Inca Trail Marathon- August 20th, 2009.
August 19th- Today we traveled to Piscacucho by bus where were dropped off to run 8 miles to our camp for our overnight before the Marathon. We decided to take the run easy today, actually we walked the entire way so that we could save our energy for race day. We got to our camp and were amazed as well as excited about the set-up. This is the first time I think we have ever went camping and did not have to set up our tents! There were about 60 porters arranged to take care of us at camp as well as on marathon day. Each of us brought with us clothes, shoes, etc. to provide to the porters as a thank you! We had a special ceremony which was very touching at our campsite (you can view pictures of the campsite and ceremony in picture gallery). I think the food that we had at the camp was some of the best food we had the entire trip. The cooks were fabulous and service was incredible. I love these kinds of trips as they give you the opportunity to meet great people and begin to develop relationships that can last a lifetime. It was amazing that we met Dan and Julie (Dan is from Microsoft as well) on this trip. Spent some good times with them and looking forward to meeting up with them again.
We were given the option of an early start if we wished for the marathon so that we had plenty of time to finish. Given our past experiences and the fact that we wanted to take our time and take pictures we opted for the early start. We were woken up at 3:15 am for a 4:30 departure (20 minute walk in the dark) to the start line. We got ready for the race with the light from our headlamps and headed out to the master tent for breakfast. We had a great breakfast of porridge and pancakes (best I have had, well close to mine but not better :). Excitement was definitely mounting as we were ready to go even though we knew that we had to run the first 3 miles in the dark (rather walk fast as there was no need to run as we had an hour to get to the control gate before it would be opened at 6am). Approximately 17 of us chose the early start so it was great not to be alone. It was a little challenging walking in the dark….but let me tell you…nothing compared to what we were to experience the rest of the day!!
Typically this trail run/walk is done in 3 days with overnight camps on the trail. Again, since we are marathon runners we decided to take on the challenge of doing this in one day. Given the fact that we had been in Peru for a good 4 days now and had the opportunity to become acclimated with a few runs during pre-race day we felt that we were ready for the elevations. We had a rude awakening as we started on our journey up the mountains( we had 3 passes that we had to complete that day: 13,779 Dead Womans Pass, Pass above the Runkuruqay ruins 13,000 ft, and the pass above Phuyupatamarca ruins (11,939). With a finish at Machu Picchu at 7,872 feet. We were very fortunate in that we had an absolutely perfect day in regards to weather. The weather prior to race day was back and forth rain and just plain nasty…but we were lucky in that we had a bright sunny day.
As we headed up the first mountain pass it was around 6 am and therefore there was some daylight and we were able to turn off our headlamps. It was still very cool though which was a good thing as I could not imagine hiking up this mountain in the early morning in the heat. We actually had to put our coats on at one point to keep us warm as we became a little chilled.
As we headed up the first pass it became apparent that the day was going to be a challenge given the elevations…and the steps, yes I said steps. The entire Inca Trail is made up of steps (well I say entire because I remember very few areas where one could even attempt to run without risking a possible injury from taking their eyes off of the rocks that laid out our paths in front of us)… As we headed up dead women’s pass, when we got to about elevation 10,000′ we really started to have difficulty breathing. In fact, we had to stop about every 5 steps and catch our breath. It was weird because you would be walking up the steps and then your legs would get real heavy and you could not breath as it was like the oxygen was not making its way through my body and therefore it made it touch to lift any of my limbs. After about a 60 second rest we would take another 5 steps and up we would go. I remember so clearly looking up ahead of us…thinking we were almost at the top only to come around another corner and see our teammates climbing another part of the mountain…I cannot tell you how many times I said to myself “I don’t know how we are going to do this…I just don’t know how” , and this was only the first mountain! Well we moved along the best we could and waved and spoke friendly words of encouragement to all of our teammates as they passed us on the trail. David and I knew we would be last and we really didn’t care…we just wanted to make it to the finish! At one point, and I don’t know how long it was we followed an old women and her donkey and for the next mile or so we would pass her and she would pass us. Then we followed a llama…many porters passing us as well. We just shook our heads and wondered if we would be out of this before nightfall. Well we made it to the top of the first pass (Pass of the Dead Woman-13,779′). They say the pass was named this because a women perished from exposure at the top of the pass after a blinding snowstorm. …..it took us approximately 6 hours to do this…and we had 2 more passes to go…I was calculating in my head how long this was going to take us and based on my calculations I was figuring that there was no way we were going to meet the control point where they locked the gates by the time we needed to be there…but we continued to move on. The view at the top was inexplicable…one that I cannot put into words or capture in a picture! We were well above the clouds and it felt as though we were experiencing a piece of heaven!
We thought that the climb down would be much easier than the climb up. Well it was in a sense, but we were unable to make up any ground as we had to take the steps very slowly as they were very uneven and went from huge steps to small steps, etc..
As they day transpired I did not feel as though my muscles were tired from all the climbing and descending. The only thing that was really tiring was the inability to breathe. This coupled with the fact that we had to watch our step the entire way made it quite challenging. We continued on our way up the second pass (Runkurakay pass) at 13,100′ Again, this was another tough pass given the high elevation we continued to have to stop after 5-10 steps to catch our breath. At this point I think we really lost track of time. We were so beaten that all we did was really just focus on taking on the steps. We did take some time and enjoy the scenery as we were in the clouds and it was absolutely beautiful. We started to warm up as the sun was definitely out now and starting to beat down on us. This pass was definitely one of the passes that was deceiving. I would tell David “ok, I can see the top”, and then I would round a corner and there was another steep climb…I think this happened 4 times on the course.
Along the way we encountered the Runkurakay watchtower ruins at 12, 464 feet. At the top of the second summit, 13,100 feet we had great views of the glaciated peaks of the Cordilera Vilcabamba. After we reached the second summit much of the tough climb was done or at least that is what we were told. We did go downhill for a quite a while but all the time in our heads were thinking “ok, if we are going down we know that we have to turn around and go right back up”…which of course is exactly what we did!
The trail from the second summit down descends rocky slopes and reaches the fortress of Sayacmarca. From here we went through an Inca Tunnel with carved steps leading to Phyupatamarca “Town in the Clouds” at 11, 674′.
As we headed up the third summit we noticed that one of the sweepers (porter responsible for clearing the trail for the day) was behind us. I guess since we were the last ones (at least we thought we were) that he was there to insure that we made it. After about 10 minutes we noticed that one of our running mates was behind us, Stephanie! She was struggling as we were which made for a nice chat and also some great encouragement. When we reached the top of the third summit we were told that we need to make it to the control point in one hour and 15 minutes which was basically 7 miles from where we were at. If we did not make it to the control point then we would not be allowed into the Sacred Valley and would have to take an alternative route and miss the Sun Gate. Given our calculations I did not think this was possible but the porters (Edison and Marco) said that they would help us. They told us to watch their footing as we climbed and descended the steps. Following Marco with Edison behind us was the first time that I felt that we were closest to running a marathon. We definitely increased our pace and watching their footsteps and following them definitely made things easier.
I think at this point we were doing 10 minutes miles which was pretty fast on the rocky steps. The majority of this was downhill’s so this made the trek much easier even though it was a rocky. I will never forget looking at my watch and seeing that we had about 4 minutes left to make it to the control gate…I saw the gate in the distance and started running..and I mean running as if I were at the end of the marathon running to win the race Marco’s face was hilarious when he looked back at David and I…he could not believe his eyes he saw us all day struggling the steps fighting for our breath and now he saw the true runners in us…runners that were not willing to give up and WERE going to make the cut-off time…which we did with 2 minutes to spare! The entire time from mile 17 to 24 Marco was in communication with Devy and team to give them updates on where we are to see if they could keep the gate open for us…and of course they did till 4:45 which was now almost 12 hours of trekking for us. After going through the control gate, Marco and Edison told us we could stop for a minute and rest. They said we have approximately 3 miles to go and that we could take our time. We decided to do just that and pretty much walked for the first 1 1/2 miles. Then Marco received a call telling him that the last bus leaves at 5:30 we needed to run. I looked at Marco and said “Can we make it? “ He looked at me again and said “follow me! “ So we were off again, fast paced, downhill. Thank goodness we were following every step he made. True delight was experienced when we finally reached the Sun Gate or Inti Punku. We climbed the 50 vertical steps up to the Sun Gate basically on our hands and knees and were awestruck by its beauty…from there we ran down the trail that led to the finish line and noticed that many of our running mates were finishing right in front of us! There were many runners that stuck around for a good 2-3 hours waiting for all of us to get in and I cannot tell them how grateful I am for them and how good this made us feel at the end!
I will have to say that this was the TOUGHEST marathon that I have ever done! I cannot imagine anything being any tougher. Antarctica and Great Wall of China were nothing compared to this marathon. This truly was an experience of a lifetime and I thank David for sharing every beautiful and challenging moment with me. These are memories that we will cherish forever together. I also want to thank Devy, Eddy, Abalardo and all of the Porters and Andes Adventures Team for their support and encouragement during this entire trip! They are the most amazing customer focused tour group that we have traveled with today! Lastly, to all of our friends that we met during this time…we thank you for your patience, for your encouragement and for the times you shared with us. Together we share this special bond, memories and connection to a unique part of the world that we are so fortunate to have traveled together.
- Asking ourselves “Why did we not do the 2 day marathon”
- The elevation
- The summits- Would they ever end
- Taking one step and stopping to breathe
- Worrying about David
- Seeing so many runners breakdown
- The old lady with the bundles on her back with the camel beating us up the mountains
- Our escorts
- The great food
- Machu Picchu’s beauty
- Ande’s Adventure’s excellent tour
Completing the marathon and making many great friends!