of zero running and minimal walking.
Matty Abel, founder and head couch of DBA runners took over from this point and managed to ease me back into running, avoid reinjury and have me feeling as confident as could be to tackle 250km in Patagonia.
Day zero: race check in.
I had thought my pack would weigh in at 8-9kg without water. That was what I had trained for (though seriously, two weeks of training with a pack!). 10.2kg she came in at. I then went back to my room and added my phone and emergency snacks. Add the 1.5kg of mandatory water and she was sitting at around 12kg +.
We departed the hotel having eaten so much food (last super) and as a nice little treat, had to white water raft to our first campsite.
Meetings and greetings to tent mates – the same tent mates you share your tent with all week. Thank God everyone in tent 15 was legendary.
We were off – running in the wrong direction, back on course and I realised my breathing was incredibly laboured. It could be the altitude? Could be the 12kg pack pushing and pulling on my diaphram? Could be I’m unfit?! Ah yes! Remember Tash, you haven’t run further than 22km since your 100 miler in May 😂😂😂😂 That definitely could be it.
Despite the difficulty in breathing I was having the best time. It was far hotter than I’d expected. Almost desert like with the dusty terrain. The first day was 42km with 1200m of climbing and I loved every second of it. I had no idea how I was placing, I was just there to run my own race. So I was incredibly shocked when I finished the day after 6 hours and 37 minutes of running, to discover I was the first competitor back to my tent.
I picked a comfy spot, had a wet wipe bath and started eating. I viewed the entire week as an eating competition with some running thrown in. Plus it was the only way my pack was going to get lighter.
Day 2 and 3 morph into a similar memory for me. It was hot, very runnable. A few climbs but I really enjoyed them. I hiked with purpose and as soon as the course was runnable again, I shifted gears. We were at a lower altitude and my breathing had returned to normal. I remembered the countless hours I spent on the assault bike at CrossFit Bayswater whilst I was too injured to walk. I would mimic hill training with my heart rate on the bike. It seemed to have worked as my engine was doing fine.
Day 4 was the day we had all been dreading. Into the mountains so the weather had shifted from hot and dry to wet, cold and windy. It was meant to be a 44km day with copious water crossings and incredibly steep descents. However late on the night of day 3 we got a little knock at the tent. The hot weather from the earlier days had caused the snow to melt and the rivers to rise to a level that wasn’t safe. The course would be altered to a 30km out and back- up and down the mountain. No one in the tent was sad for those lost miles.
I loved day 4. We had magnificent views the entire way, one deep river crossing which I thought was refreshing and because of the out and back format, we got to high five runners and walkers that we would have otherwise not seen. I’d heard the Koreans were running with full cabbages in their packs (no freeze dried rubbish for them) and when I passed them dancing, I seriously contemplated joining them for the long day.
After Day 4, we had a three hour bus ride to the next camp. I didn’t enjoy this. Stinking in the great outdoors is fine, but once cooped up in the bus, I got very agitated. My shoes were wet and I spent the entire bus ride freezing. The only time I wasn’t overjoyed but it had to be and I had to roll with it.
It rained all night so we all started day 5, the long march, with damp shoes. The course had been shortened to 74km for safety reasons (a flow on effect from having to alter day 4). I had a goal of finishing between 14 and 16 hours as parts of the course were technical and there was 2000m of climbing (all within a particular section of the course).
It rained all day.
When I got to the top of the mountain I started to get cold. I thought of my running friends Celesta and Kerry back home and how much they would love this. Suddenly I visualised Celesta yelling at me to put my windproof waterproof jacket on. Just in time as my teeth were chattering. I tried to run to keep warm but it was difficult with so much mud and so many water crossings.
It was around this point I met my Polish friend. We didn’t exchange words, but every water crossing he would leave one of his hiking poles at the start for me and wait at the other end with his hand outstretched for me. 14 water crossings later, we didn’t know each other’s names, but I knew he had heart.
After the water crossings, we separated.
Checkpoint 4 was the official rest/hot water point. It was cold and miserable and I was beckoned in with the lure of hot chocolate. No thank you. I didn’t even peak inside that checkpoint. I needed to keep moving, so I had my water filled up, number checked off and kept running.
I later heard some competitors spent 45 minutes plus at that checkpoint. To each their own. I know that also gave many competitors a significant morale boost but I really didn’t need it. I just needed to keep moving.
Shortly after this point the wind picked up and it started to snow. I realised that if I just kept moving, I’d make it back before sunset. I was way ahead of my goal time. So I embraced the elements and I pushed as hard as I could.
One km from the finish line, Mei, a Japanese competitor caught me. She said “We’ve seen each other a lot today. Let’s do this together.” We hadn’t run together but instead had spent the day passing one another – playing tag team with our individual strengths.
She grabbed my hand and we ran the last section together crossing the finish line hand in hand. We hugged, she cried and I said “what’s your name?”
One by one, our tent filled up – each of us with our own story of the day, all of us shivering so cold but also very aware of the walkers who were still out braving the cold without the protection of sleeping bags and tents.
Day 6 is a rest day. We slept and ate most of the day. I had learned my lesson from Atacama and had a few snacks saved to pass the time.
Day 7 – the final stretch. We woke at 4.15am for a 5.30 start. A short 7km uphill to the finish. As the sun rose and the snowy mountains appeared before us, I didn’t want to race anymore. I took my time. I wanted to savour every last moment. I didn’t want it to end.
Before heading to the race, my friend Kate had given my an angel that I had pinned to my backpack for protection. She said it was to symbolise my nanna. Kate didn’t know but my nanna always called me her angel – and now, we’ll I guess she’s my angel.
Bob Leighty, my friend and Erin’s dad hand me my finishing medal.
There we were at the Black Glacier, having pizza and beer for breakfast, wearing wet stinky clothes and feeling a million bucks.
Some after thoughts on gear, food and training.
I didn’t use electrolytes this race. 100% happy with that decision. Zero puffiness that I often get when using Tailwind.
I used the 35L Ultimate Direction pack. The pockets are ridiculous. They’re not symmetrical and so I would not recommend this pack for that reason, particularly if you like to have two drink bottles on the go.
I used Craft Glue from Spotlight to glue on my mandatory patches because I was too lazy to sew. Don’t do this. I missed my friend’s hens night the night before I flew out when the glue came undone and I had to go looking for needle and thread (sorry Beth!). The rain also seemed to have an effect on the glue which was really quite gross on day 5. I also lost the patches off my rain jacket and stressed the entire race I wouldn’t be allowed to wear it. Silk screen your waterproof jacket and sew on shirts.
Altra shoes are seriously amazing. No blisters, no black toe nails. I used Steigen and merino socks but I’ve had the same good luck in Injinji and Dry Max socks. The shoes plus any good brand of running socks seems to be a winner.
I ate the same food I’ve eaten for every multiday race and I ate the same meal day in day out. Rice, TVP and veggies. My pop had to eat polenta for 8 months straight when he was stranded in Austria trying to escape the war. We’re so soft and precious when it comes to food these days. I know people like to have variety and things to look forward to. I actually enjoyed the monotony. I felt like a tuff nut eating rice day in day out.
Get good at hiking. You have to walk before you can run. During longer endurance events like multi day races and 100 milers, hiking skills are a must. You need to be able to hike strong and transition from running to hiking to running with ease.
Strength train! Months and months of upper body weights whilst my legs weren’t working meant that 12kg pack didn’t even cause me a second thought.
Don’t get hung up on injuries. They happen and if you let it, the body will heal – but you have to give it time. I got really lucky with this race, but I have learned there are far worse things that could be happening in your life than a running injury. Be grateful for your life and if you can’t run for some reason – do something else amazing with your time and be grateful for that. The key to happiness after all is gratitude. Peace.