The journey to the Racing the Planet Patagonia start line almost felt longer than the race itself – taxi to Heathrow, 13:30 hour flight to Buenos Aires, taxi across the city to the domestic airport, a cancelled domestic flight, put on the next flight to Bariloche, and finally taxi to the hotel in Bariloche. We left home at 4.30pm on Thursday and arrived in Bariloche at 6pm Friday. After a little shake-out run around the lake we got on with our final pre-race essentials like decanting our freeze dried food into zip-lock bags (do you know how many vital grams that saves?!).
RTP Patagonia is RTP’s 10th Roving Race ultra marathon, whereby they bring their 155 mile multi-day format to a different location each year, and Patagonia was to be their biggest race to date, with almost 300 competitors from 49 countries. Many were returning runners, volunteers or doctors from previous races, so it was like an excitable runners’ reunion from the moment we left Heathrow, and everything took five times longer as you kept bumping into old friends.
The Saturday before the race starts on the Sunday is busy with competitor briefing, registration, kit and food check and more, where my little Miss Planning and Organisation skills had come into their own as I had one of the lightest starting rucksacks at 6.9kg.
I’d finished my last two multi-day races as 1st lady in Ecuador (2015) and 2nd lady in Atacama (2016), so my pre-race target was to finish top 3. However I knew this wasn’t going to be an easy task as the starting line-up of nearly 300 was double most RTP races, and there were a number of very strong women with a whole host of ultra and multi-day experience in the field.
On paper it seemed like my biggest competition was going to come from:
Magda from Germany – Magda had come a close 2nd to me in Ecuador and always finishes in the top 3 of RTP races. Since we’d last raced against each other over 2 years ago, she’d taken her running to the next level and her last two races were the 430 mile Yukon Arctic Ultra and a continuous 700k race in Germany….and there was me still trying to dine out on an above average CCC performance!
Luisa from Italy – Luisa is the kind of mountain goat that I can only dream about being, with so many mountain race accolades to her name – 3 Tor Des Geant finishes, a 37 hour UTMB finish, a 38 hour Grand Raid Reunion finish, 2 high placings at Lavaredo….and on top of all that, 8 MdS finishes, most of which were in the top 10.
Claire from Canada – Claire has so much long and multi-day experience, placing highly at international races such as Grand to Grand, The Track, Bigfoot 200 and more, alongside a string of impressive ultra results from her home country of Canada.
So I was well aware that I was going to have to work hard for a top 3 finish, but I was excited to be racing against some impressive women. I’d much rather run my socks off and come 5th behind some strong competition, rather than win a race easily in a small field or if the competition wasn’t there.
The journey from Bariloche to camp one involved a bus journey and then a river raft crossing, before we finally arrived at Gaucho’s Ranch and our first campsite. There were six others going to be living alongside me in tent 17 for the next week:
Tom – obviously!
Rhianon from London – we’d been tent mates in Atacama and stayed in close touch since and I really couldn’t think of a better tent mate to wake up to every morning as she’s just a bundle of fun and happiness….plus we have a shared love of running skirts (and unknowingly had almost coordinated our race outfits!). She’d taken her training to the next level over the last few months and I was expecting to see her do really well in Patagonia and be knocking at the door of the podium.
Neill from Belfast – we’d met him at Santiago airport last year enroute to Atacama where Tom immediately christened him ‘Speedy Neill’. In his first ever attempt at running above marathon distance last year in Atacama, he’d finished 2nd in a competitive field, and can pretty much turn his hand to any distance from parkrun to road marathons where he recently ran a 2:34 PB in Berlin. He’s one of the most talented, yet down-to-earth runners I know, so I was really hoping to see him go one step higher than Atacama and win in Patagonia.
Matt and Johnny from Los Angeles – these were two friends running their first multi-day race although both had run ultras before and Matt had lots of triathlon and Ironman experience. They were both the most fun, even if we did have a few problems with US v English language differences….whoever knew ‘porridge’ and ‘oatmeal’ could cause such confusion?!
Tayla from California – this was her first RTP race but she’d volunteered at Atacama last year so we’d met then and she’d thrown herself into training for Patagonia.
Within a few minutes of getting ourselves settled into our tent, the boys were all comparing nipple taping techniques….it was going to a good week with fantastic people!