Longstanding CurraNZ ambassador Chris Stirling is one of Britain’s leading amateur extreme triathletes and, having won the British and Canadian legs of the global XTri series in 2017, he set his sights on the inaugural Chilean arm of the global series, PatagonMan, to finish 2018 on a high. Here, Chris reveals how he didn’t let the lows of the race outcome stand in the way of spoiling his Patagonian adventure.
Picking up from where we left off, after a tough season, all the hard work had been done and I felt like things had finally come good for PatagonMan on December 9. Legs were feeling great and I still couldn’t quite believe I would be racing an extreme triathlon in Patagonia in a week’s time. I had loaded up on CurraNZ, the 14-day pre-race loading strategy worked wonders for the Brutal in September. Not only had I felt great during the race but it’s assuring to know the immune system benefits of the product can help fight off illnesses that can strike when training volume drops and/or exposure to bugs during travel.
Although I had never visited Chile, I had already made a good friend and it was great to finally meet John Medina, a local who had kindly offered for us to stay with him and his family for our time there. John is a local legend, a PE teacher at the High School who seems to know everyone and has the biggest heart. This was to be his first long-distance triathlon and he had been training hard through the harsh Patagonian winter and spring, swimming in the 5-degree fjord, biking in the wind and rain - a man after my own heart.
His family welcomed us into their home and we settled into the Patagonian way of life. It was plain to see that John’s journey to the start line meant a lot to him and his family, he was proud to be representing the local region and wanted us to have the best time visiting.
I won’t ever forget the first swim. John insisted no wetsuits, which seemed bold, given the waterfalls on the far side of the fjord are fed from snow-capped mountains, but it was the clearest water I have ever swam in. I thought I would freeze but couldn’t back down on the first swim with a local, luckily it was warmer than expected!
We met Pablo, an Argentinian crop-dusting pilot, who had arrived in Puerto Aysen a few months previously and became John’s training partner for the last few months. That evening we watched the sun go down and drank their famous local herbal tea, Yerba Mate with our new friends. I had been a bit anxious about the race, but this melted away that evening.I really had zero worries approaching the big day, and with John’s daughter Kari and her friend Camilla all ready as my support crew, I was set.
Race day morning and the famous Patagonian winds had picked up, it was going to be a choppy swim with the tide running against us for the first few kilometres before turning back to shore. The race starts much the same as Norseman, with an 8ft-jump from the back of a ferry into the icy fjord. I couldn’t wait to get in and was second to make the jump. This was it - time to live the dream!
I knew my swim would be a bit off the pace due to the missed time with a shoulder injury but also knew my biking and running were the strongest they had been all season. Kari and Camilla did a great job helping me in T1 to get out and onto the bike. Time to go!! Vamos!!
I won’t dwell too long on what happened next but after two punctures in the first 70km, I could not fix the second one. I had packed the wrong inner tube in what was an oversight and my fault entirely. I tried to fix a puncture with duct tape, Kari and Camilla tried to get me a repair kit, but after an hour at the side of the road I realised that was it. It was heart-breaking to come all this way and I was angry with myself for the mistake.
However, I quickly realised that Kari could now support her father and we could see him finish, so off we went. I spent the rest of the day with John’s amazing wife, daughters and friends, watching John grind out the miles on the bike with a big smile that never left his face. I had the honour to run with John for the last 13km of the most beautiful run course, in which he gained 13 places (I was keeping score for him😉) and see him cross the line with his daughters Kari and Martina running the last few hundred meters by his side, carrying the Mapouche flag.
I spent the next five hours cheering on new friends and old finishing the race, including Pablo, who we ran the last kilometre with, too. It’s safe to say that after the disappointment of my race, I did not have to look very far to find the positive this time, experiencing great friendship, adventure and the journey all the way to the start line. It’s left me hungry for more and now I have the perfect excuse to go back… stay tuned.
Image copyright Steve Ashworth