It was day seven of the world's toughest ultra marathon and Warrnambool's Paul Watkins was severely sleep deprived, freezing in -40 degrees temperatures and talking to his wife and two sons inside his own head.
There was just 30 kilometres left of the 614-kilometre race through the Arctic Circle. It was Paul's second attempt at the Artic Ultra 6633 after he pulled out after four days and 250 kilometres in 2017.
On average, 80 per cent of competitors pull out of the nine-day race which is considered the windiest and coldest marathon on earth.
Despite the torturous conditions, Paul signed up again two years later. This time with the intention of "just finishing".
But when the race director said he was in the lead by only a matter of minutes, Paul began to run.
"Well, moving as fast as I possibly could," he said.
"The last week had been physically and mentally hard. I remember just blacking out from exhaustion. One minute you're moving and then it's suddenly like 'why am I lying on the ground? Why does everything hurt?' You realise you've fallen face first into the ground and all you can do is get up and get going again."
Paul said he took two 20-minute naps per day and slept between 40 minutes and two hours at night.
"I spent a lot of the last two nights literally just walking and bawling my eyes out at the thought of actually finishing," he said.
"I'm talking to my wife even though she's thousands of kilometres away. I'm going 'I know you're not there, but in my head I'm talking to you and I'm talking to the kids'."
After 190 hours Paul was the first person to cross the finish line. But a time credit given to two other competitors meant he didn't know for sure if he had won.
"I was about three kilometres in front when the guy who had been winning for most of the race had a hyperthermic episode," Paul said.
"I wasn't there but apparently all hell broke loose. The other two guys stopped to help him, which is awesome, but it took them the best part of five hours before they continued (the race).
"I got to the next major check point and the race director said that the guys who stopped to help had been given a time credit.
"He said I had to beat second place by four hours and 47 minutes to win and I said 'I've got to go'.
"From that point the weather decided it wasn't cold enough. I left about 10pm and at 3am the medic crew drove past me and asked me how I was doing. It was minus 37 degrees and I'm telling myself that I just need to stay alive for another 15 minutes. Think happy thoughts and then do another 15 minutes. It was just horrible."
Paul was about 20 kilometres from the finish line when he felt his phone go off.
"I realised I had phone reception so I ripped it out and went straight to the tracker site to see where second place was. He was 12 miles behind me, which is something I hadn't known for about three days," he said.
"That's the problem with being in front - you don't know where anyone is. They knew exactly when I had arrived and left each checkpoint but I didn't know if they were one or 100 kilometres behind me and that was troubling."
As he neared the finishing line, Paul said he suddenly didn't care about anything.
"I didn't care if something broke or snapped or everything just burst into flames. I didn't care, I just had to go," he recalled.
"I flogged it as hard as I could and when I finally got there, I crossed the line and everyone said 'how do you feel?' And I said 'I don't know, I'll tell you in four hours and 47 minutes'."
Paul waited at the finish line for hours. He said there was one point where he thought he was going to be beaten.
"I had to mentally prepare for the fact that I was no longer going to win and I was crushed," he said.
"But then he got about half-an-hour out and I could see on the tracker he had suddenly stopped moving. I think he did the math and thought 'I'll be second and that is good'. You can only go so far and so hard."
When Paul realised he had won, his reaction was unexpected.
"You think you'll get to the finish line and it'll just be amazing but when that minute ticked over and the race director said I was the official winner I just said 'cool, that's good to know'," he said.
"You're just so drained. Your body is fried and you're incapable of running around celebrating. I shook everyone's hands and then went to call my wife Illona."
Paul said his first attempt at the event was "a really expensive and painful training camp rather than an absolute failure".
"I think you come away from it and you look back at what you did and what you learnt. I asked myself what I would do differently the second time and the answer was probably everything," he said.
"I knew I was capable of a lot more than what I achieved that first time and it just hung there as unfinished business."
Paul gave himself 12 months to get ready for the 2019 event. He trained in his own time to ensure he was still there for his wife and two sons Campbell, 4, and Noah, 15 months.
"That means you're either getting up at 4am to train or you're leaving at 10 at night and coming home at three in the morning," he said.
"The second time around I trained way more specifically for the event because I knew what to expect when I got there. When I arrived I was in the best shape of my life but I was also really well trained for what I knew I had to do.
"Last time I spent a lot of time out on the trails running but this year I spent a lot of time dragging heavy stuff at night, alone, in miserable conditions because I knew that was exactly what was going to happen so I had to make it my happy place."
From the pace he would travel at to the number of calories consumed, Paul had it all figured out.
In the days before the event, he spent hours in a hotel room cutting up 1200 calories worth of biscuits and chocolates and separating them into bags.
But the hardest thing, he said, was to stay disciplined.
"That's easy at the start because you're fresh, you feel good, you're enthusiastic and things are working," he said.
"But then there's only a couple of people in front of you and you're probably going to catch them. You know you're in a good enough mental and physical place to finish but then you realise you could get a toe on the podium.... and then you realise that you're in front.
"Suddenly you've got to adjust the plan. You've got to commit because they still want to win and its every man for himself but you also have to stay disciplined enough that you don't go too hard and come home empty handed."
When Paul arrived back on home soil, his wife Illona surprised him at the airport. They returned to their Illowa home on March 21 and Paul was greeted by his two sons.
He said he now planned to rest, recover and be present at home.
"Everyone really pulled in while I was away so I have some favours to repay," he said.
"I've got a few ultra marathons I might do this year but want to spend a lot of time at home with Illona and the boys."
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