When Claudio Castillo started to plan a running event in Peru’s Sacred Valley of the Incas, he knew it should honor the country’s deep history of long-distance running.
“We wanted to make a race that would evoke the chaskis,” says Castillo. “Peru has a history of ultrarunners, and we wanted to make this race a tribute to that legacy.”
Ancient Ultrarunning Messengers
During the Inca Empire that peaked in the 15th century, communications between different regions of the empire were delivered by running messengers called chaskis. According to lore, the complex communication relay system could cover more than 200 kilometers per day on the Inca roads. Today, trail running is in its golden era, and new events and participation in Peru are on the rise.
Castillo, 40, works between Cusco and Lima, selling outdoor equipment. He partnered with Daniel Martos, who also coordinates logistics for the longstanding Jungle Ultramarathon in southeast Peru, and Juan Carlos Flores, who is in charge of photography, design and marketing. In 2015, the first annual Andes Race—Chaski Challenge was born.
Along the course, racers will see llama and alpaca herders tend to their animals. Andean women and children dressed in bright traditional clothing watch as runners pass by. Mountain guides and caballeros pack trekkers’ supplies to the next camp with their mules. Glacier-capped peaks loom in the distance behind alpine grass- and shrub-covered hills.
Cusco, the capital of the Inca Empire until the Spanish conquest in the 16th century, was the logical choice for the race’s home base. Located at 11,152 feet in the Peruvian Andes near the Sacred Valley, the city is a destination for international tourism because of its proximity to the famous Incan archeological site Machu Picchu.
A Race Is Born
In the first running of the event in 2015, there were 90 participants from six countries, including American ultrarunner Mike Wardian.
“I was impressed with the whole experience, and am hoping to go back,” says Wardian. “The Peruvian people and culture is amazing. The mountains are really high.”
With 100-, 60-, 30- and 13-kilometer race distances, the point-to-point races start at various points in the Sacred Valley and finish in Ollantaytambo, a small town situated at 9,160 feet on the Urubamba River. The high-altitude mountainous terrain is challenging with passes as high as 4,700 meters (15,400 feet). To celebrate the chaski spirit, part of the course runs on Inca connector roads.
“You’re running above 4,000 meters [13,100 feet] for a lot of the race and surrounded by huge mountains,” says Wardian. “Then you run over a plateau, then all of a sudden there’s a village. I kept thinking, ‘Wow, these people have been living here for hundreds of years and it’s so cool that we get to be here.’”
Since the inaugural event, the race has not only grown in participation, but the competition has become fierce. In 2017, in the event’s third year, the race grew to 470 runners from 17 countries, and it was the first-ever Peruvian trail- running national championships. The male and female winners of each the 30- and 13-kilometer races qualified to represent Peru at the South American championships. Remigio Huaman and Aydee Loyza Huaman won the 30K championships; Zendio Daza Huarcaya and Eliona Delgado Castro won the 13K. “In a few years, it is our dream this will be the most important race in South America,” says Castillo.
While there are ultra- and trail- running events in the Cordillera Blanca of northern Peru, the Andes Race is the first of its kind in the Cusco region. Race organizers have high hopes of becoming an Ultra Trail World Tour event in the future, and it is currently a points-qualifying race for Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc.
At the finish line of the 2017 race in Ollantaytambo, loud music blared in the plaza. After crossing the line, runners kicked off their shoes and put on their finishers’ shirts that read in Quechua: Nuqa Phawarani—I ran the Andes Race. They stayed until the end, cheering as each runner crossed the line.
The Andes Race—Chaski Challenge
Race Day: August 24-25, 2018
Website and Registration: AndesRace.pe
Tips: For an overnight layover in Lima, head to Miraflores or Barranco where you can do a shakeout run on the beach path and try the traditional ceviche for dinner.
Be prepared for the mandatory equipment check before the race.
El Balcón (balconcusco.com) offers a discounted lodging rate for race weekend.
Take a cab to the Cerveceria del Valle-Sacred Valley Brewing Company (cerveceriadelvalle.com) for a tasting at the region’s only microbrewery.