Viewing entries tagged
race

Race Race Race... Crash

Race Race Race... Crash

The race didn't quite go to plan. Let's start at the beginning. After months of preparation, the day of departure was finally upon us. I had been working so hard to make sure everything would run as smoothly as possible and as we sat on the plane, I could finally relax, or so I thought.

img_5188.jpg

The 5 days before the race were exhausting and made all of the team very ill with flu and fever. After we passed all of the kayak, rope and equipment tests, there was the biggest admin organisation of all. We had to figure out which food bags and equipment would meet us at which check points which meant estimating speed of travel. This is incredibly difficult as Patagonian terrain is so unknown and unforgiving which means you guess the speed travelled.

img_5325.jpg

The route was given to us and it was just as horrendous as I had been imagining. It began with a 36km beach run (against the 70kmph wind) followed by a 272km bike ride (against the same wind) across the planes of Chile. Then there were 100km treks and a few short kayak legs. There was a buzz of excitement in that room as the route was given. Nervous laughter could be heard but the overall vibe was 'let's get out there and begin.'

img_5318.jpg

That night, we made the mistake of staying up all night to look at Google earth satellite images of the route to try and get an understanding of what we were going into. However useful this may have been, it meant that we began the race with zero sleep on top of flu and sinus infections.

img_5328.jpg

A 5 hour nervous bus ride to the start line at Dungeness lighthouse. This is pretty much as east as you can get in Chile. We arrived early in the morning and the wind was of course howling. Sand was being whipped up and hurt the skin so sunglasses and buffs came into their glory.

The race began at 8am on the 16th of February. Everyone there got the adrenaline rush and all strategy went out the window. We all ran. For a moment, everyone forgot that the wind was blowing so hard, and we all felt free as we sprinted west.

img_5467.jpg

Within the first few moments we had to cross a river. Just like us, most teams took the decision to stop running, take their shoes and socks off and go across. The river was strong and so a proper river crossing technique was necessary.

As a team, we smashed the beach run. We stopped every hour for 3 minutes to refuel then kept going, taking it in turns to be the front wind breaker.

We got to the checkpoint and put together our  bikes. We were in middle place at this point (despite the race records incorrectly stating we got here last!! There must have been an error here.)

img_5433.jpg
img_5465.jpg

Biking in the wind was harder than we could believe. Even downhill, if you didn't peddle, you stopped. It was ridiculous. The bikes weighed a tonne with the mandatory kit on the back of them. People were getting blown of their bikes left right and centre. I fell down dozens and dozens of times but it was all part of it.

As we struggled through the wind, trucks would go by and beep their horn and wave and smile out the window. Unfortunately we couldn't let go of the handle bars to wave back!

Hours went by and occasionally we'd see other teams. Most teams were using tow ropes to keep the team together. We didn't have one so made a make shift one out of a climbing sling. It wasn't retractable like other teams (they used retractable dog leads) but it did the trick. The idea of a tow rope isn't to pull the 'weakest' team member so to speak, instead it's to improve the teams efficiency. The tow rope meant that whoever was struggling to keep up could be held in the strongest bike rider's slip stream which would allow the team to stay together. I went on the tow rope behind Tim, and my gosh it made a world of a difference. We were suddenly flying.

It got dark quickly and after a stop for dinner (a rather entertaining stop that I may write a separate post about), we continued through the night.

We were covering distance as best we could considering the wind. As we got more and more tired our minds played tricks on us. All of us could've sworn we were last but when you looked closely at the sides of the dirt track road, you could see tents where other teams had stopped.

At around 2am we called it. We were falling asleep on the bikes by this stage. Getting off that bike, I could tell I was exhausted. I was freezing and my butt hurt like hell!

We set our alarms for 2 hours time but infact slept through all 4 alarms and work up at 5am. A quick pack up followed by a slow and painful manoeuvre  onto the bike seat and we were off again.

We once again flew! The quick nap had restarted our engines and we all felt so fresh. We were covering so much ground. The sun was rising and it seemed like it was going to be a fantastic day. Don't get me wrong though, it wasn't like a bike ride on a summers day at home... From the day before it meant our butt's were killing with every bump on the relentless dirt track (these bumps were EVERYWHERE) and our backs ached as they curved over the handle bars. The tow rope took a lot of concentration, because it wasn't retractable it meant I had to watch it's slack like a hawk. If it was tight, that meant Tim was having to pull me which defeats the point of getting the most efficiency out of the team and if it was too slack, it risked getting caught in the back wheel. There was a very fine line. The endless bumps in the road meant that Tim would have to weave in and out which required me to act quickly and follow his line.

Then came the main event. Somehow, the rope got wrapped around Tim's back wheel which caused me to crash. I'd fallen so many times in the last 24 hours, it couldn't be any worse... Or could it? I went smack onto my elbow and head and as it happened, I knew something was wrong immediately. All I could feel was anger.

To cut a long story short, I had to be taken to hospital and was told I had concussion and hairline fractures in my elbow. The race was over for us.

It wasn't easy to come to turns with. A lot of tears were shed that day. I'd let my team down as a result of a tiny misjudgement of the tow rope. I felt like a hole just needed to swallow me up as I weeped into Tim's arms.

Within a few hours, more teams were retiring or disqualified or injured. This meant that out of the race, we pretty much had a club of retired teams. By the end of the race, 4 teams out of an original 21, finished.

We want to do it again. How easy it would seem second time round! We know the drill, we've got the kit, we'd start out healthy - piece of cake!

Despite what happened, the build up to the race were some of the best months I've ever had. As said by the winning team captain, it is incredible to even get to the start line.

It takes so much to get there and I have to say, as we had our photo taken in the opening ceremony that introduced all the teams to the press, I've never been so proud in my life.

img_5249.jpg

Winding Down

Winding Down

I am currently sat at the kitchen table in my childhood Suffolk home. It would be easy for one to think that I've come home for the weekend from London to pop in for some home cooking and a log fire as a break from the city.  However this would be wrong. I haven't been in London, nor Suffolk, for two months.

What an adventure I've had. In early February, the team and I headed out to Chilean Patagonia for what I now know for sure, is the toughest endurance race in the world.

After the race, Tim and I stayed on. We had another six weeks worth of expeditions from high altitude mountains in Argentina to huge icebergs in the wilderness of Patagonia. We witnessed first hand some of the effects that climate change is having on the landscape of Chile and Argentina. When we returned to internet land, we were all to happy to hear how well Elon Musk's sustainable companies (and SpaceX!) like Tesla and SolarCity are doing.

I am struggling to wind down from all of the excitement and I'll have to make sure I keep myself busy so not to fall into PED (Post Expedition Depression - a horrible mindset to be in!)

I have many stories to tell but for now, I stare at a mountain of kit to be sorted and hours of washing to be done. Here's a few pictures from the trip as a taster of what's to come.

Short term memory

Short term memory

I usually complain about the fact that humans have a short term memory. We do though, we will watch a hard hitting documentary about climate change and extinction and how we are one car drive away from wiping out this whole planet.. Then we will switch off the telly, get up and switch on the fan heater instead of putting on the wooly jumper grandma gave us. We are short term creatures, only a couple of meals away from starvation.

There's no wonder why most of the world can't see beyond their own lives and don't give a monkeys ass about what happens after they're gone.

shutterstock_153806906
shutterstock_153806906

This short term memory is something to be ashamed of.

However the short term memory I am talking about is the kind that gets me through hard expeditions and training. It may be the only thing that will get me through Patagonia. (Although I really hope it doesn't apply with the skill sets I need to remember, such as rope and kayak skills!)

I went for a run this morning and I feel great now but if I really think back to just an hour ago when I was on that run; in the rain, wind and mud, going up hills and feeling like my legs were made of lead, I realise that I've forgotten those bad parts. For me, any good that can be found in that kind of thing, out ways the bad.

It's the same on bike rides. Going up a hill feeling like you're not making any progress as your thighs burn and you wobble because your speed isn't enough to keep you riding smoothly. Your lungs are at full capacity, your breathing hurts, your heart is pounding out of your mouth and your eyes droop as the hill doesn't ever seem to end. But then, you're at the top, the incline has changed and now you are going down, free wheeling and you think "that wasn't too bad." Already you've forgotten that feeling of struggle.

1174544_10151860600671228_1718754_n.jpg

I'm all too aware that Patagonia will consist of extremely hard struggle the majority of the time. What I've got to cling on to however is the idea that any little ray of light or enjoyment, will allow me to forget the terror and let me look around and appreciate what I am doing and where I am. Our team camaraderie should assist in this.

Because let's face it, it's been my choice all along to sign up to this ridiculous challenge that I am in no way qualified for. It should also be my choice to have a little fun with it and be grateful to everyone around me who have supported me in this insane idea.

Patagonia is creeping up. Fast.

Patagonia is creeping up. Fast.

Oh my, oh my. The weeks are flying by. Even though I am packing training and planning into every single day, it still seems like there isn't enough time to feel at ease. This weekend we were back in Dartmoor in the snow, wind, rain and even, sun. It was another chance to test out our kit and admin skills. We did a lot of navigation work and strategy planning.

Dartmoor is the perfect training ground. It's wet, the ground is rubbish to walk on and the wind bites through any layer. As I sit and write this I can feel I've got repercussions from the wind and snow in my eye... Goggles/good glasses needed. Noted.

IMG_4199
IMG_4199
img_4137.jpg
img_4193.jpg

I am always so confident when we are all together but when I have nights alone, my brain has a freak out about everything I need to do.

We are a strong team. We just need to keep our cool and keep on plodding. We aren't trying to win, we just want to be able to get as close to the finish line as possible.

A few weeks ago we were down in Cornwall for sea kayaking practice. Sea kayaking does not come naturally to me. It's a nightmare on the shoulders and hip flexes. I know it will come down to me gritting my teeth and getting on with it. Why do I put myself into this pain??

Sea kayaking in a tandem takes concentration and those things can really catch the wind. Patagonia is wind central so we are going to have an effort on our hands.

10440981_1639525639637778_1496039806552281988_n.jpg

For me, this week consists of some cycling and walking with team member Tim, some running and circuits with my supreme trainer Greg Whyte and back to the Royal Geographical Society for a talk led by Ranulph Fiennes. It's all go.

img_4173.jpg

Training for my biggest challenge yet

Training for my biggest challenge yet

My training for the Patagonia Expedition Race has well and truly begun. See featured photo of me having a mare as I climb up a stream. I would be lying if I said I wasn't nervous. I am terrified. This is the only challenge that I've taken on where I haven't been 100% sure that I am going to make it. That's exactly what draws me to it.

The race is for athletes; seasoned adventure racers. I am not a racer nor an athlete. I purely enjoy putting myself into situations where I have to live in the present and adapt to environments. I thrive on surprising myself with what I can achieve.

In the last few months, I've had to put a whole new team together due to my previous team pulling out on me. I was left stranded and had an ongoing battle in my brain for weeks on end, on whether I should continue the race, as I struggled to find a new team.

I don't know why I didn't pack it in when my original team left me. They didn't think they had it in them to take part in the race so why on earth do I think I do? Naivety? Stupidity? Delusion?

I had half an hour of panic after finding out I was alone and had to build a team again. I snapped myself out of it and something stronger than me took over. I was on the phone, emails, social media, every kind of contacting format I could come up with to find new team members, I was on it.

Within a few hours I had my first team member, Tom. Tom and I had met once, over a year ago. We had been introduced to one another because we both enjoyed adventures. Tom said yes immediately.

The next team member came at a chance meeting. After arriving in Bastia, Corsica I met Marty. (Before beginning the GR20.) I needed to hitch a ride 2 hours south to the start point of the trek so scouted for outdoor looking people at the airport.

I saw a man who held himself in a military way. I darted for him. He wasn't there for a beach holiday, I could tell he was there to trek. He turned out to be a group leader and happily gave me a lift. During the 2 hour journey, I very easily got him on board the team! Marty is an ex marine and perfectly skilled for the team.

Our last team member, Tim, came at another chance meeting. Neil Laughton invited me to attend the The British Chapter of the Explorer's Club. I mingled with like minded people and when Shane Winser (Head of expeditions at the Royal Geographical Society) introduced me to Tim, I almost immediately popped the expedition question. (Granted I'd had a glass of wine to provide such confidence.) With my surprise, Tim said yes. Tim's background is global adventure photography and he's in the marine reserves. Done. I had a new team!

Tim and I met at the Explorer's Club in London
Tim and I met at the Explorer's Club in London

Ever since we formed our new team, we've been hitting the training weekends hard. With only 4 months to go, the race is the centre of our world. It has to be.

As a team we've been yomping and climbing in Wales. Last weekend we were soaked to the core by torrential rain and wind as we navigated our way through Dartmoor (realising we need new, better waterproofs!) We climbed and abseiled alongside some marines in training and spent our nights (when we weren't night navigating) snuggled together in a floor-less tent.

The team balances one another perfectly and there's a real sense of family. I can't wait to continue getting to know everyone.

My individual training has been created by Professor Greg Whyte and it gets me training twice a day.  I am given my nutrition plan tomorrow and as I write that, I question why I haven't got a cheese plate and cold, fatty meats in for my last day of food freedom...?

I am concerned I will be the less physically able out of my strong team but with the external help I am confident I can get there. I'm pretty certain that there will come to a point in the race where we will all be the same and our strength of character and mental power will be what pulls us through.