Atacama progress #1

Weekly test of my training progress for the 4Deserts Atacama Crossing.

10 mins with 8kg pack at race pace on the treadmill:

  • Date: Friday 28 October 2011
  • Average Heart Rate: 140
  • Perceived Exertion: 8

Running with a heavy pack is hard work.

Launch of RunningChile

Tonight was the re-launch of RunningChile. A fantastic initiative to bring a team atmosphere and professional services to the running population of Chile.

RunningChile overview.

Large gathering of support for the launch.

Amongst the many new ideas and projects from Matias and Cristian are:
  1. multiple training platforms and schedules
  2. management and planning of races (K42 Chile and 4deserts Atacama Crossing)
  3. training camps and technical talks
  4. charity "expeditions" such as Matias' 15 marathons in 15 days in 15 regions
  5. a Chilean specific running magazine

They have built a team including kinesiologists, sports scientists and experienced runners that should deliver fantastic advice to anyone interested in running in Chile. With large sponsors such as VW and Aguas Andinas there is now an amazing vehicle for development of running in Chile.

Matias describing some of the team features.

I'm proud to be a part of the RunningChile team and look forward to seeing the growth and development of running in Chile.

Happy to be a part of this great team.

Mucho éxito, RunningChile!!


I had been looking forward to the Ultramaraton de Los Andes since I got to Chile six months ago. It is one of the biggest races in the country and North Face brings out some of its athletes and the winners of other races in the series here to compete (Hal and Sebastien last year, Ian, Tracy, Tim and Ellie this year). It is also held on the mountain I can see from my house, Manquehue, which is where I train three or four times a week. All of these factors along with a good tune-up race a few weeks ago should have put me in a great place to race well.

Looking forward to my local trails.

The race started great. I went in a reasonable pace knowing what was coming ahead and working towards a plan that would have me competing at the end. The first climb I know like the back of my hand which helped me to keep on schedule with my pacing plan with knowledge of where the grade let up and where it would be too tough to run. At the first checkpoint I was running easy, pleased with the time and looking forward to a great day as we had already summited one of the two large climbs.

A fast start!

The next stretch was a lot of downhill and a few smaller climbs twisting around the back of the mountain. It was still dark and the trail markings were not great, but there were already spectacular views of the city bowl and it was starting to get lighter. I enjoyed this section a great deal and settled into a pace that felt comfortable and where I wanted to be for a long day on the trails. At checkpoint two I was still on track.

Cerro Carbon to the left and Cerro Manquehue to the right.

After the second checkpoint I went off course with about five other runners and lost a few minutes running around searching for route markings with my headlamp. It wasn't a big deal, but it was frustrating that we had just left a checkpoint and no one told us to expect a turn off the trail into a field! This section was between Manquehue and Chicureo in some very muddy fields that left everyone with "bricks" on the bottom of their shoes. At this point I started to feel a slight aggravation in my left ITB, a problem I thought I had resolved. It might have been the uneven footing from an extra inch of mud on the bottom of my shoes or any of a number of factors. Unfortunately it just wouldn't ease up and get any better. I had to walk at somewhere between 25 and 27km and although I was three hours in the prognosis wasn't good.

I walked to the third checkpoint hoping the pain would ease and I could return to running. However, the pain just got worse and worse. I decided to make a final decision at 40km where I was expecting to see Vanessa and Matias and as I got closer to that point I was in a lot of pain and reached the conclusion that I wasn't going to finish. I was limping up the hills, walking the flats and in excruciating pain while limping the downhills. However, I never saw them as the route had been changed in the morning and there was no longer any access from the road.

I struggled on for a long 5 hours walking everything and trying to minimize the damage I was causing my ITB. It felt like there wasn't any other choice and that I had to keep going until I arrived in the city and could stop the madness of limping and hobbling along my favorite trails. I had a tough time and struggled through all sorts of thoughts about why I was out there and what I was doing. I also desperately wanted to stop and couldn't and I also couldn't stop thinking about AJW's views on DNFs and the recent remarks about the DNFs at UTMB. I did have a long time to think about it and finally came to the conclusion that I run for joy and the smile it puts on my face. As I was very far from a smile or enjoying myself and at the same time aggravating an injury that would put a delay to that in the future, it made the most sense to me to stop at 61km.

On the way home - unfortunately I was walking by now.

It was a sad end to a long and hard day, but I took away a number of valuable lessons from the experience:

  1. Pacing - the early pace for the race leaders was much faster than the final overall pace so during the day the running speed declined significantly. I started on a pace that I thought would be sustainable, but in hindsight was also too fast. Two people who started out at a more realistic speed, Ellie who finished third overall and my friend Francisco who finished in the top ten, held on and made huge gains later in the day. 
  2. Strength - I saw some of the front runners working hard and maintaining strong fast strides through even the largest climbs. Their power hike speed was impressive and sustained, but I think more of an attitude about attacking the climbs rather than power leagues ahead of the other racers. Having an attitude of strength in the mountains is vital to perform well on the trails.
  3. Injury - a lesson that I would rather have not learnt, but a valuable one nonetheless. Injuries need to be handled proactively, consistently and at the first sign of any problem. I think that I could have avoided some of the issues I had in this race if I'd dealt with small, seemingly insignificant niggles earlier in my preparation.
  4. Chilean running - I haven't been here very long, but I already have a number of friends who are looking out for me and who looked after me on a tough day. Mauricio, Daniel and Matias all called and gave me advice and their support and helped me to refocus on the next goal. There is an amazing community here and I'm proud to be a part of it.

Cerro Carbon trail.

Showing Mike los senderos de Chile

Mike came to visit for business and although he's been to Chile before he was taken out on the roads and shown some of the parks to run in. While those are great for weekly training and the casual visitor I couldn't take my Alaskan, Crow Pass guiding, Mt Marathon regular for a run in the park!

Instead of letting him rest after about 16 hours of flying and two hours of commuting into the city, I took him up Cerro Carbon. It provided a great view of the city and I hope gave him a different perspective of what trails are available in Santiago.

Mike looking down on Santiago from the summit.

Half way up at the mirador.

It also happened to be his birthday the next day so to make the day even longer we had a small party- there can't be anything much better than running new trails and having cake on your birthday!!

Happy birthday Mike!!