I quickly become institutionalised in camp; dinner time was 5pm to beat the 6pm hot water ‘rush’ and bedtime 7pm. Due to our early to bed routine, I’d missed Sam, one of the race organisers, coming around to the tents at 8pm to tell us that today’s course was going to be amended.
Patagonia had undergone one of its coldest winters for decades, with snow falling up until a couple of weeks before the race; this combined with the scorching hot weather in the first couple of days of the race had meant that the snow on the mountains had been melting at an alarming rate, and some of the river crossings we were meant to be passing on today’s route were far too deep and fast flowing to pass on foot. This meant that at short notice, RTP had to amend the route and it was going to be an approximately 20 miles and 2,000 feet of ascent out and back.
On one hand this pleased me as a shorter more runnable route meant there’d be less opportunity for me to lose any more significant time against Magda before the Long Stage, but on the other hand it meant there’d be less opportunity for me to gain any significant time over Magda.
Fortunately as soon as we started, the extra food yesterday meant my energy levels were back to normal and my legs felt fresh and up for the challenge. However, less than 200 metres from the start line, I saw Tom fall. He told me to carry on and he’d catch up, so I continued running, keeping Magda in my sight.
This was a gorgeous undulating stage on a mix of runnable trails, passing a few river crossings, one of which was up to mid-thigh height, although the icy water did a good job of washing some of the previous 3 days of running dirt off me! Magda was never more than a couple of hundred metres ahead of me, so I figured as long as I didn’t lose to her by more than a couple of minutes on this stage, I could still go into the long stage with a 15 minute lead over her – too close for comfort, but better than nothing.
The pace was fast and furious, especially as we met the male leaders already on their way back, led by Neill who looked like he was running a 10k road race and wasn’t 90 miles into a multi-day race. This ended up being one of my favourite multi-day stages – the out and back nature made for such a fun atmosphere as you saw the entire field, a lot of whom you’d only see at camp, so it was a morning of high fiving and cheering other runners on as you ran. I saw Tom so was relieved that he was back on his feet and running, so could concentrate on my second half and keeping Magda in close sight.
The runnable trails suited me and runners coming the other way told me I was only 1-2 minutes behind Magda. As the stage went on I felt like I was getting stronger, and with about 2 miles to go, I caught her up on one of the final hills. I knew from experience that I tended to be a bit faster than her on the downhills, so I decided to put my foot down, so it made for a fast final 2 miles, culminating in another ‘sprint’ finish, with me finishing just 19 seconds ahead of Magda in 3:24:12, 1st female/27th overall. It had been a hard fought but brilliant day of racing.
Tom arrived back 10 minutes after me which is when I learnt of his ill fate. He’d gone over on a rock soon after the start and heard a loud popping noise in his ankle. He’d managed to hobble back to camp where the head doctor had examined him, was sure it wasn’t broken and was just a really bad sprain, tightly bandaged it up for him and gave him some strong painkillers. And then he restarted the race 15 minutes after everyone else with the sweepers! And then probably due to a combination of adrenaline and being high on painkillers had managed to overtake a large proportion of the field finishing in a respectable 3:34. Unfortunately as he returned to camp, the painkillers started to wear off and he realised he’d probably injured his ankle pretty seriously.
In the short-term, all the runners had to be bussed to the next camp due to the diverted impassable route, so Tom decided he wouldn’t make any rash decisions until we were settled at our fifth camp site.
As we’d headed further south through Patagonia, the temperatures had got cooler, the wind picked up and the rain started – this was the Patagonian weather we’d been expecting! All of a sudden the waterproof trousers that had seemed like the most ridiculous piece of mandatory kit at the start of the week in the hot desert-like conditions, were suddenly the most useful piece of kit we owned, and it seemed 90% of runners were wearing theirs back at camp.
Tom visited the medical tent again as his ankle was bruising and swelling at an alarming rate, and it became pretty apparent that there’d be no way he’d be starting the Long Stage, unless he wanted to risk doing long-term damage to his ankle. I was absolutely gutted for Tom as he was the last person who deserved this and would never DNF a race without a serious injury.
Tent 17 was a bit subdued on the night before the Long Stage; we’d all bonded so quickly, everyone was sad for Tom that we were going to be a man down.