Patagonman is an extreme triathlon or what we now call Xtri. If you haven’t put it together, it takes place in Patagonia, which for this race means the southern part of Chile in South America. So for anyone traveling, you might be wondering how you actually get there since it’s definitely a remote location. Traveling by air, which 99 percent of Patagonman athletes do, means you will head to Santiago where you will transfer to the domestic terminal and fly to Balmaceda airport and then drive an hour or take a bus to Coyhaique.
Coyhaique is pretty much your race-central location. Since this is a point-to-point race, you’ll notice the bike course comes through this amazingly beautiful town around 90k. That means the bus ride back after the race won’t be a full 200k or something like some of the Xtris. The race takes you through four major towns; Puerto Chacabuco, Coyhaique, Villa Cerro Castillo and Puerto Ibanez, where the finish line is.
This means a lot of driving for your support team to make sure they are up to it beforehand. Your support is often awake, even longer than you are since they are in charge of your personal logistics for the day (bike set-up, bike handling, transitions, all nutrition for the day and your well-being). Now that you have a basic overview of the race, let me lay out my personal experience and how you can tackle this race.
Arrival and Transport to the Hotel
My wife and I flew from Tampa, Florida and nearly 19 hours later, landed in Balmaceda, Chile. Transferring through Santiago was actually very easy since we had a very nice man grab us as we left the baggage area and brought us to our next LATAM airlines bag-check (for a small tip). Security and customs were also very easy through Santiago with plenty of people to help move us along so our wait times were only 20 minutes max.
I personally experienced a bit of a pain in the ass once we arrived in Balmaceda since whoever took my bike off that plane ripped the front of my bike case off so right when we landed, I hit problem number one: How will I get the bike back home? More on that later.
If you have two people or more, I would recommend one person to wait on baggage while the other handle your transportation to Coyhaique. I decided to rent a car, which was handled by the Patagonman race organization, so I just had to show up at the right vendor’s counter. I was second in line and it still took nearly 20 minutes since most everything is handwritten and they actually do a thorough vehicle inspection with you beforehand. I had to leave the standard credit-card on file for damages but opted to pay for the balance ($360 for seven days) with my debit card. We had a fun-little Fiat Uno which was manual gearbox. However, I saw some really nice trucks you could rent. I would recommend getting an SUV or small truck for this race – there are many gravel roads and off-road parking areas. The drive to Coyhaique was super easy and you can’t help but look around at the year-round snow-covered peaks.
We opted to stay at the Dreams Hotel and Casino since it was designated as the race headquarters and seemed to be one of the nicest hotels available. I know many others had success with Airbnb and also with other hotels recommended by the Patagonman organization. I think we will do Airbnb next year so we can cook our meals. All that being said, the Dreams hotel left us wanting for nothing. Food at the hotel was accessible for 24 hours via room service, our breakfast was included each day and they also serve lunch and dinner. But keep in mind Chileans eat dinner after 8 p.m., which is when the restaurant opens. Our hotel room was very modern, luxurious and everything we would expect for the price we paid.
The front desk attendants speak basic English but remember, we are far south in Chile so barely anyone will speak English outside of the race organization. We never had any big issues since I can speak Google Translate Spanish and had a few friends who spoke decent Spanish too. I have to say, I think things were about the same price as they were in the States. Things were not as cheap as I found in Argentina or in Peru. Our hotel room for seven days and room service was around $390 per night but airport transfer, breakfast and bike mechanic services were all included. We also got some very nice hats, CO2 tubes and welcome note, which were waiting for us in the hotel room. There is a small pool and sauna as well. The hotel stay was perfect, no issues and highly recommended.
Course Recon/Pre-Race Logistics
Since Coyhaique is located nearly in the middle of the race course, this does mean driving to the swim is around 1 hour and 15 minutes. Swimming was prohibited at T1 since it is a shipping area. Instead, we went to a small beach which was north of the town of Aysén. We found out about it through the Patagonman Facebook page since all of the athletes were connected via that forum. The water was surprisingly warm considering what I was expecting. It was about 15° Celsius so we really didn’t need our neoprene hood, boots or gloves – but tested them out anyway. The weather was quite warm for two days before the race but always windy. This means we had two days in the low 30s (Celsius) but the day before the race was cold and race day were colder – but I still didn’t need anything extra besides normal tri-kit.
Our drive back from the beach was beautiful and gave us a chance to recon the first 90k of the bike course. Before we left, we went to a great burger place in Aysén, Terazzo, for lunch so the whole trip took nearly five hours, so make sure to get it done early.
The road conditions in this region vary. Before the town of Coyhaique, you will experience some new roads, some light cobble sections and hopefully by 2019, any construction will be complete. The climb into Coyhaique is cobble, which wasn’t bad and the descent had a few gravel patches and was a single-lane road due to construction but I didn’t hear that it caused problems. The roads out of Coyhaique just got better and better, however, even on the good roads, there were plenty of potholes so you really need to keep your head on a swivel with the high speeds. Also, I’m 90 percent sure you can always expect a tailwind for most of the bike course. But this will be a crazy headwind when you turn to Villa Cerro Castillo. I mean, it was the most wind I’ve ever experienced. December is part of the windiest time of the year for this region so make sure you are weather aware and show up prepared.
You can expect race-day swim temperatures from 9 to 14°C for the swim. Also, the wind can be very, very high for the swim. This means there are three options for the swim which the organization will decide on race morning (the Navy tells them which one). One option is the original, which is advertised, the other is the same distance but more protected and the third option is shorter. You should expect a tailwind for 75 percent of your ride but then some MEGA headwinds while descending, which could be really scary. Then finally, the run. It’s all trail and very challenging, with some small hiking sections, but it’s 95 percent runnable. Also, it’s the most beautiful part of the day with so many sights to see.
SAG Logistics (Important!)
For our race, we had two options but the 2019 race may reduce it to just one option. Support and gear (SAG) options we had:
- The Organization transports SAG.
- SAG transports themselves via personal vehicle. This means we could either have our SAG be transported by bus from support station to the support station (there are a lot of buses, by the way) or your SAG could drive to the support points with their own vehicle.
Your SAG could only provide support at T1, two points on the bike, T2, one point on the run (30k). For the swim portion, your SAG should expect to arrive with the intent of setting up your transition zone and actually handle your bike the day before, the day of and the day after the race. Here is how race day logistics went:
- The race organization will transport your bike from Coyhaique to T1 the day before the race, where your SAG person will collect and set-up race morning T1 (around 3 a.m. or earlier). Your SAG can also drive the bike to T1 on race morning if you have your own car.
- You step on the ferry from 4 to 4:30 a.m. then head to race start based on which swim option is available. The race starts between 5 and 5:30 a.m. and you jump off the ferry into the water. You have the option to be sprayed with the Fjord water before you jump in so you can acclimate. For us, the water temperature was 13°C so it wasn’t necessary to wear gloves or very warm neoprene.
- Finish your swim where your SAG helps you change out of neoprene and off on the bike. SAG quickly packs your swim gear, loads onto a bus or their own car for transport to first bike SAG (45k). Then there are two race organization stops, water and Powerade at 90k and 110k, then finally more personalized SAG at 135k and T2.
- At T2, your SAG will get you changed and ready for a long trail run where you will not see them again until 30k. After you are on your way with a camelback or Orange Mud water system, SAG hands your bike over to the race organization where they load onto a truck or you just put it in your rental car.
- For the run course, there are water/Powerade stations at 10k and 20k so it’s very important you get all of your gels and personalized fuel from your support at T2. At 30k, your SAG has the option to run with you to the finish however this can complicate things if they are alone. There is no long-term parking at the 30k aid station nor will a shuttle return there. If your SAG wants to run with you from 30k to the finish, they must park at the finish and then take a shuttle to the 30k mark to meet you and who knows, they may be waiting awhile. Otherwise, your SAG can support you and then drive back to the finish. Either way, you should know that no cars can follow on the run course for safety reasons. As you can see, SAG is vital and they have a vital role in your race success. It all starts with a lot of planning and organizing but once you get going it’s very easy to execute the plan.
That pretty much sums up how the race will unfold, especially with race logistics. There will be some fuel on the course from the organization, five times for your SAG to help on the course (including T1 and T2) and there is plenty of police and Navy personnel to keep the water and roads safe. The run course is well marked with very large Merrill flags every 500 meters for the single track portion and once you’re back on the dirt roads, you can only go one way, however, there are still a few people helping to point you along the way.
How Did My Race Go?
Pre-Race and Swim: As you know, I was pretty well set up by the race hotel and stress was minimized since I didn’t have to travel for any briefings. Luckily, the hotel had some room service as each day, all businesses in town close from nearly 2 to 4 p.m. for Siesta. They all have different hours. This means you need to plan things out well but the race organization had mechanics at the Dreams Hotel, massage and meetings too. I would say this race is unique in that you really have to alter your sleep schedule. Karen had to be at the shuttles around 1:30 a.m. so she really didn’t sleep much. Tristan, me and his SAG drove to the swim site around 1:50 a.m. but caught some traffic so we arrive right around 3 a.m. From 3 to 4 a.m., we set up the area and then loaded the ferry at 4 a.m. and departed shortly after, locked and loaded. It was pretty dark when we left but when we jumped in the water there was just enough light to see. I started at the front and even before this race, I decided I was here for the journey and there really wasn’t any chance I’d be able to knock this out of the park. I started the swim pretty steady but we really had a strong current against us so I had to push it, plus there was some light chop. The course was straightforward while using plan B. We swam straight to a giant ship with tons of lights, kept it on our left shoulder as we took a hard turn back to T1 which was kinda hard to see. Either way, we were moving back towards T1 fast with a strong current with us and finally, I could spot the red lights we needed to spot off of. I came into T1 4th where Karen started helping me take off all the neoprene.
Bike: Since we started at sea level and I had done some course recon, I knew we had a lot of false flat and climbing ahead of us. T1 went super smooth and I opted for two bike bottles rather than three to save a little weight while climbing. I was rocking in third place, saw Karen at the first aid station for a bottle change, climbed up and then descended into Coyahique before heading out of town on some big rollers. At this point, there were plenty of potholes to avoid and light cobble sections. I know two people who crashed so it’s really important to be careful. I also had a police escort for nearly 130k who would refuse to let anyone pass me unless it was a passing zone and there were nearly 50 cars behind me at points. I was losing steam and then had a mechanical issue after my chain bounced off, looped upon itself and then caused my derailleur to stop working. After some quick head scratching and wondering how the heck my chain had two loops in it, I had it fixed, but then had to stop again to get the rear derailleur working again. About 15k more and I took a hard right turn and holy shit, I was blasted by the heaviest wind I’ve ever felt. We had a great tailwind for 75 percent of the course but then that wind fought back and at times it nearly stopped me while climbing. After I re-filled with Karen at the last SAG stop and took a quick porta-potty visit (my stomach had been messed up for days) it was time to climb a bit more before the last 10k of descending fast into that scary head-wind with some seriously terrible gusts. Knowing the last bit was all downhill and going fast was great but it could have been very dangerous for someone not confident on the bike.
Run: I came off the bike with a very nice athlete named Romain and we ran together for a few kilometers before I realized I was a bit trashed. That meant I was in sixth since I was passed by two guys during the old mechanical issue. The first 6k of the run was okay but then very quickly went straight uphill. It was loose sand and definitely a hike to the top. Once at the top, it was totally runnable and then we hit two river crossings which were awesome. Afterward, it was plenty of steep up and down terrain before we made it to the open dirt road and some of the most amazing views I’ve ever seen. I was basically shuffling and figured it was a matter of time before I was passed and then around 25k I was passed by the lead female. I kinda figured I would slip back given how slow I was running. I really liked having aid at 10k, 20k and 30k so once I saw Karen, I was super pumped for the last 12k to be over with. There was a very long descent followed by the most incredible waterfall I’ve ever seen. Before, it was a very long and flat road to the finish. I mean it was a really long finish line but I knew it would be one of the best feelings ever. I was overjoyed and completely emotional to finish this race. I know how hard the race organization worked on this race and seeing it succeed was such a warm feeling. Karen met me at the end with some clothes, I had a beer, hot dog and then rested up. I was actually getting really cold so we hopped in a van and waited for the two-hour ride back to Coyhaique. I felt so terrible with a massive stomach ache and totally needed some TLC. Overall, one of the greatest triathlon finishes I’ve ever felt with the warmest race organizers since Challenge Iceland.
I love this race and I will be back.
It’s so important to support races like Patagonman because they are built on so much passion. Putting on a race in a remote area like Patagonia took such incredible planning when so many people in that area have so little to give. The Chilean people were so humble and warm. Speaking little to no English often made communication a bit tough but they never got angry or frustrated with us. I walk away from this race looking for round 2 in 2019 and hoping I can help them with more participation. I encourage you to come down to Patagonman for 2019 and experience true beauty and challenge yourself beyond what you thought possible.