Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The Atacama Pacer Report

On Tuesday, May 12, I arrived in San Pedro de Atacama in Chile. It is a small town, ruled by dogs, and in a desert north of chile and west of the Andes. With vistas of glorious volcanoes, my heart was happy for the opportunity to explore. If anybody was wondering where or why or what I was doing, it was to pace Rory Bosio in a 100 mile extreme desert race.
Just your average sunrise
Night before the race we were getting everything all set out and ready. Rory and I had gone over our game plan several times and talked about the race. Of course over our ritual nail polish sesh. We went over what would be in each bag, how she wants her nutrition laid out and at what points and where it would be put in her glorious polka dot pack. We settled in for a relaxing slumber and turned out the lights.
This was a common scene at each Checkpoint
At around 3 am I wake up to hear Rory screaming get out get out!!! Apparently the hotel cat had climbed through the window, pounced on her and tried to get into her covers. I also learned that while I was sleeping she was puking her brains out from nausea. Possibly last nights salmon dinner was the culprit... 

At 630 we wake up, breakfast is made and coffee drained. We put on our kits and lug all the bags and shit out the the cars. 

We get to the start and Rory and I find a nice spot by the local church to pee, per my pre race tradition. The start was super mellow in the town square of San Pedro de Atacama as there were only 40 racers total braving the desert. Rory sets off setting the pace. It was so rad to trail alongside her watching the kilometers pass by and cheering them on. Before the first checkpoint at km 20ish, Rory was passed by Mattias. 
low key start
We got to the first checkpoint, aka aid stations with water, coke, Gatorade, chips and granola bars. Maybe some other things but not much. Rory came screaming in and out looking amazing. I did my job as crew and set out food, took warm outer wear, and filled her bladder.

We spend some more time following and met her again at CP2. This was 40k in the race and pretty freaking hot. Rory rolled in there in 3:40ish with another dude and they charged out to what was considered the roughest part of the course along the salt flats.
I have no idea what we were laughing at. (Not my pic)
We couldn't follow the runners along the salt flats as cars couldn't go on the squishy, crusty, crackled terrain. However, after a long time of waiting at CP3, 60k in the race, Rory finally came out in the lead with nobody near. I fixed her things per usual, but jumped in too. I was supposed to pace her the whole entire last 100k. This would severely test my limits because I have to put on a good face as pacer and I do not allow myself to start feeling crappy when I need to be the one entertaining and keeping my runner positive. I have paced several times before, never that distance and I am not the best heat runner. Additionally, on top of that, this desert race, which is all monotonously flat, is also situated at a nice 8200'. I live at sea level. Nevertheless, I am stoked. 
NaCl for miles!
So we start running. It's fun and nice and were having great boy talk and girl gossip. I'm telling her my wildest and craziest stories and also getting some from her. At about 4 miles in we come upon two freshwater mini lakes. Of course she jumps right in and I don't blame her with the insane heat!! (It was then 330pm). We continue on a dirt road for the rest of that segment. We were both in good spirits and moving at a pretty good clip -930-1030 min per mile. Rory was still emptying herself from last night but doing great. I was fine until I started to feel a stomach cramp at mi 8. I just grinned and bared it and thought maybe I should just try to pee or poop it out. Or take electrolytes. So I popped a squat to no avail while Rory kept running. I sped up to try to catch her, still with the stomach ache. All of a sudden I found myself hands on knees puking several times. I felt like shit. I was dizzy, goosebumps and still with a stomach ache. I tried to catch back up to her and eventually caught up a bit. I was about 10-15m behind her and stayed like that for quite a while. In the next 2 mi I puked about 5 more times and she said I was having altitude sickness but we have to stay together due to race regulations. I felt terrible. I came to Chile, across the freaking equator, to pace my friend and take care of her but the roles reversed. She became the one cheering me on and telling me I need to keep swinging my arms. I felt so bad I was holding her back. She is an amazing athlete but an even more incredible friend for dealing with me with a smile. It was maybe the longest feeling 5k to the next CP. The thing was you could see it but not get any closer- like a mirage in the desert heat.
I was so dizzy I thought I was gonna pass out when we got there. Rory got her pack re situated and took off. I was gonna take a breather, take care of myself, and get ready to go again. I really didn't want to let her down and want to be there for her in the tough parts. We hugged as she charged off down the dirt road. I sat down for a bit trying to keep it together despite wanting to both cry and puke. I felt like a pansy for not being able to handle 15 miles and she was at 50miles.

Anyways, I curled up in a ball in the car and kept sipping coke. One of the guys I was with went and got me little candies infused with the local Coca leaves. This helps with digestion and altitude sickness so I was popping these things in left and right. I managed a picky bar and banana too as I hadn't had calories in 4 hours or so.
RB making dirty jokes early in the race
We went out to get to CP5 to meet Rory at 100k. The sun was setting and the landscape was magnificent. We had to drive on these super sketch salt flats following tire tracks for direction. Big kudos to our driver for navigating that. Once at cp5 which was the 108km mark, we saw the stars come out and waited for Rory. Sure enough, she was first and rolling in. We got her stuff situated with warm clothing and food. She didn't want me to pace her yet, and I feel really really bad. I feel like such a let down for her and a total loser.

But, I will continue to do my best to help her in any way I can. She was rocking and rolling this thing. However, as we headed out to CP6 to meet her, we looked back to see her headlamp circling. Worried she was lost out there, we stopped for a bit. A truck drove out to meet her and give her direction so we took off. Later I found out she got off course for around 2 hours and the truck driver had no idea where the course was. The race director had to drive out and guide them back to the dirt road. When Rory finally got to CP6 her lead had greatly shortened and she had put a lot more stressful miles in between checkpoints. Before she came, I was told I was supposed to be taken back to the hotel to rest. I said oh hell effing no. And just like that, any residual inkling of sickiness vanished. Rory came in and I got her stuff per usual. However, now she wanted me to take her into the finish for the last "30km".
Found her doppleganger in the town's TNF store
I was super jazzed to be back with her and guiding her through the last bits. She told me "silence is golden" as she was too brain dead to follow any stories. Instead I kept her on pace per her request and reminded her every little bit to eat or drink. Once off the road we wound on some sandy or hard cracked terrain. It was pretty crazy.

This section was the worst. The flags  directing us were spaced so far apart that it was a struggle to find them. Our headlamps- my Petzl RXP and her NAO and an additional small light still wasn't bright enough to look that far ahead. Additionally, the reflective tape on the flag was maybe a square centimeter- again, super hard to find in the dark. Some flags had fallen over and I stopped to pick them up and place them upright several times. It was a wicked game of I Spy. But we pressed on and I found flags for her. Christian, the RD, even came out to help guide us. We found our bearings and eventually figured it out to Valle de la Luna. This would've been amazing in the daylight.
View from top of a sand dune
We wound around super cool clay-like boulders and hills. She was pushing hard at this point and very spent mentally- due to the flat course, it was a ton more runnable terrain, which is not what she was used to for 100 miles. We were still hitting 10-11 min pace. She was crushing it and I was so grateful to witness such amazing athleticism and endurance. 
Valle de Luna off to the left
She threw a couple jokes in here and there: "do you want a jolly rancher?" (As I was opening the candy) "then go eff a farmer". And there was more. We finally come upon this tunnel and it was about 400-600m long. Very cool to run through and the final CP was on the other side. Homestretch baby!!
yummy pisco sour!
She grabbed some chips, enough coke to last the 10km to finish and we jet off. There was a rocky, technical downhill here to the dirt road from Pukkar de Quittor into town. I had run this the other day exploring so I knew the rest of the way well. This seemed to put her mind at ease. However, downhill after probably already 100 miles of running hurt a lot. But she is so freaking tough, she pushed through it. We had to cross a couple rivers along the way through that park on the dirt road. The RD said there was two but we crossed maybe four. At this point we were pushing hard and I was playing some of her favorite tunes out loud for added motivation. We had to cross one more big river right outside the town and we opted to use the ratty pedestrian bridge. Heading into town we lost the flags but I knew the way to the town square where she had started. When we turned the corner and the banner was in sight, she went for it. God I was so excited for her to finish! She broke the tape as the first ever finisher of the Atacama Xtreme 100miler in just after 20 hours. She had bested the men and women in the field on terrain and with conditions she is not accustomed to, which makes it even more amazing. I am in such awe and so incredulous I got to be there with her and contribute in a small way to her success.

I really look up to Rory and value her friendship so much. I learned so much and look forward to many more adventures with her. We had a great time in the desert and it was such an epic trip. I really cannot express or put into words how amazed I am that I had an opportunity to visit, explore and run in South America- a place below the equator and where I had never been before. Despite stress from taking off 1,5 weeks of school in the middle of a hard quarter, it was 110% worth it (at least that's what I keep repeating to myself!). I have no regrets and I would rather receive bad grades making up midterms than trade my experiences in a new and foreign country. I made some lasting friendships and learned things I definitely would not have learnt in a classroom in California. I guess I truly take the motto Never Stop Exploring to heart. As well as my own personal mantra of seize every opportunity and make things happen when following goals, dreams and ideas. 

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