Thursday, October 28, 2010

If it isn't Down Under

It's pretty far down and under.

The 3rd annual running of the Ultra Marathon De Los Andes took place Saturday October 16th in the foothills east of Santiago, Chile. The 50 mile distance was added to the 10k, 20k, 50k line up just last year   and American Leigh Schmidt won in just under 9 hours. It was apparent from that time and the caliber of runner that he is this wasn't going to be a cake walk.  There were a few Americans that ended up running this rendition of the ultimate distance and their story became filled with talk of night running, giant climbs, rocky terrain, and big time elevation.

The race began at 2 am on Saturday morning but we weren't sure there was going the be a start as we searched the streets and subdivisions of Santiago for the staging area.   We caravan'd with fellow Oregonian Sean Meissner and TNF athlete Sebastien Chaigneau wondering if they were just as nervous as we were leaving our fate to these drivers that were just about as familiar with the area as we were.  Eventually we made it, 15 minutes to sign in, grab bibs, fill water bottles, grab a space blanket and whistle, hit the bathroom, and smile for picture requests.

So we were off, heading through the jumbo arches complete with Trinitron Screen looping video of various races across the globe.  As we made our way through the first half mile, a band of runners decided to stray from the pace car and the smooth streets of La Dehesa to jump through a boarded, gated entrance to what seemed to be a park.  It was quite comical watching dozens of runners trying to squeeze through a grafitti laced barrier in an attempt to find the trail, meanwhile the driver up the road kept shouting "ven aca!" (come right here.) I continued down the dark road for a few more steps before making my way onto a double track trail that slowly began to ascend into the deserted surroundings.

I was trailed and quickly passed by a runner that I certainly didn't recognize but that I was sure was running of above his comfort zone.  It's easier in the US to know which runners are going out on pure adrenaline and those that are legitimate contenders for the distance, but on this day I knew it wasn't Sebastien and I should probably follow for a little while.   As the climb sputtered and spat so too did my companion and I decide it was time to push on through.  The course was adorned with copious TNF flagging and proved to be one of the best marked courses I have ever run, however running through that many ours of night it was sorely needed.  

I made my way up through the frosty air to what was to be our first summit and then back down near the start to complete a 20k loop that was probably a little too fast but the footing was nice and the anticipation of the foreign course lured me on.   Further on, I began to calm down and settled in to a nice pace as the course traversed the arid countryside, however it wasn't long until I found myself at checkpoint 3, some 31km into the race looking for my only drop bag.   Filling up on GU was imperative for the remainder of the event, having no idea of the effort that was going to be needed over the next 20km.

The next section of the race followed an old mine road that began to rise through the palisades that were beginning to glow in the night sky, not because of the impending dawn but rather due to the lingering snow that marked our arrival at elevation.   I could see now that I chase pack was following closely and I was doing my best to distance myself on the arduous climb.  I knew I had an eight or nine thousand foot summit summit on the horizon and I had to remind myself of my last long run with Erik nine or so days ago.  We had run from town to the Mt A outcroppings and beyond and this would be no different.  The headlamps faded for a while but as the road turned rocky and snowy my pursuers closed in.   Check point 5 was just below an alpine chute to a saddle with vistas of Santiago and the Andes.  It would prove to be one of the most spectacular sunrises ever as the suns rays suffused with the gasses of the industrious metropolis below to cast a glow over the ominous Andes we had just seemed to defeat. 

Below the summit I could see Sebastien and Gustavo closing fast and I knew that the rocky terrain would put this Mt Blanc podium finisher on top of me quickly. What I didn't know is that Gustavo would pass both of us on the plush tundra just before the trail plunged another one to two thousand feet.  From here the trail was something remeniscent of Zane Grey and I watch the two runners that I had alluded for 5 hours vanish over the under the coming miles.  

As I ran for the final 19km I tried to remind myself that I was running strong all day and that although we had a long way down perhaps a few climbs still remained, I could catch up. With 6km to go they came back into view and I cowered in the shadows of the trail to not alert my competitors of my presence.  As the road opened up at 4km and dove down into the finish I was spotted, some 15 seconds back.  One last push and I was on the ground, my wary feet that had survived some of the nastiest trail in the western hemisphere succombed to ball bearing pebbles as my place was sealed.

7:32 minutes and I was done!  Less than 3 minutes separated the two winners and myself, the closest ultra finish ever for this traveled runner.  

Sebastien and I congratulate one another.

It was certainly a race!

Meanwhile another race was developing high above the cloud of the city. Carly, running in her first race abroad (not including Cananda) began to carve out her spot amongst the ultra runners in Chile. Worried about her placing, she had to ask the throngs of runners that began passing her as the elevation ascended, what race are you doing? As many replied that they were indeed in the 50km that merged with the 80km a sigh of relief cemented her standing as the 2nd place female and caused her feet to stride a little easier on the descent to the finish. A time of 11:03 was rewarded with a number of hours in the shade of night but as the morning wore on she found reserves to push through the atmospheric suns heat. At the awards ceremony which concluded over an hour after her finish she was still the latest female to concluded her day. 2nd place and in the money!

We all agreed it was one of the best events we have been to. From the course, to the volunteers, the fish line infrastructure, to the people running in all the events.  It fulfilled a once in a lifetime experience, but I can't wait to go back again sometime soon.

Carly just below the 9,000ft summit, 2600 meters?

Does that check read 100,000 dollars?

Another podium finish, for reals. 

Sebastien, Sean, Carly, Trinidad, and myself enjoy the Santiago sun and festivities.

Yes, my lifetime miles have taken me around the world, almost twice.

The Chileans favored the beard and adopted my title as the American Forrest Gump, hopefully that's the last word on that.


John said...

Last word on Forrest Gump? Doubtful. Looked like a really fun 50 though!

Dominic said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dominic said...

Honestly, what an insult, Forrest Gump has a choppy and ugly short stride.

rustyboy said...

Well run, both of ya!

As far as the Gump parallel goes: Maybe ping-pong is next for you?

Erik said...

I spent a couple years in Chile, mainly Santiago, and spent some time on the trails in the foothills. Great country! What papers where the articles in?

Malcolm said...

You both nailed it good, really enjoyed the story Hal. Nice one.

Speedgoat Karl said...

Hey man, this is way past due, but if theyre gonna call you Forrest, I got something to say about that....You gotta run a little further than 50 miles. Maybe for 40 days...:-) sweet race man, didn't even know you went.

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