Sonntag, 16. November 2014

UvU volcano marathon in the Atacama desert or how it feels to race in altitude...

I went to the Atacama desert with a mixture of different feelings. When Richard Donovan asked me to race the volcano marathon I was not sure what to expect. I know that Richard is a brilliant race director and well known for tough events. When I had a look on the course I was sure to run 42.2 kilometres- but with an average of altitude of 4000 meters? The body suffers a lot in that zone of limited oxygen pressure and has to work even more stronger. With the start on 4500 meters and the finish on 3600 m I thought that will maybe not too bad because we are running downhill most of the time. A closer look on the profile showed me that there is a nice climb for 600 meters up again on 4200 meters. With my experiences of the altitude I knew that as higher I get as better it will be. But what about the between? I stopped asking myself further questions and told Richard that I will be there.
But I returned to the Atacama desert also for a different reason. I wanted to run that marathon for Basti who has been there last year in charge of the UvU racing team. My mission was to break his time and to run as fast as I could. I guess he would be happy for that.
After a long journey with stops in Madrid, Santiago de chile and Calama I finally arrived in San Pedro, a nice little village in the middle of the Atacama desert. I had a silent smile in my face because the wonderful memories of my first victory in the Racing the Planet 4 Deserts Series came back to me. In 2012 I ran 250 km through the driest desert on earth and won it unfortunately. But this time my thoughts were more or less still in that emotionally twist of the senseless loss of Basti.
It was really warm when I stepped out of the van. I met Richard and Fearghul as well Judy I met at the North Pole marathon in April that year. The day ended very soon because I was really tired.
In the next 3 days we all went to a couple of places to acclimatised and to get to know the area better. We were lucky to arrive in the Valle de la Luna close in time for sunset. It was a spectacular view standing on the rich of a long rocky hill and look around to the beautiful landscape, while the sky turned into a variation of colours. Mike, the event photographer, took a lot of nice shots and we all soak up the energy around that unique place. For the next day we drove to the Valley of death with its amazing long sand dunes. I remembered that place from the Atacama crossing in 2012 and was happy to be there again. After a nice walk and run we got to the top of the dune. I had a lot of fun running downhill as fast as I coud. It's like running in snow, just sliding downhill softly. I felt good on that day although my body got adapted to the altitude and dry air of 2500 meters. A nice carbo-loading-party in the evening was the start of the final mission on the next day: to run the marathon. I slept really bad as I do always before a race. On the 11th of the 11th we all got up very early to drive for more than one hour through the middle of nowhere up on 4500 meters. It's weird to drive up easily by car to that altitude. Normally you should adapt the body to that altitude in regular steps. But also I know from my experiences that the body needs some time to recognise the lack of oxygen pressure in the air and to start to acclimatise. I was hoping that this would happen to me again. It was really cold and a strong wind was touching us directly from all sides. Suddenly I felt a strong emotional sadness and was not sure if I could go to the start and run. A couple of moments before the start we did a silent minute in honour for Basti and we hold up a nice picture Richard had created. At this Moment I was really sad and didn't realise that Richard was already counting the seconds to the start. I just turned on the engine and ran. My muscles felt ok although I expected the limited amount of oxygen. But the system worked in a good status and I felt that positive energy. After the first 2 km the track marking changed into a wide open field and the massive cold wind came from the front. I thought that will be tough as well the track was only flat!! After a light uphill the first long downhill started and I got in my rhythm. I was running really fast and was wondering that I was not felling the altitude as I expected. I passed the first checkpoint without drinking anything and continued on that long road with a light uphill and downhill what actually was quite nice. I reached checkpoint 2 at km 20 and remembered the profile of the course that between checkpoint 2-3 the uphill started again. The elevation of 600 meters on a 2 kilometre distance up to 4200 meters was really more than exhausting. I got cramps in my legs and my stomach felt sick. I could hear my heart beating really fast but I continue with slow walking until I reached the last checkpoint. I followed a long uphill rich until the highest point and as higher I got as better I felt. The last 10 km were more or less easy downhill with some running through a long and narrow canyon. I liked it really much because it was nice technical running. After the canyon the trail went uphill again until I could see the finish line.
I finished in 4hours 37 minutes what means that I broke the time of my friend Basti with 10 minutes. He would have been very happy I guess...
All in all the race was really tough and a lot of competitors were suffering because of the less oxygen pressure in the air and the cold wind, the difficult terrain and so on. But the landscape of the beautiful Atacama desert is amazing. And the organisation with Richard Donovan and Fearghul Murthy were brilliant and made the event to become  a special experience. Thanks a lot to UVU Racing with Gerhard Flatz and everyone who was with me on that trip.

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