Tuesday, 16 September 2014

K42 Mountain Marathon, Laguna Aculeo, Santiago, Chile

A rough cut of a few race images can be found on YouTube here.

The Disaster Finding the Race Start.

My efforts at the  K42 Mountain Marathon in Santiago were matched by the effort it took to find the race start. I'm travelling through South America at the moment. I had "googled" races in Santiago before I left England and found the K42 Marathon in Santiago which would run whilst I was there. I assumed the race was a road marathon in the city and I entered on-line with some difficulty as I couldn't read the Spanish website.  I should have paid more attention, It turned out that the marathon was a trail race in the Altos de Cantillana Mountains.

Altos de Cantillana Mountains from Laguna Aculeo.

We arrived in Santiago a week before the race and took the opportunity to travel south to Rancagua by bus. From Rancagua we would be able to use public transport to find the race start at Rangue, a small hamlet at the foot of the mountain range whose main attraction is the beautiful Laguna Aculeo where the race would begin. A bus, a long wait and another bus later we were in Rangue. The hamlet was sleepy, only occasionally interrupted by the sounds of clopping hoofs as traditional Gaucho's rode through the village on horseback. I admit that I wasn't particularly well prepared for any of this, Initially I thought the race began in Santiago but it then seemed to start 50km South of the city in Rangue, we had got that far but when I re-consulted a page on my phone which had been saved for offline reading I could see the word Cantillana. I showed my phone to a local, his reaction was to look to the mountains whilst extending his arm dismissively upwards. Cantillana, I learnt, was a mountain village much further on and it would take a fiurther two hours of walking to reach it. Four hours later we were back in Rancagua after abandoning our attempt to find the race start. I was beginning to fret. How was I going to get into the mountains in two days time to run this race? We would have to hire  a car.

Asking the Gaucho's for tips.

We managed to find a car hire place in Rancagua. The problem was that they would be closed on Saturday and Sunday meaning we would have to hire the car for 4 days so we could drop it off on Monday morning, something which the traveller's budget couldn't afford. At this point I thought I was beat, I had entered a race I thought began in the city of Santiago, it started in the mountains 50km South, we had done a failed reccy to find the start. I couldn't hire a car as it was too expensive, what could I do, how could I get to race start? The only option was to go 50km back to Santiago and hire a car from the airport where I would be able to drop it off any day of the week, 24/7 and therefore hire it for only one day at cheaper cost. 

The next day we drove out of Santiago Airport in a small Chevrolet courtesy of "Budget Rent a Car". Tracy drove the 50km back down the Pan American Highway to Rangue where we would attempt to find the mountain village of Cantillana. Two hours later we found ourselves on a near vertical rocky road travelling backwards with the wheels spinning beneath us. The Chevrolet wasn't going to make it up this rocky mountain pass. At this point I had a minor mental breakdown, I got of out the car, kicked some rocks and cursed the mountain dogs that had come to investigate our woe. It simply wasn't going to happen now, we had tried everything to find the race start but now I was beat, time to retreat to Rangue and then back to Rancagua for the night. Just before we left, In desperation I looked at my phone to try for a last time to find some more race details, surely a race director wouldn't expect 200 runners to travel up this rocky mountain road , they couldn't all have 4x4s? 
Horses at the summit.

It was Tracy that saved the day, when she looked at my historical e-mails she noticed the word "Los Altos" - "I think we passed that place in Rangue two days ago..." 

We retreated to Rangue and after asking more locals for directions we finally arrived at a non de-script high wooden gate flanked on either side by a six foot stone wall. I got of the car placed my hands on the top of the wall and climbed on to the stone slabs. To my delight and utter surprise, at the other side, I saw Club Marina Alto Laguna  the same place that I remembered in photos of on the race website. It had taken four days, four buses, metros, a car hire, plenty of arguements about who was wrong and right (I was wrong, Tracy was right) but I know knew then, for the first time, that the next day I'd be leaving Laguna Aculeo for the K42 Marathon. 

The Race

Race day morning bought low cloud which concerned me. I was further concerned by a woman that I chatted to at the start. I was grateful that she could speak English, I was ungrateful that she told me the winner would take six and a half hours, a fact which later turned out to be wrong. The race ran from an altitude of approximately 364 metres above sea level to about 2,200 metres, I was hopelessly unable to get the altitude into perspective but I now think I ran about twice the height of Snowdon, If I'd have known that at the time I probably would have stayed in the car! 

I had a few last minute panics and a crisis conversation with Tracy. I had never been in this mountain range before (I had never been in South America before), there was low cloud and rain forecast, how was I going to find my way? I then remembered that I really wanted to do this race, I've always wanted to run in the mountains. It was time to have a word with myself so I put some unnecessary "comfort" articles in my back pack and like a lamb to the slaughter, I made my way to the start. I stood on the start line sheepishly listening to vital last minute instructions - I couldn't understand a word.    
Race start and finish.

I can describe the race easily - up and down, out and back. If that sounds simple, it wasn't. I ran through a beautiful private nature reserve with a steep inclination to the open mountain. We carried on up to a first summit and then on to a higher summit where we turned and ran back along the same trails to the finish. There were aid stations every 5km but some seemed further spaced out than others. Weathered looking mountain men manned the aid stations. I drank water and ate oranges as the mules looked on over the mountain vista. The mules had carried supplies of water up the mountain for our replenishment. The aid station at half way was adjacent to a corrugated mountain hut, I could see beds inside. So far I'd focused hard on the path in front of me, I didn't want to get freaked out by my ascent into this increasingly remote cloudy place but the refuge hut soberingly interrupted my concentration.
On the way back down.

In honesty I was enjoying myself. I was feeling strong which was odd because I had spent the last three months eating junk food and hardly training as I travelled through Peru. Bolivia, Argentina and into Chile, perhaps the rest had done me good. It seems runners camaraderie is international, as I passed runners in front they seemed to offer encouragement and when I explained that I was English they encouraged even more, Bamos! was the cry (let's go!) 

The summit checkpoint and turnaround point.

It took just short of three hours to get to the summit. I knew I was approaching the summit because the lead runners started to come back towards us careering down the mountain and I reciprocated with the "Bamos!" that I had learnt earlier. The route finding had been easy, red ribbons lined the trail all the way to the top. When we reached the summit there was about half a mile of plateau to run  to the checkpoint, I could see the Chilean flag in the distance. This was the best part of the race, I felt like I was running through the sky. I could see the clouds beneath me and occasionally they broke to reveal a fantastic view across the mountain range. The shrubs on the way up had cut my legs, my fingers had swollen slightly and I was feeling pretty tired but I didn't care, I had ascended almost 2000m and was about to reach half way. I dwelled at the checkpoint to take some pictures until the checkpoint staff advised me to keep moving, this wasn't about racing hard, it was about enjoying the experience and getting down safely.

"Nicole" Female winner begins the descent. 

I left the summit to begin the lengthy descent back to the Lake. Shortly after the turn around I was overtaken by "Nicole" the lead lady that would go on to win her race. We had met on the ascent, I had been grateful to find someone that could speak English, "Come on Paul, this is the best part, I like to run down!" I tried and failed to match Nicole's enthusiasm and pace as she disappeared into the cloud. During the descent I was largely alone. The experience was at first amazing to be running out of the sky but I quickly got sick of the constant leg jarring as I tried to keep myself upright. My post race arms are as stiff as my post race legs where they broke my fall on a few occasions, once narrowly helping my jaw avoid a large rock.                  

I spent less time at the refugee checkpoint keen to get this thing done. It seemed to take ages to get to what had been the first aid station and I actually began to wonder if the race was returning via a different route. I had descended fairly gingerly but in the last 5km there was a level path and a dirt track where I was surprised to find extra reserves and able to find a good pace to the finish, passing a competitor on the way. 

Me and Race Director, Rodrigo Sales.
I crossed the line in 4 hours and 49 minutes finishing in 28th place. It had taken just short of 3 hours to get up and just short of two hours to get down. I was given a race finishers t-shirt in addition to the race starters t-shirt which I had been given earlier and which it was mandatory to wear during the race. The race director was very welcoming and knowing that I couldn't speak Spanish was keen to make sure that I knew where to find the complimentary post race sausage sandwiches, tea and biscuits. I was also given a runners rucksack and a medal a nice end to a great day.     



  1. Sounds great Paul and your recent adventures , and a free rucksack say hi to Tracy also

    1. Thanks Mark were having a fun time out here. Off to NZ on Thursday im sure there will be plenty of running to be had there....

      Hope you are both well

  2. Pictures of race great Paul what's next ?

  3. Sounds like a great day out - one day maybe I could do a race like this! :) Missing you dude.

  4. Phew!!!! A really good read and some race!!!