Training Camp: San Pedro de Atacama

Last week I went to San Pedro to train in the desert. The plan for the trip was to run a high mileage week while testing out some gear and adapting to the desert conditions. It was a tough week of running as I had just raced the Ruta del Condor on the weekend and was coming out of a few solid weeks of training.

The Atacama is high at 2,500m and very dry. It's also hot, but due to the other conditions that somehow didn't seem as bad as I expected it to. I struggled on my first three days of running and did not run strongly at all. However, by the fourth day I was feeling a lot stronger and managed to run much more smoothly and efficiently.

I tried as much as possible to run on the route of the Atacama Crossing race. It was great to learn about the route and also to run some sections that seemed impossible in the race in March and yet with a few less miles in my legs seemed quite runnable. I ran:

Day 1: the first half of Stage 2
Day 2: the second half of Stage 2
Day 3: the second half of Stage 1
Day 4: the last 30km of Stage 5 and all of Stage 6
Day 5: my own route through the Cordillera del Sal

I had an amazing week, rekindled my love for the desert and remembered just how hard it is to run there!

The valley and river outside of San Pedro.

The valley and river close to San Pedro.

A typical trail on Stage 2 with lots of climbing and rocks along the way.

The spectacular Cordillera del Sal.

Some really difficult footing in a salt flat.

The last tree in the desert on the way to Laguna Cejar.

Laguna Cejar: the location of the camp after Stage 2.

More tough footing, this time on sandy ground.

Searching for the Tunnel to go to the end of Stage 1.

The tunnel that links San Pedro to the end of Stage 1.

The long, gradual climb at the end of stage 1.

A long windy river that shows the way from the dune at 40km to Valle de la Luna.

The descent of a virgin dune that marks 40km on the long day.

The road through Valle de la Luna close to the Tres Marias.

A view of the Cordillera del Sal and San Pedro in the distance.

A narrow canyon leading to Valle de los Muertos.

A route that I shouldn't have taken in the Cordillera del Sal.

The salt road leading up to the Valle de la Luna.

Ruta del Condor - 1st

The Ruta del Condor is a famous route in the mountains outside of Santiago. It starts in Cajon del Maipo and climbs into the Andes before descending to the main road that goes to Far=rellones. Typically people choose to cycle, hike or motorcycle the route as the trail is in good condition and suitable for all of these activities. The race was for both running and mountain biking and everyone started at the same time in Alfalfal in Cajon del Maipo.

At the start with Max.

It wasn't a big start as there was a small field for both the running and mountain biking sections. Fortunately my friends Max and Patrick were there so there was some company and good runners to race with. Based on the quality of the organisation leading up to the race I wasn't too confident in the number of aid stations and the amount of support we would have for the race. I used my new Lafuma pack with a bladder and bottle and plenty of food to keep me going for the day and later found out that it was going to be needed.

Patrick and I started out at a gentle pace and moved towards the front of the field. It was an easy start to the race with rolling hills as we ran into the valley. Max quickly joined us as we reached the start of the climbs that would go on for a very long time. The trail was smooth and climbed up switchback after switchback as we lifted out of the valley and made our way to the highest point of the race. Patrick dropped off the pace as he was holding himself back before a 100 miler in a few weeks and Max pulled ahead of me slightly as he loves the climbs and seems to be getting stronger at them in every race.

Looking back towards the start.

We held these positions, Max in front of me and Patrick a little behind, for the next couple of hours as we climbed. The route was beautiful and the views spectacular. I saw three or four condors along the way which was quite a treat and obviously where the route gets its name from. Unfortunately the race organisation was very poor. There was no marking of the route, none, and the first aid station we were promised at 14km wasn't there. I had all the food and water I needed and was fortunate I was carrying a fuller pack than I would normally carry.

Some of the early climbing.

Capturing a few photos on the way up.

At the 26km point we had reached the top of the climbs. Our positions were still the same and I could just seem Max about two to three minutes in front of me. The terrain felt like we were still climbing, but it was more like rolling hills for the next 14km that climbed ever so slightly. I really enjoyed this section of the run as it was breathtaking landscapes and very runnable terrain. After rolling through the top section of the course we reached the 40km where the one and only aid station of the day was located (after being promised at least 3 aid stations). I filled up a bottle with the sickly sweet pineapple flavoured drink (the only option) and raced on to try and catch Max.

The final switchbacks before we reached the top.

Very happy to be at the top of the climb.

The rest of the route was all downhill and it was quite steep. I've gradually improved my downhill running this year from the K42 in September to the Endurance Challenge in October and now the Ruta del Condor. I felt confident and fast and that was rewarded by catching up to Max in the first few kilometers of the descent. I was able to run away from Max without pushing myself too hard and settled into a rhythm on the way down. I ate the last of my food to keep me going to the finish which I believed was at 53km and then slowed the pace a little so as not to beat my legs up too much with the continuous downhill.

After about 9km the descent ended and the route curved around to the left where I could see a tent and banners. I assumed that it was an aid station, but when I arrived I realized it was the finish (the race was 4km too short). I was happy to be finished and even happier that I had won my first race! Max came in a few minutes later and then Patrick a few minutes behind him. It was awesome to have three friends on the makeshift podium and a fun day of running.

A final river crossing which was actually the finish!

The podium: Patrick 3rd, me 1st, and Max 2nd.

I'm very pleased with the progress that I've made over the last three months, a 7th at the K42, a 5th at the Endurance Challenge and now a win at the Ruta del Condor.  While all very different races I've made some good gains in strength and sorted out some of my weaknesses along the way. If everything goes according to plan I'll keep on improving with every run.

Showing off my new Lafuma pack at the finish.

Ruta del Condor - 1st

This morning I won my first trail race, the Ruta del Condor! It was a tough race with lots of climbing and a brutal descent to the finish. My time was 4h54min for the 48km.

At the finish line with my new pack and a huge smile!

Full race report to come with details of the race, the dodgy organization, and my new Lafuma backpack.

Team Lafuma - Compressport - 110 Sport and Health

Excellent news: I have joined the Lafuma - Compressport - 110 Sport and Health running team. At the moment this team consists of three runners: Rodrigo Errazuriz, Felipe Contreras and me!

The team had its first outing at The North Face Endurance Challenge where Rodrigo was 3rd in the 50km and Felipe was 26th in the 21km (I was 5th in the 50km, although this was before joining the team).

There are three sponsors for the team:

The ski, mountain and trail running brand from France.  Availability of products in Chile has just started and the brand will be developing significantly in the future. A small selection of products is available at the SportOne store in Mall Sport, but the range will be extended in the future and new stores are planned for March 2013 with a flagship store in Mall Sport.

The veino-muscular compression technology brand from Switzerland. These products are also available in Mall Sport and through internet sales directly from Israel, who is the Compressport representative for Latin America.

110 Sport and Health
This is the first sporting medical centre in Chile with the objective of developing medical sports coaching. In addition to sports coaching the centre offers extensive sports testing and injury rehabilitation.

I will be racing and training with the team as well as sharing information about the products and details of the team's sponsors. There are links on the right of this page to each of the sponsors where you can get more information about each brand.

I am extremely happy to join the team! This will provide the opportunity for me to train and race with excellent products and also be part of a team environment where I will be challenged to perform to the best of my abilities.