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Daring Deeds - real stories, expeditions, road trips and adventure

A different road to the mountains

By Johnny Parsons
13, Aug, 2018

A yearning to escape chaos leads through mountains, marathons and mishaps.

An empty calendar is never a good thing for a giddy runner, the new year temptation is just to fill it with races. Which is exactly what I did in 2017... 2016 had been a write-off of a year, so I was keen as mustard to run as many races as possible. Greed has a price!

Since moving to Peru in 2015, I had discovered that there was a growing off-road/trail running community. Running here generally offsets the messy, chaotic battle that is daily life. I love my job, but the incessant noise, traffic, and general madness does drive me to distraction. Escaping to the dusty "cerros" of Lima is always a joy, even if it does mean a 4:30am alarm and not much kip!

So what went wrong?

I simply got too ambitious and entered into a continuous whirlpool/loop of "training-racing-crocked-training-racing-crocked..." Added to the mix were a catalogue of mishaps and illnesses, all of which contributed to 2017 being written off by September.

In general, runners are one of four types:

a) Injured
b) Coming back from injury.
c) About to be injured.
d) Two or more of the above.

I have been no exception: a crashing fall in February led to constant problems with my right knee all year. Lima belly - although not stopping me completely - didn't help in training.

The two big 2017 races were to be further afield. One in the Cordillera Blanca (Ancash) and the other in Cusco. Ancash is an 8-hour overnight bus ride

The Ultra Trail 69

The Ultra Trail 69 was an 80km race with a midnight start.

The excuse book came out two weeks earlier when I picked up an unshakable chest infection. Coughing like you smoke 80-a-day is never good news when you´re trying to run at altitude. Lima belly also kicked in a week before. My stomach used to be cast iron when I was back in Blighty, but in Lima, despite being ultra-careful/borderline Howard Hughes, I suffer on-off bad guts constantly.

I was in trouble from the start, but at the top of the first climb up Portachuelo Pass (4780m) I was really in trouble! Sick as a sickly dog, I couldn´t keep down any food nor fluids, and faced with another stiff climb up to Laguna 69, I decided to bail out along with a Chilean runner. Game over, but it still meant a long walk/jog back to the start. At the time I didn´t realise that it was to be my last race of the year. I got back into beating myself up in training and doing the miles and thousands of feet of climbing every week. There was still The Andes Race to focus on in August.

Then, a comedy disaster struck!

I was running back home along a path when I turned a corner and was faced with a waist-high obstacle! An industrial firehose being used by the municipal gardeners to water (drown) the parkland. Thinking I was Kriss Akabusi for a split second, I hurdled the hose and immediately felt a painful tearing sensation in my right calf! Not a show stopping injury (which almost made it worse), but it stopped me from cranking up the miles, which I would have needed to do for the 100km Andes Race. 

Lima is cloaked in grey cloud throughout winter and there was an even darker cloud over my head! Running is a bit of a psychological game and being on the sidelines is never good. I never made the start line of the Cusco Race nor did I race again in 2017. So, faced with an empty calendar in 2018, I held back a bit. There were many races I wanted to do, with new events popping up, but I had to be realistic and really needed to do things differently to avoid the same spiral/cycle of the previous two years.

Desafio Ruricancho

Desafio Ruricancho is billed as "The most extreme race in Lima".

I ran it last year and it is a bit like running across the moon en-route to the sun! Very, very sparse in vegetation and no escape nor respite from the burning midsummer sun, despite the 6am start. (It may have been a 6am start, but I was up before 3am, so with most of my neighbours still belting out the same-old Salsa racket, I slipped out and across the city to the distant district of San Juan de Lurigancho for a 4:30am briefing!)

The thing I really like about Desafio Ruricancho is that there are no pretenses, no big sponsors and no glamour! It is just a hard race run in a down-to-earth way. Fiercely competitive. I have run it twice, but it is just a bit too technical for my clumsy size 13s! 6500ft climbing over a linear, lunar landscape 21 mile switchback course, with a painful sting in the tail. It starts in the middle of the middle of nowhere and follows the rocky ridge southwards.

The finish line is atop Cerro San Cristobal, the diminutive bump dominating the city skyline with its huge illuminated cross, the last climb is always painful! I finished in mid-field-obscurity and started to think about the season ahead, always a danger as I then (naturally) got crocked (again) soon after the DR race. Not a showstopper, but my right knee made it very clear that hills were not going to be on the agenda for a while :-(

I don´t like running on the road and I especially don´t like running on the road here in Lima. Rutted pavements, millions of pedestrians, zillions of hairy road crossings and the fumes of a legion of cars/combis that should have been laid to rest (scrapped) decades ago...

So, on that note, I entered the 2018 Lima Marathon!

Lima Marathon

I ran my first marathon in Manchester in 2001. I was bullied into it by two work colleagues. We all finished in under 3 hours and won the team prize, I said "never again". It was purgatory. It was just a l-o-n-g time trial around the Ring Road! I did resist doing another marathon for 14 years, until we first came back here in 2015.

2015: I ran round in 3hrs 5 mins on the back of 6 weeks training.

2016:  I got round in 3hrs 10 mins off 5 weeks training.

In 2018 I had 7 weeks! What could I do???

This time I did things differently. I have a brilliant physio who gave me a training programme (the first time I have followed a programme since I was a teenager!)

The training was brutal. All-consuming. It was hard graft but it started to pay off and I arrived to the start line feeling very focussed. I lived about 2 miles from the start so I walked there in the cool half-light of a May dawn.

Due to my Manchester time, I had qualified to enter into a "corral", a pen of runners who had all done a specific time, to be a bit further up the field. (It is a battle in a huge, huge field of runners. The elite athletes were naturally at the very front on the actual start line, we were about 50m behind, but of course loads of people had sneaked in and any advantage that could have been gained was lost due to the sheer volume of folk!)

"Kilometres, you need to think in Kilometres!"

My pace schedule (and all my previous training) was in KMs.

After 30-odd years of working in miles, it is tricky doing the sums.

I had to run each KM in (as-near-as-damn-it) 4 minutes.

The first 2km were a disaster, I just got stuck behind a wall of people, then as the road widened, I started to put the hammer down and held it. (Road) marathons are as much as a mental game as they are physical.

How fast can you run? How long can you hold that pace?

It is a risky game: if the wheels do fall off, you can find yourself a long way from home with nothing in the tank.

It´s a tightrope!

One good thing about KMs over miles is that they pass quicker!





Passed two Kenyan runners! (One was walking, the other was getting in an ambulance).



41.5km (almost got taken out by a pushbike).

42km... (finish line in sight)

42.1km Done, in!

36th/3000, 3rd V45, overall time: 2:53:5.

My quads seized up immediately and I limped home for coffee, food, a shower and sleep.

Misti Sky Race

The plan was to have some time off afterwards, so after a week of idleness I started up again, but I was struck down with illness and niggles. The marathon had taken its toll. Races on the calendar were crossed out or cancelled, June and July flew past, so now the plan is to go straight to the Misti Sky Race in Arequipa in November. 26 miles and 7611ft of slogging upwards!

El Misti is a dormant volcano in the south of Peru. If you asked a child to draw a mountain, they would probably draw one like El Misti. It is just a perfect symmetrical cone, a very high symmetrical cone, about the same loftiness as Kilimanjaro. I first saw it in 2004 and thought "One day, I´ll climb that!" Hopefully in November, I´ll do just that!

Watch this space...

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