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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.

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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.

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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.'

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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.

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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.

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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.)

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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.

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Scared of failure

Scared of failure

I am downright terrified. It's now less than two weeks until I fly out to do the Patagonia Expedition Race and I can't quite come to terms with it. It's not the race I'm nervous about. No, it's the possibility of failure, of letting my team mates down, of not going fast enough to make the check point times.

I know I can do it, I can go on and on in pain and suffering but it's whether I can do that at a pace that will get us through each round. My team are incredible and I feel honoured to have them but I do feel a huge responsibility to go much faster than my legs would like. They all seem to have an immunity when it comes to speed and endurance that I so envy.

To be honest, I'd be happy to go faster but lately, especially on the bike, I reach a point on hills where I simply cannot get the bike to move any quicker as my thighs burn to the point of exhaustion. All I can hope for is that as long as I push through, we will make the time and complete the race. My gosh, I want to complete it. All I can do is try my very best and believe in my mind as much as possible that finishing will happen and that I will achieve the impossible.

A more upbeat blog will come shortly, I just needed a little panic time.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.