Wenger Patagonian Expedition Race 2010: Part 1
At the Wenger Patagonian Expedition Race, one of the hardest adventure runs in the world, the participants have to constantly push it to the limit.
The Wenger Patagonian Expedition Race is a challenge for even the the world’s toughest racers. The competitors came up against harsh weather conditions - both hot and cold - that made the non-stop 550km course nearly impossible to bear. It takes superhuman strength and ambition to bike through extreme winds, kayak on raging seas, and trudge onward during a blizzard.
However, the race is not only about struggle. Throughout the race, the competitors are exposed to remote and gorgeous natural scenes that most people will never have the chance to see. Chilean Patagonia may be beautiful, but such sights come at a price.
When confronted with such a challenge, a well-planned food strategy, teamwork and a strong mind are essential.
“You have to train hard, but the biggest thing is the mental edge,” explained Bruce Duncan, a member of winning team Helly Hansen-Prunesco. “Your body is awesome and it will keep going if you ask it nicely!”
Choosing the right kit is crucial, but the right choice is not always clear. This year Helly Hansen-Prunesco didn't want to end up like the 2009 winners who packed to little and suffered without a tent. The key was to find a good balance between weight and comfort.
Team captain Nicola MacLeod explained: “Going for the heavier and slower expedition approach is good, but it means you have four days of wet, cold, nasty feet instead of two and a half. That carries its own risks.”
Several 2010 teams with bigger packs made exactly this mistake and they missed the cut-off time due to slow progress.
A well-defined strategy is important in any race, but in a long endurance event sleeping plans are vitally important. Different strategies have to be taken for different races, however, with the route often dictating how things plan out.
Duncan explained: “We had a very different sleep strategy in 2010 to the one we had in 2009. Last time we snatched 15 minutes here or there, whereas this year we had a good hour and a half’s sleep, then pushed on. I felt quite refreshed the whole time and nobody was clamoring for sleep at any point, but it very much depends on what the route allows.”
Hallucinations brought on by sleep deprivation can be disastrous, so it is important to stop and rest.
Another unpredictable challenge are the high winds. In this year's bike race, the winds were so strong that some competitors reached 50km/h without pedaling, while others had to fight against the winds when they reversed direction.
Andy Wilson, who competed for Team Helly Hansen-Prunesco, explained: “It’s tough both physically and mentally when you are riding into the wind, it just sends you mad, that constant roaring in your ears for hour after hour after hour. Physically you struggle to ride into it and there were times when we were literally blown into the ditches and there’s nothing you can do.”
Temperature was yet another challenge at the Wenger Patagonian Race. In the Darwin Range, in this year’s Wenger Patagonian Expedition race, some teams were at the highest passes when clouds rolled in to create a whiteout, rendering navigation impossible. At that point, you just have to sit it out and wait.
James Galipeau, of team Untamed New England, explained: “In the windy, blizzard conditions we were getting colder and colder and colder so we camped out and decided not to get up at first light because it was still a white-out - but then one team came past and said they could see ok, so we had to scramble quickly and get up. When it cleared, it was all worth it because the views up there were phenomenal.”
It is also interesting to know what the athletes eat during a race. Druce Finlay, of Team Eddie Bauer, outlined the typical race diet.
“We have 24-hour bags, which are gallon ziplocks with a meal inside and lots of goodies including sport beans, energy bars, snickers, cranberries, favourite snacks," said Finlay. "It’s useful to have it arranged like that so you know what you are taking in. As you eat you put trash in side pockets and when you finish the 24hr food bag you have a big bag of trash to give in at the next checkpoint.”