By November I was running four days a week and I was able to do a couple of long runs with some friends in Flagstaff who were training for TNF Endurance Challenge in San Francisco. After a couple of technical long runs and a few more quicker long runs with my friend Chris Vargo, I felt surprisingly well so Vulcano Ultra Trail became a viable option again.
Flying out of an international airport enabled me to get to Santiago, Chile via two fairly long flights. When I arrived in Santiago I had a bit of trouble getting through customs because they wanted my tubes of Trail Butter, flasks of First Endurance EFS Liquid Shot, and the 40 pairs of Altra Running shoes I was bringing along to demo at the VUT expo. A shipment of 300 pairs of Altra Running shoes was en route for the launching of Altra Running Chile, but the barge was slow to leave U.S. ports due to strikes and wouldn't make it in time for the expo. Finally, after refusing homemade cookies my mother-in-law made me, customs finally let me through. Then I took one more flight south from Santiago to Puerto Montt.
|The route to southern Chile. Screenshot of Google Map.|
|Santiago to Puerto Montt, Chile. Screenshot of Google Map.|
|A view of the Lakes Region|
Puerto Varas is a small town on the shores of el Lago Llanquihue. The town itself kinda reminded me of a smaller Bellingham, Washington. After arriving and enjoying a bowl of Ajiaco Chilean Soup, Jose Luis brought me to the hotel to rest before paddle boarding on the lake with one of the other race directors, Horacio. After paddle boarding and cooling off in the lake, we ate a variety of fresh, local seafood, but I was particularly fond of the salmon ceviche.
|View from the lakeside around 9:00 pm.|
|Las Cascadas as we approached the Volcan Osorno|
|View of the Volcan Osorno near the start of the race at Lago Todos los Santos|
|Kinda awkward checking in next to a life size photo of yourself.|
In addition to the four points listed in the diagram below, I shared cues that my collegiate coach Doug Stutz taught his National Champion cross country teams. Then I discussed race-day nutrition and answered any other questions participants had about the race the next day.
I felt relieved and quite fulfilled when race participants approached me after their races to tell me how they applied the principles discussed in the clinic to help them through their races. Helping others succeed brings me at least as much satisfaction as any success in my own running.
In addition to the Run Better Clinic, I participated in the pre-race press conference with some of the other international athletes.
|Some of the top international athletes after the VUT press conference.|
|Course profile of Vulcano Ultra Trail 80K|
Despite doing some run & bike commuting with a headlamp in the buildup for Vulcano, the last time I ran through the night was when I paced my friend Paul Nelson at Western States. That was a great experience, so I looked forward to what I would see and learn under the full moon at Vulcano Ultra Trail.
|Start of 2014 Vulcano Ultra Trail 80K. Photo by TrailChile|
The first 5K was runable, but then we reached a steep incline up lava flows that required us to use our hands. At the time there were only about four of us. I soon realized that this was not like the previous 50 mile races I had done. Trail and ultra running in South America are an entirely different sport than anything I've experienced in the U.S.
|Line of 80K athletes ascending the first climb in the dark.|
|Common view during the first ascent.|
By the first major aid station (Puesto de Asistencia, Seguridad, Control, Abastecimiento e Hidratación or PAS) at 30K I was hungry. Up to that point I had been drinking First Endurance EFS Drink mixed with mineral water and eating EFS Liquid Shot, but I wanted some real food. I had some broth, refilled my bladder and began eating Trail Butter.
The second ascent was even more challenging than the first with no particular trail other than the natural flows from lava with regular markings leading straight up the side of the mountain. At this point in the race, given the grade and the fact that the terrain below moved underfoot, I hiked the majority of the ascent and understood why some of my fellow competitors were using trekking poles.
|Climbing into the fog. Official photo of Vulcano Ultra Trail.|
|Layering up for the colder, windier summit. Official photo of Vulcano Ultra Trail.|
|Stumbling up the mountain. Official photo of Vulcano Ultra Trail.|
|About five hours in and already spent. Official photo of Vulcano Ultra Trail.|
|Trying to pick my up to the top. Official photo of Vulcano Ultra Trail.|
|Getting ready to descend in my Altra Olympus.|
Unfortunately, my hydration bladder burst at the top of the last climb while I was adjusting my clothing and preparing for the descent back into the sun. This meant I had to run the next 10-12K without any fluid and it also meant I had about a liter of Coke running down my back, making the post-race dip in the lake all the more appealing.
When I reached the final aid station I asked if I could have a used water bottle from the recycling can and filled it with water. I only had about 10K to go from that point and enjoyed running the last segment hard again alongside the falls and back to the lake.
I was pleased to join some tough, talented runners from Argentina and Brazil on the podium. While I am typically a bit more competitive, my main goal after such a long break from running was to simply enjoy the experience and get in some quality time on my feet to prepare me for early races in 2015.
|Fellow competitors and coaches, Manuel Lago (Brazil), Gustavo Reyes (Argentina), and Jacob Puzey (USA)|
Photo by Jose Luis Troncoso of Trail Chile
|Finally finished and ready to eat. Proud to represent Altra Running at the launch of Altra Running Chile.|
Our conversation really made me think about the state of the sport of trail and ultra running on a global scale. While the sport is growing exponentially around the world (and is huge in Argentina and Chile), true international championships still do not exist. Each continent hosts its own iconic races, but it is rare to find the world's best at the starting line of any particular race. Although I don't think it is necessary for every race to host an uber-competitive field, I simply don't feel right assuming that any international ranking system is accurate when the international field are not representative of the best in the sport across the globe. I feel fortunate, grateful, and a little guilty that I have the opportunities I have to travel and race while there are others in other parts of the world who are at least as capable. At this point the majority of sponsorship dollars to travel tend to go to European and North American athletes. My point is not to point to the plight of any of my comrades, but rather to highlight the fact that when the money gets to South America as it inevitably will, many North Americans, like myself, will get a taste of humble pie if they assume that they can just fly in for an easy win.
The next few days were spent eating more grass-fed beef and recovering from the race.
|One of seven race directors, Horacio, hosting a post-run BBQ with family & friends.|
If you are looking for adventure and the opportunity to see some of the most beautiful places on earth I encourage you to visit Chile and participate in one of the various distances offered at Vulcano Ultra Trail.
Many thanks to my family, sponsors, and the race directors of Vulcano Ultra Trail for making it possible for me to participate in such a well organized, well marked, well managed, challenging event! ¡Hasta la proxima!