Race Report: Patagonia International Marathon – September 8, 2018

by Tracy Lau

Patagonia 42K: Torres del "PAIN,” Chile

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It was somewhere between mile 18 and 20 where I became confusingly excited when my watch read three hours 39 minutes. It was then and there I finally had a goal time for this destination race I had been training over the last four months for—finish under five hours.

Rewind to late 2015 when I experienced my first severe sciatica flare-up on a 20+ hour international flight that began my two-year running hiatus. I spent a year trying to find remedies through various conservative care and received repeated guidance from doctors to consider finding alternative forms of exercise for the long haul other than running. In August 2016, after one too many crippling flare-ups, I elected to get relief through minimally invasive surgery on my lower back. Recovery introduced me to classic reformer pilates, lap swimming (with a snorkel!) and a hate-turned-love relationship for walking. My first attempt at running was not until September 2017 at a 5K fun run right after I moved to Austin. It was somewhat stressful and successful enough to know I wanted to go after another international marathon the following year—Patagonia. I spent the rest of the calendar year cleaning up my diet, focusing on building my core, working with Austin’s RunLab to improve my form, and researching local run clubs to join. Thanks to Greg Tran, I joined Gilbert’s Gazelles in May 2018.

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Race day started out in the upper 20s and surprisingly sunny given the days around the main event were cloudy, windy and sometimes damp. With a start time of 11AM, the temperature warmed up to the “perfect” 30s. I had just the perfect amount of clothes on to combat the howling in-your-face wind gusts on this point-to-point course with over 2,200 feet in elevation gain. The first few miles into the super scenic race were on gravel with sizable chunks of rock so I found myself fixated on the road to avoid any ankle mishaps. I was averaging about 9:40 minute miles when I hit the 20K marker (and was still feeling great) but then I was introduced to Patagonian mountains that were painfully present throughout the remainder of the race. 

A few mantras I had running through my mind during the race were:

  • “Just run to the champagne bottle in the hotel room. That’s all you have to do.”

  • “OMG. This is amazing [scanning the surrounding lakes and snow-capped mountains]”

  • “OMG. This is fun... I think... [forcing my lips to curl into a smile]”

  • “[on seeing the route ahead climb up] WTF. Oh HILL no.”

  • “Am I done yet? Run faster. This wind is now really annoying [as the wind constantly howled in my ears while I was non-stop sniffling]”

  • “[while walking up the hills] You better start running again at the top, TRASH.*”

*My Peruvian dubbed name given to me when the Peruvian hotel picked me up from the airport with a sign that said TRASH LAW [My name is Tracy Lau for those that don’t know me]. 

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The last two miles leading up to the finish line was, in my opinion, the toughest part of the race. I was climbing up a hill and could see the finish line in the distance on the bottom, but coming off the hill, I still had a mile to go across varying terrain—gravel road, uneven grass, and a bus filled parking lot—before reaching the finish line. I normally pride myself in finishing strong, but I was too exhausted cutting across the terrain in that last mile to give my legs any push for a finishing sprint. Once I crossed the finish line, I ripped off my glove to stop my watch and to my surprise my watch read an amazing 4:54:58!! I placed 6th in my women’s age group (among 16 runners), 20th in my gender group (among 60 women) and 61st overall (among 147 marathoners). 

This was an incredible experience and well worth the two year break from running I was forced to take to recover from my injury. But more importantly, I did run with joy on race day from start to finish! Thanks for a successful training program Gilbert’s Gazelles!

Check out Tracy’s website to see more of her life adventures.