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.

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