On paper, stage 2 looked pretty easy; just 19.7 miles and 2,000 feet of ascent, and in tent 17 we were all a bit blasé about it, joking how we’d be back in time for brunch. However, the shorter distance, meant that at the front of the field, everyone went off hard, so for the first few miles, Magda, Claire and I were really pushing each other, more akin to if we were in a short road race and not day 2 of a multi-day race, still carrying over 6.5kg on my back. By the time I got to checkpoint 1, I knew I’d gone off a bit too hard and was beginning to struggle in the heat. I never expected the heat to be the hardest thing for me on days 1 or 2, but I found it harder than Atacama, whereby because of the freezing cold nights, we always had a couple of hours of cooler running before the day heated up. Here, because of the milder nights and much earlier sunrise, it was pretty much relentless heat from the word go.
After checkpoint 1, I backed off the pace a bit and Magda moved ahead, never more than about 400 metres in front, but I was conscious of trying to run my own race and not over-push. It wasn’t until the top of the final big climb that I caught Magda up, and all my practice at turning myself into something of a downhilling mountain goat came into effect, as I overtook her on the downhill.
Ahead I saw someone who looked familiar; it was Tom who had been really struggling with the heat and had been sick. We ran together for a short while but we’d always said we’d run our own races, so I went on ahead and into the final checkpoint with a small lead over Magda.
It was just 4 miles along a railway track back to camp, which in the race briefing had sounded easy, but the rocks and uneven terrain underfoot, the relentless heat and Magda hot on my heels, made it anything but.
Perhaps I should have backed off a bit, but psychologically I wanted to win the stage again, so it pretty much came down to a ‘sprint’ finish, with me finishing in 3:47, just 26 seconds ahead of Magda, 1st lady and 25th overall. It had definitely not been the easy day I’d been expecting! Neill had had a similar close race, finishing 1st again, but this time just 2 seconds ahead of Iulian from Romania.
It was only day 2 but it felt like the race was definitely on in both the men’s and women’s race, and nobody could afford to rest on their laurels for a split second.