Aquarius 21, 2077, m249
The rugged and unforgiving terrain of Noctis Labyrinthus is a daunting, high difficultly stage. The landscape is heavily fractured with variable elevations, rubble, and steep-walled valleys that force runners to stay alert at all times. Another challenge is the course has no pre-determined routes; the rules forbid navigational assist from all forms of mGPS, auto-compass, or aerial feed from drones, so runners are left to their own devices to make their way out of the labyrinth.
The Women's race resumed on schedule at 7:30 to a sluggish group. Runners' sleep was disrupted by strong, howling winds that lasted much of the night. This was harder on those with soft inflatable habs versus those with integrated sleeping capsules in support vehicles, but either way, it took a tool on all of them.
Though it was a slower morning, the pace picked up by afternoon as competitors step up to push for the finish line. Clearly, no one wanted to spend another night on the course.
Philips who fought her way to #1 position yesterday, was unable to maintain her lead slowly fell back as a new leading pack formed including Nguyen (KMH), Pande (Europa), Fan (Europa), and Gardner (Mareotis).
By Checkpoint 13, the leading pack was off the Men's pace by only 16 minutes.
Unlike the Men's run, where the track was untouched, many of the racers took advantage of the tracks left behind by prior runners, allowing the the trailing pack to close the gap with the leaders. this resulted in a log jam at the final ascension and an exciting foot race to the finish line.
In a neck-and-neck running race at the final stretch, Elaine Nguyen of KMH and the two Europa runners, Anya Pande and Gui Ying Fan battled fatigue as they sprinted toward the finish line.
Nguyen crossed the line at 17:24 with an combined elapse time of 19:22:02. This was 37 minutes behind Pachehra's time of 18:45:45.
Nguyen embraced her husband/coach, Gabriel Ilionescu, who was waiting with KMH flag in-hand.
"I want to thank all of my supporters," Nguyen said, "My family and KMH for making it possible for me to get the training hours in between work. I know this is only the first course, but it is such a huge personal victory for me to win a stage. Thank you so much."
Unlike the Men's race, there were no voluntary drop-outs, however, Hannah Chao (Haucheng) did not complete after an knee injury on Day-1 and the 10 hour Countdown disqualified Noor Panghal (Amrita) and Tanya Buchalska (San Olympus).
After the race, a disappointed Buchalska said, "I only had less than 7% of the course to go. I'm not a strong climber, but I think what really cost me was lack of sleep."
Women's Stage 2 takes place on Aquarius 23rd where the remaining 37 will tackle the Calydon Fossa challenge, a 250 km running race.