Yesterday was the long stage of 75km. It was a different start to last year as we had to cross salt flats until the second checkpoint. The salt flats were impossible to run on as they were like hard corral with no placing for our feet. A large group stayed together through these first two sections and then we picked up the pace on the way to checkpoint 3. Our group reduced down to about 5 as we ran a very long 14km section of salt flats and a massive dune that we had to climb. After the dune we descended to checkpoint 4 at about 45km. I picked up the pace after this checkpoint and managed to build a 10min lead by the next checkpoint. By the final checkpoint of the day I was 25mins ahead, although I didn’t know that, and running as strong as I could after being on the go for 60km. I arrived in just over 9 hours and happily waited for the others to arrive about 26mins later. Today is a rest day while we wait for competitors to finish the long stage, the cutoff is 12pm on Friday. Tomorrow is the final stage which I think will be quite short and hopefully less than an hour to the end of the race.
Today’s stage was theoretically a little easier than yesterday with the main challenge being 14km through the salt flats. I started off well and ran slightly in front of a group of about five until the first checkpoint. From the checkpoint Vlad and I moved ahead during a 12km section on mostly flat and rolling sandy desert terrain. We opened up a gap of about 10mins on any of the followers by the time we reached the second checkpoint. From there we entered the salt flats. I found them harder, more firm, than last year which meant that it was easier to run and keep a good pace in the salt flats. I moved slightly ahead of Vlad and pushed hard for the last 20km home. It was a big effort, but I’m pleased to have moved a few minutes further into the lead. I’m hoping that the time will give me an advantage, no matter how small, as we go into the long stage tomorrow.
Today is thought to be the hardest stage as the four sections of the stage are rated: difficult, moderate, difficult and difficult! The stage starts with soft salt flats, continues with a soft sandy road, returns into more salt flats and finishes up with sand dunes and climbs. After the last two days of very hard running I was hoping to run this stage a little more conservatively as we’re not even half way yet. That plan didn’t last very long as I ran into the lead with Vlad in the first few kilometers. However, later in the stage the pace was a little slower and I ended the day feeling strong and excited about tomorrow and the long day on Thursday. I’m happy to be in the lead (even if only by a small margin) and also happy to have finished the “hardest” stage feeling good.
Thank you everyone for the comments and messages. They help a lot and keep me motivated to run hard - which is exactly what happened today! It was a beautiful stage where we ran through a canyon, up a mountain, down a massive sand dune and through some salt flats. I ran well and at a measured pace to checkpoint 1 as the footing was tricky and it was easy to fall and trip up. After that we climbed to a tunnel where Vlad (who is 2nd) and I opened a gap on the others and ran together for the rest of the stage. It was another quick day and we ran hard again. The salt flats were better than I remembered from last year and we ran all the way through them to the last tree in the desert. From there the race was on and we were eyeing each other Western style and holding a very fast pace on the last 4km to the finish. Luckily for me I managed to win in a sprint finish and gain another 1sec on Vlad. Hopefully tomorrow won't be as exciting which will mean I'll have an easier day!