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Wednesday, 24 October 2012 15:06 TWEET COMMENTS 1

The Ultramaraton de Los Andes

Trail racing 80 kilometers around Santiago, Chile

I’d never given much thought to running a race in South America, much less an ultra.

Photo courtesy of The North Face Chile

I’d never given much thought to running a race in South America, much less an ultra. But when the opportunity arose to run The Ultramaraton de los Andes—an 80K loop through the foothills of the Andes Mountains just outside of Santiago, Chile— I couldn’t say no.

Santiago, the capital of Chile, is a sprawling metropolis, home to over four million people. Just outside the city, one can catch glimpses of the snow-capped Andes Mountains, which are the longest continual mountain range in the world, stretching some 4300 miles. It’s spring there now, and the high mountains are still covered in snow, flowers are blooming and election signs are everywhere.

Modern, big-windowed skyscraping office towers, trendy shops and restaurants blend with boarded up shops, vacant lots and antiquated buildings. And quaint streets appear just as common as wide-lane highways and stacked overpasses with pedestrians walking dangerously close to high-speed traffic. Nothing about the concrete jungle screams trail running. But a short drive out of town and ribbons of foothills dotted with cattle and horses roll into the big mountains.

Sitting in a van with a group of The North Face runners from Chile, Argentina, Costa Rica and my U.S. teammate Mike Foote of Missoula, Montana, I wished I’d paid better attention to my elementary-school Spanish lessons. Thankfully most everyone in our group spoke English, and we all had trail running in common, and that at least allowed us to communicate in some small way.

It was just after 8 a.m. on Friday, the day before race day, and our group headed out on an easy run along a dirt road that turned to singletrack and meandered through farmland and thick, green foliage—a lot of prickly plants to avoid.

We talked very little. Every now and then something would be said in Spanish or Portuguese … the occasional English, followed by a laugh or smile. And then we’d all resume focus on the ground, no doubt thinking about the race the next day and its 4 a.m. start.

After 25 minutes we returned to the van to eat granola bars, rehydrate and talk shop with course designer Nick Moore (Moore designs all The North Face Endurance Challenge event courses, which meet a rigid set of course and course-marking guidelines).

“Markings will be about every 200 meters,” Moore assured us. I admit that I’m spacey, even more so when I’m racing, so I was glad to hear that I would have no chance of going off course. For my first 50 in a couple of years, this was good news. Foote seemed equally thrilled. “Trail runners seem to always get lost,” he chimed in, no doubt also thinking of his own knack for veering off course.

A three-hour lunch followed, and then a long van ride back to the hotel. I took an afternoon nap then madly started downloading music for my iPod. I laid out my clothes, headlamp, stuffed the pockets of my running vest with gels and filled my hydration bladder.



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