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Patagonian International Marathon / Limitless Pursuits

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A Long ShotScreen Shot 2015-10-01 at 16.40.33

If the Patagonian International Marathon was a movie, it would start like this:

An extreme long shot of our planet, far out in space.

“Seis, Cinco, Cuatro” a Spanish voice would say and we’d zoom in, the continent of South America flaring up, the Amazon leading our eye south, the Andes spiking, the Hielo Sur ice cap draining into the furthest reaches of the land mass before the earth breaks up altogether.

“Tres, Dos, Uno” and in we would go, deeper. Between the barren windswept Land of Fire and the condor brushed peaks, a single mountain range would then fill the screen. Shards of granite would threaten to impale us as we raced towards its snow dusted peaks, and down its glaciated flanks. At it’s foot there’s a small turquoise lake. Petrified trees float up through the water with hairy-green lichen clinging to the silvery branches. On the shore, a cast of 150 brightly coloured runners are poised behind a tight tape.

I was lucky enough to be one of the extras in what happened next.

The backstory

Graciela Zanitti | iloverunn.com

The Patagonian International Marathon is now in its fourth year. It has been developed by the same Chilean organisation that in 2001 created the Patagonia Expedition Race; once described by  National Geographic as “The Last Wild Race.” Their goal is to raise awareness of this remote region, providing runners with inspiring memories and photos that keep them connected and concerned with its pristine preservation for a lifetime.

The PIM – despite its extreme location – starts just 100m above sea level, and, allowing for the dizzying crags overhead – follows gravel roads that wouldn’t trouble a road runner. The event now offers a 10km race, a 21km half marathon (the most popular), a 42km full marathon and a 63km ultra distance event. International stars such as Ryan Sandes and Matt Flaherty have glittered the start lines in previous years – but this time, in the absence of a male lead – I decided to try and fill those running shoes myself.

The author soaks up his 30 seconds of fame at the 8th Natural Wonder of the World

30 Seconds of Fame

I was running in the 21km race – “saving myself” for the more challenging 50km Ultra Trail Torres del Paine the following week (read at Limitless Pursuits soon!) With the 10km race starting further up the road and sharing the same finish line, I estimated I could run 16km before I encountered anyone. The park guards had closed all roads to cars. If I could run then at the front, I would be alone for an hour at the end of the planet – running my closed gate tour of the Torres del Paine park – the 8th Natural Wonder of the World.

Or so the plan went….

A Year in one Day

To arrive here at 51degrees south you will most likely transfer from Santiago; Chile’s capital city. It’s a four hour flight and is the equivalent of travelling from London to Morocco, or New York to Mexico City – and then you’ve still only travelled half the length of this immense leviathan of a country that stakes its claim on this rugged terrain between the Andes and Pacific Ocean.

The PIM is held in “The Province of Last Hope,” in the deep south of Patagonia. This was the very last part of the planet to be colonised by migrating man as he travelled down the Americas after crossing the Bering Strait. Today there is still a definite frontier feeling to the climate and geography; one of unhewn roughness and unpredictability. The weather is known to present all the fluctuating conditions of an entire year, all in the same day. It’s the stomping ground for winds that push you flat, and the forging grounds for mountaineers who can still seek first ascents. The world’s largest network of fiords are found here, and glaciers march brazenly down to them at sea level, avalanching spectacularly into their frigid waters. And yet, despite this feeling that time is in a spin and there is too much to see – the very worst mistake you can make in Patagonia is to move too fast – as the locals say here, “Those who hurry in Patagonia, lose time.”

Patagonia Time

I’d set off too fast. That was painfully clear at the top of the first climb: the lactic acid working its way into my quadriceps like a caustic burn; my breath rasping out like a sawmill. The effort had buried me and I’d experienced nothing of that magic time I’d imagined alone at the front of the pack. Two runners came up behind me, clocked me for the imposter that I was, and quickly took control of the race… My private screening of the natural world’s 8th most coveted attraction, gatecrashed.

The PIM’s rolling course weaved on through hills of glacial moraine, past wind sculpted trees and turquoise lakes – the road just kissing their stoney shores as we passed. The last of the morning cloud was rising, and slowly I slipped out of the desperate rush in which I’d started the race. The air was warm now. The muscles in my face relaxed; the desperate concentration dissipating as I started to look beyond the gravel I’d been pounding.

Graciela Zanitti | iloverunn.com

The other runners had already moved out of sight, and I was alone again. Scuttling along the rugged road. A blip in the Patagonian wilderness, a flash in its unfathomable history. Breathing in. Breathing out. To my left, the Cuernos del Paine pushed 8,000’ out of lake Nordenskjöld – the great horns of rock jostling for geological prominence, rutting imperceptibly across ice ages. Their black granite tips, capsules of eroded time. The rock gouged in millenniums past, now lying sediment across ocean floors.

Close Up

The last few kms to the finish line sent us powering down a hillside on a step gravel road. You don’t go to Patagonia to run a PB (the 21k is seven times as hilly as the entire London Marathon) but as I cashed in on the climbs and lengthened my stride downhill – I could see 2nd place ahead and tried my best to reel him in. I was passing lots of the 10km competitors. They were clearly exhausted by the mind bending scenery and had a sort of loping, head-twisted, affectation of running as they tried to juggle forward momentum with the sensory overload that Torres del Paine weighed them down with. I exchanged high fives and was greeted in a dizzying array of languages as I chased after my man in red.Graciela Zanitti | iloverunn.com

Close to the finish line I passed alongside him. “Matt” he said “ I remember you from the start line!” And I was impressed. It had been only 85 minutes, but as we ran through the land that time forgot, it had felt far longer.

The finishing gantry perched atop a grassy flat buff of rock, overlooking a wide U-Shaped valley below. A pack of guanaco had wandered over earlier on. The music had been turned off so as not to startle them, and now they were nibbling peacefully nearby. I bounced unsteadily onto the uneven surface of the thin landing strip; my footsteps muted suddenly by the soft ground. Perhaps my ears had not yet popped from the descent, but I was very aware of how silent the photographers and spectators were: respectful perhaps of the experience we were coming down from, or in awe themselves at the Torres del Paine monoliths behind us, swirling yet steadfast in the mist.

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Review de Calcetines Compressport – Pro Racing Socks V2.1 Run Low Cut + Trail (Spanish)

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Pro Racing Socks V2.1 Low Cut

Pro Racing Socks – V2.1 Run Low Cut

Pro Racing Socks V2.1 Trail

Pro Racing Socks – V2.1 Trail

Corriendo acá en Chile, gasto calcetines muy rápido. El polvo que entra a los zapatos, los ríos que cruzamos y las condiciones calurosas que provocan mucho sudor. Habitualmente compraba mis calcetines en el super porque, si no, seria muy caro reemplazarlos tan seguido. Ademas pensaba que todos los calcetines eran iguales.

Sin embargo, nuestros pies son la parte del cuerpo que pueden sufrir mas cuando corremos. Merecen que los cuiden. Estos ultimos 60 días he estado entrenando y competiendo en dos distintos pares de calcetines de Compressport (que no venden en Jumbo). Son los Run Low Cut  y los Trail.

Te dejo con mis ideas sobre esta importante parte de nuestro kit, que, si eres como yo, a veces ignoramos.

Primera impresión

Los dos calcetines se ven bastante técnicos. Con sus diseños multi-color y su “3D.Dots. Concept”
(revisa abajo) parece como se estuvieran listos para un aventura en el espacio. Sus formas son diferentes que los calcetines básicos, están cosidos con la forma de un pie en vez de un tubo. Hay un calcetín para el pie derecho y uno para el izquierdo. Ademas, el grosor de los calcetines cambia en diferente partes. Las intenciones de todos estos conceptos se explorará a continuación.

Como se sienten en un zapato

DSCF5042 (1)Los calcetines de Compressport son hechos para distintos pies. Ambos modelos, tienen una “L” y “R” (izquierda y derecha repectivamente). Así,  se afirman mejor a los pies y eliminan roces que podrían crear ampollas. Los productos de Compressport responden al
hecho de que si comprimes ciertas partes del cuerpo durante el ejercicio, eso estimula la sangre a volver al corazón en ves de acumular el intoxicante acido láctico. Puestos en mis pies, sentí que estaban mas firmes y más protegidos que con calcetines normales. Ademas, en este caso, cuando un calcetín esta bien pegado al pie, puedes sentir más elDSCF5043 (1) interior del zapato y por consiguiente el terreno que pisas. (Los dos calcetines que probé son de la misma talla (42-44) pero encontré que la Run Low Cut, era mas apretado que el Trail.) Tenia ganas a ver si mi permitiría tener mas control también cuando corro.

Paseos

Con el jefe de Compressport Chile, Israel Escudero, fue a un paseo largo de 34km por Cerro Provincia, bajando después a San Caros de Apoquindo y volviendo a Ñilhue por el camino de las varras. Elegí los calcetines Trail para este viaje porque tienen la tecnología “3D.Dots Concept” y en la ruta había 2,000m de descenso empinado durante este paseo. Quería todo el apoyo possible.  Esto lo entregó la tecnología “3D.Dots Concept”  (los círculos rojos y amarillos en el modelo Trail  y azul en el Run Low Cut) que consiste en círculos de material grueso en las partes del calcetín que tiene más impacto durante una zancada. La idea es que suavicen este impacto y creen un colchón para el pie, para que no se cansen tanto.

Durante la carrera de 38km de Lampa – Til Til de Latitud Sur, crucé un rio en el km 11. Tenia el modelo Run Low Cut puesto para esta carrera y descubrí otro beneficio de “3D.Dots Concept.” El espacio que los círculos crean en el zapato, permiten que circule mas aire. Por esta razón los calectitnes se secaron más rápido y mis zapatos volvieron a su peso normal en pocos kms permitiéndome correr más rápido.

Dos semanas después, en X Trail Puchuncaví, competí nuevamente en el modelo Trail. Aparte de estimular la circulación de sangre, noté este día que el fit de Compressport tiene extra adicionales. En los descensos pedregosos y polvorientos actuaron parecidos a una polaina, permitiendo que menos material irritante entrara a mi calcetín comparado con una versión regular y más suelta del supermercado. Después de cruzar terrenos muy exigentes, las calcetines estaban en buen estado porque no estaban tan desgastados por la acción de polvo y materiales orgánicos- y había menos problemas con la novia también después, cuando no ensucié tanto el baño!

Conclusiones

DSCF5044 (1)DSCF5041 (1)Los calcetines son mucho más caros que lo que estoy acostumbrado a pagar, pero me estoy dando cuenta que los calcetines son igual de importantes que los otros elementos técnicos de un corredor de larga distancia. Pueden hacer un diferencia importante en tu entrenamiento y tu carrera.

Por tu plata, recibes calcetines que son hechos especialmente para tu deporte en vez de un tubo de algodón genérico para cualquier actividad. La calidad del material, combinado con su fit firme asegura que se gastan menos rápido que otras marcas. Ambos pares en las fotos tienen mas de 100km corridos, y están listos para sus próximas salidas.

….

Pronto viene el review de Compressport Shorts.

Autor, Matt Maynard (GreenBeanTrails) en colaboración con Compressport Chile.

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“Good Vibes” / X Trail Puchuncnaví 50km (English version)

I learnt a new Spanish phrase recently. “Buena vibra.” 

Credito Pame Codeceo (3)

Crédito Pame Codeceo

But like all new knowledge, it is is very difficult to comprehend, if it is not understood in context. Last Saturday, at 11:08am, in the last few strides before the finish, it finally sunk in. 

5 hours earlier, however, it was a different story altogether.

A Dark Night

Credito Tito Martinez

Crédito Tito Martinez

I was running along a sea cliff by headlamp, the invisible waves pounding the rocks below. A cool mist clung to my beard, and the temperate climate and the soft folds of the landscape had me thinking of England, and feeling very far from home.

With only 8km run, now was not the time for such nostalgia however. I needed an empty mind, to gather in the kms before sunrise and foster positive energy for the later stages of the race. But it wasn’t happening. I bimbled along in 8th place, feeling sorry for myself and demotivated.

“How stupid” I thought “to be an ultramarathon runner, and leave behind partners and warm beds and relaxing mornings of good coffee, conversation and reading.”

 

Credito Cindy Meneses

Crédito Cindy Meneses

Slowly, the sun rolled across the Argentinean plains and, arriving at the Andes mountains, shot shards of light up its flanks, and into the Chilean sky. Other sensations returned too at daybreak. The smells of the earth mixed with the lavender that I was brushing through. The liquidy swill of the grouse’s call started up from the espino bushes, and the rolling country that I traveled through by night, slowly began to steepen.

I left the last bad vibes in the 20km aid station. Three other runners arrived simultaneously, and we set about the business of breakfast together. I laughed at the gentle jokes directed at the gringo’s expense, and then set off, intent to catch as many Latinos as possible.

A change of mood

Lore Moraga (1)

Crédito Lore Moraga

Lore Moraga

Crédito Lore Moraga

Climbing mountains shouldn’t be an Englishman’s forte – not when racing Chileans whose training runs start from an altitude greater than Scafell Pike. But I had grown fond of the thinner air, and spent many long days in the mountains this winter. The climb brought a change in breathing and rhythm, and was a welcome break from the fast, flat pounding of the night. It calmed me down, and emptied my mind. The meat of the event – 15km in the mountains – had started. 

The few times that I have had “the flow,” I don’t remember much afterwards. Only fleeting moments. There was Harold Ponce climbing out of La Quebrada wearing his laser stare of concentration. A man in a tin house watching television, who greeted me as I ran past. And then, higher up – floating summits, piercing through clouds, and a waterfall of thick most air, pouring silently over a rock face, far out across the white ocean. 

Crédito Lore Moraga puchnuncavi 50k

Crédito Lore Moraga

I passed Luis Valle around KM32 and looked around to frame him against the backdrop, and check that I wasn’t imagining it all. There’d be only a few other people on this side of the Andes who’d witness this today, whilst everyone else was reading books and drinking coffee beneath grey clouds on their sedentary Saturday. I laughed at my good luck and my swings in mood, and pushed on.

Good Vibes

At Km35 they told me I was in 3rd place. 2nd had a 25minute lead. It was all downhill now. Technical and absorbing, and I threw myself into it aggressively, keen to not be overtaken. I started to whoop and shout, grinding my teeth in pleasure at doing something so simple and hard for so many hours. I ran a few kms with other runners joining the course from their shorter distance race, infecting them with my battle cries as we paced one another noisily to the finish. 

Cristian Valencia Pizarro en su tierra

Cristian Valencia Pizarro en su tierra

podiumJust outside Puchuncavi, I descended a hillside to a paved road that I was certain would lead to the finish. The organiser, Crisitian Valencia, doesn’t do things by halves however: His route plunging us back into forgotten copses, through fallow fields and along a dry river bed. In truth, the last kms of the race captured the essence of his race: always searching for the perfect line, guiding his adventurers down paths less travelled by and away from their lives quotidian. After crossing the finish I gave him a wild hug. He looked a bit embarrassed to be embraced by such a sweaty and affectionate gringo. But I was positively shaking with the “buena vibra,” and I didn’t have any other words for it.

 

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The Outdoor Olympics / UTMB 100mile Footrace

 

– Why the world’s (unofficial) ultra running championship is unlike any other sporting event –

There was a moment during the Utra Trail du Mont Blanc live coverage this weekend, where we watched the Spaniard Luis Alberto Hernando walking along a mountain path in the Chamonix Valley, closely followed by the American Seth Swanson. The cameraman had been jogging spritely along infront of them for the last 3miles, on the steep dirt trail that lead to the Tete au Vent summit at mile 99. 1,000’s of viewers watched online as Alberto Hernando stopped, cupped his hands and took a slurp from a mountain brook, allowing the American to pass him at a brisk 4mph and move into 2nd place. The commentator, barely able to contain his excitement, declared that this was the equivalent to watching the outdoor Olympics. This strange sport that sees competitors run for as long as 46 hours, peel skin off their blistered feet and vomit by the side of the trail, was suddenly out there, and in the mainstream.

Damian Hall arrives back in Chamonix after lapping the highest mountain in Europe and travelling through France, Italy and Switzerland in a time of 26:41

Damian Hall arrives back in Chamonix after lapping the highest mountain in Europe and travelling through France, Italy and Switzerland in a time of 26:41

Success in a 100mile race requires a fervent commitment to training. To tow the start line, the 2,300 competitors needed to have completed a minimum three events of 60+miles during the last 18months. Some runners will have completed more, preferring to train for the UTMB with lots of regular “shorter” events – where you run just a couple of marathons at a time. Others prefer to slog it out in training runs, spending 10 or more hours each weekend in the mountains. An exact formula for success in this multi sport refuses to be pinned down however. When the tape dropped on Chamonix’s high street last Friday at 6pm French time, the fortunes of the sport’s most shining lights were cast to the wind. 

The challenges of this race are immense. Of the 5 runners that lead to the half way point, only 1 of them finished the race. Unfamiliarity with the terrain, poor shoe choice, over heating, dehydration, inability to hold down food and open wounds sustained on the trail led to many competitors retiring. For all but the most elite, two consecutive night of running were to be expected. During this time, the body enters such extreme states of fatigue that vivid hallucinations are experienced and runners fall asleep on their feet. 

Besides the physical fatigue, the mental strain is soul-sucking. When the sun sets on a second day of non-stop running, and there are still 3 mountain passes to go on your bipedal trip through France, Switzerland and Italy, no amount of saucisson sec and cheese is going to get you to the finish. The desire to have done with the race is enormous. The lack of stimulation during the night that follows, where your world is reduced to a single beam of light, pushes competitors deeper still into their dark places, and it it easy to question the need to keep going.

Ultramarthon running is a very far cry from the marginal gain sport of professional cycling, or the style and finesse of elite level swimming. If this really is the closest we can get to an outdoor Olympics, and the sport’s popularity is to continue to grow, new audiences are going to have to adapt to the ultramarathon freak show format, and take a live broadcast vomit in their stride.

 

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In the future we will all be environmentalists

Imagine if you can, a futuristic history lesson that captures our own historical now. There’s interactive textbooks showing a rising line graph of carbon parts per million plotted against increasing temperature. As the children’s eyes track along the graph, dynamic illustrations pop up from the industrial revolution, through to Shell poking that first oil pipe into the Arctic last week…

“What will happen” – the world weary teacher will say – “if you artificially and dramatically alter the atmosphere in which plants, humans and ecosystems have evolved over millenia?”

“Change will happen…” – some child will venture.

“Yes – please swipe to the next page to see how” – and children will gasp in horror at the ignorance and selfishness of their predecessors, in the same way we did when we were children, and turned pages on Apartheid, the slave trade and the Roman Colosseum.

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Let’s back up, to the history that we know.

In 1899, the commissioner of the US patent office, Charles H. Duell, famously said:

“Everything that can be invented has been invented.”

This of course seems childishly blunderous, in hindsight, with the advances the Twentieth Century would bring. However in the fifty years that Duell had lived – he had already seen the invention of American football, the internal combustion engine and the solar cell. He had also seen the abolition of slavery: His country split into two as the people of the Confederate States guarded their right to keep 3million Africans and their descendants in captivity. It must indeed have been tempting to feel that wrongs had been righted and that civilisation was at its height.

The American poet philosopher, Henry David Thoreau, was a contemporary of Duell’s. In the mid C19th he went to live in a cabin, in the woods, 15miles outside of Boston, Massachusetts. He spent his time reflecting on how overly complicated everything seemed to have already become by 1845, and wrote in his subsequently published work Walden that we should strive for “Simplicity, Simplicity, Simplicity!

In the future we will all be environmentalists

The complexities of Boston in 1841

Whilst Thoreau would be dismayed by the course of history, he did however have an uncanny knack for being on the right side of it. He was a passionate antislavery campaigner and was an active participant in the Underground Railroad that helped escaped slaves reach Free States. Today of course, slavery seems like an ancient anachronism; like night and day – its immorality so startlingly apparent – its supporters so deplorable. And yet, to judge societies who kept men, women and children in slavery, is to perhaps overestimate our own point of vantage, in a similar way that Duell did – an assumption that we live in a time of moral ground zero where everything, to paraphrase the patent commissioner, that can be thought, has already been thought.

In illustration, take Thoreau’s view on vegetarianism:

“I have no doubt that it is a part of the destiny of the human race, in its gradual improvement, to leave off eating animals, as surely as the savage tribes have left off eating each other when they came in contact with the more civilised.”

Such radicalism over vegetables still seems extreme today. About as radical as his contemporary stance on slavery would have seemed in his time, or his commitment to protecting the environment.

In order therefore that we avoid the same fate as Duell, we surely must be open to the idea that societies exist in a state of constantly shifting status quo, where our present values may one day seem reprehensible: Where once the Romans sipped fermented grapes, watched gladiatorial flesh being torn in a ring and congratulated themselves on such wholesome good living – today we still happily eat meat.

And yet, our carnivorous ways will not be what ultimately stigmatises our historical moment in the history books. It will be something bigger than that, which doesn’t bleed and stain the floor of any colosseum, or weep, and ache, and rattle its slave shackles before us.

There’s an elephant in our atmosphere. It’s injustice is silent and fed by apathy and ignorance and the pacifying soundbites of pay-rolled climate change deniers who compete to scream the loudest that nothing, in fact, is going on at all. When the ebbs and flows of ice ages fail to provide an answer, and the carbon that had always previously been stored underground, has been released; the damage will perhaps be irrevocable; the changes to our planet will be undeniably manifest and these rent-a-quote pseudo scientists will have long since changed the signs on their door. Environmental policy will finally become one of the main criteria by which we choose our governments, and by today’s standards – we will all be environmentalists.

The new children’s textbooks will then start to be written. The page entry will come just after the abolition of bear baiting, fox hunting and the triumph of gay marriage. And then in class, there’ll come a question, similar to the ones we puzzled too as children – 

“How did they not see that they had got it so wrong?”

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Til-Til to Lampa 38km (English Version)

Lampa Til Til

A wildly beautiful and brutal experience in Chile’s coastal mountains this weekend, representing GreenBeanTrails. It was all thanks to Latitud Sur’s most recent event on the calendar – The Til Til to Lampa Traverse. We passed through golden oaks, alpine lagoons and remote valleys – washed a verdant green after the recent winter rain.11887997_665285376941584_9186242116246554003_n

Whilst the rest of the word is going crazy over vertical km races, here in Chile we’re quietly racing 1.7 VKMs over the first 4miles of the race…and then going on to run the rest of the mountain marathon with a total of nearly 3,000m vert. It’s all a bit too much for this Brit. who just 12 months
ago had a mere 200m “summit” to train on.

DCIM146GOPROMany thanks to Pablo Garrido and his tremendous team. Many thanks also to Matias Bull from Tail Chile for keeping everyone informed during the race and to Max Keith for taking such mind bending photos. Race directors: you need these boys at your races!

(Third overall and first in age group)