by Lauren Detoro
After completing my first Ironman in 2010 (Lake Placid), at age 45, I realized 2 things. 1 - There is very little that is more gratifying than crossing that finish line, and 2 - Despite how much I loved it, this Jersey girl can realistically probably only handle one or two more.
After coming down from my Ironman high, I called Ken, who I had hired to manage the logistics of my Lake Placid race. Obviously, with his experience, he was the right guy to ask about options for my next big race. I asked, “So Ken, what is the best Ironman? - I may only have one more in me.” Without hesitation he said, “Pucon.” I said, “No, no...Pucon is a 70.3, I want a full.” He said with a smile, “No, no you WANT to do Pucon...most fun you’ll ever have!” Flash forward two and a half years and I was on my way to South America (yeee ha!!)
My Lake Placid Ironman experience with EST was perfect, so I knew I would be in good hands in Pucon. I rounded up 3 of my friends to join me; one from Colorado, one from California, and one from North Carolina. Collectively, we entered and exited 13 airports before reaching our final destination. EST staff was there to meet us at Temuco airport and take us to Pucon. We pulled up to the beautiful host hotel and checked in. The weather was perfect and the sand was HOT! EST greeted us with a nice welcome package including a clear schedule of the many adventures that were ahead of us. Ken worked hard helping all of the athletes and family members who joined them get situated. Over the next several days, he organized group swims, bikes and runs. We got to know each other and prepare together for the big day.
I awoke on race day, after having my usual meltdown the night before, to the sound of crashing waves on the lake beach (yes, waves!). Not exactly the greatest feeling, but what can you do... Athletes wandered into transition one last time before heading to the beach.
The race was a challenging one, but for me, went pretty well. Swim was one of those “just get through it” swims. Rough and cold. Having spent 3 days there, I looked forward to what was sure to be yet another great weather day! The bike leg was incredibly beautiful - a 2-loop out and on a mostly flat road with a few rolling hills. The volcano was in full view, and had started to smoke (which initially scared the crap out me - until I learned it’s actually a good thing...). The views were incredibly beautiful and the ride back to transition was FAST!!!!
It was now time to put on the sneaks and head to the peninsula for the run. Three laps of many, many hills, lots of flowers and (thankfully), some shade. The sun was unbelievably strong. Not a cloud in the sky. Spectator support was fantastic. Was so great to see my friends many times who were sipping their yummy coffee drinks, in the shade. On the racecourse, there was an abundance of water, Gatorade, food, gels, ice, sponges...pretty much anything you would want. Crossing the finish line was awesome! I grabbed a banana, then headed 100 meters down the beach for a quick soak in the lake.
Next, it was time to head to Willie’s, in town, to get our hiking boots for the following day - Mount Villarrica, here we come! The evening of the race, all of the folks in our group (athletes, family members and friends) all met for a group dinner at a local restaurant. Everyone was happy. There was lots of energy and chatter about the race, tons of whining about the hills on the run, and more than a few high-fives from those who earned their spot at the world championships. Dinner was fun and the food was good! We headed back to the hotel for what felt like a short nap, before the next event. Ken had coordinated our first of many outings. We met in the lobby at 7am to head to the volcano.
I did question the timing, as did others. Climb a volcano 16 hours after racing. Really, Ken??! (Well, ummm okay...Here we go! Roarrr!!!!) We picked up our backpacks and hiking boots at Willie’s and climbed into one of two vans and headed to the base of Mount Villarrica where we were greeted by experienced guides, who handed us each an ice pick and gave us the run down. We were off! The group started the ascent up the volcano. We stayed together to the first rest spot. The views were amazing and the weather was beautiful. We took pictures, had a snack and continued on. We were 45 minutes into the three and a half hour hike. Following our first break, the group split up a bit. Those feeling strong pushed hard - after all, as Ken reminded us, “the quicker you get to the top, the more time you have to stay there”. Those who felt tired or who were more comfortable hiking a bit slower were picked up by other groups who were moving at a more leisurely pace. No one was left behind and no one looked down! It was a challenging hike, but worth every minute. When we got to the top, it was breathtaking. Everywhere you looked there were mountains, and other volcanoes. We took pictures and those brave enough, sneaked up towards the mouth of the volcano. It was gurgling and smoking. Words can’t describe how cool it was...really!
The trip down was crazy fun! We lined up, sat down on a small piece of plastic and slid down on our butts. We were told to use our ice pick as a brake. Huh?? Two hours later we reached the bottom. A bit bruised and very tired, but very happy. What a great day! We said good bye to Villarrica and headed back to the hotel.
Quick shower and again, we met in the lobby to head to Willie’s for “A BBQ”, an event Ken promised, would be a highlight...and it was! We laid in hammocks, rode horses, played poker and liars dice, ate and drank wine and Pisco. Lots of laughs and GREAT food! Vegetarians were missing out, big time. The beef was amazing! Some of us got back later than others, but we all had fun.
All were up early the next day for white water rafting, zip lining and a trip to the hot springs. The river was beautiful and once again, the guides took good care of us. Very fun, exciting trip down the river - class IV/V rapids. Zip lining was next - over the river and through the woods - I think there were close to 20 zip lines set up! We wrapped up a great day with a trip to the hot springs...very relaxing. Once again, we got in fairly late, slept quick, and met in the lobby the next morning.
This day, we were off to hike down a canyon to a remote waterfall that Ken had found the year prior. It was a very special place. Once again...unbelievably beautiful! The water was cold - really cold! A few of us jumped in and swam underneath the water fall to a little cave...brrrr. We dried off, hiked back up, piled back in the van and headed to another remote hot springs area. This one was even better than the first. We stayed until it closed, then headed back to Pucon. On the way back, we stopped and got out of the van to stare at the stars. Never have I seen anything like it. I had no idea the sky could look like this. Shooting stars everywhere...amazing. Our second to last night was coming to a close.
On the way back, Ken asked us what we wanted to do the next day. He said “how about we repel near these waterfalls I know about??...”. I wanted so badly to say yes, but a mojito on a lawn chair next to the lake sounded equally as wonderful and at this point we were all pretty whooped, to say the least. We said, between yawns, “No thank you. How about next year.”
My three friends and I spent our final day at the hotel, on beach chairs laughing and remembering all of the fun times we had during the previous eight days. We kept telling the same silly stories over and over again. I don’t think anyone wanted to forget even a second of the trip.
Ahhh. Pucon! The race was great. Never did we wait in one line for any activity. Ken had all of the logistics and post race activities well organized. Food was fantastic! Despite the fact that very few locals spoke English, it was fairly easy to get by, as the people were patient and friendly and wanted to help.
When we got there, Ken said to the four of us, January 13th (race day) will be one of the best days of your life. That’s a pretty big statement, we all thought...but he was right! Can’t wait to go back next year to do it all over again!