I love running, I have run since I was a lad (mainly because I was appallingly bad at most/all other sports), but like most passionate relationships there have been rocky patches, where I have fallen out of love with the sport I love…
I love the open spaces, the hills, fells, moors and mountains. Off-road is much more preferable to the road for me. Although most of my running life has been about racing, as I have got older/slower I much prefer long training runs outside of a race situation. However my races/fitness levels looked like a very erratic ECG reading with some unpredictable highs and a lot of low lows. After the Nipper was born in 2015, running took a back seat, with working long shifts/crazy hours it went from the back seat into the boot and with a transcontinental move from Blighty to Peru, it frazzled out completely.
One of the things that I love about running is that you can do it almost anywhere, anytime, with not a lot of (fancy/expensive) equipment. A pair of trainers and you´re away (plus clothes, obviously. I am not against nor condoning naturalism!) If you train hard you get better, if you get better, you train harder. However, it´s not just about that. It is one of the few sports that you can actually compete in the same race as the best on the planet (if you run in one of the big city marathons). You couldn´t just rock up to Wimbledon, Brands Hatch, Elland Road or Headingley (Rugby League, Union and cricket) and say you fancy a game. It is something that doesn´t require a lot of technique, you just run, as fast/slow as you like/can. The incredible success of the Parkrun series is testament to this. It is a good way to get stress out of your system, get fit and get some fresh air, all in a relatively short workout.
Round about April 2015 I saw a poster for the Lima Marathon. I ran (was press ganged into) the Manchester Marathon in 2000 and had said “never again”. How selective the memory can be!
I signed up and ran every day for 6 weeks. Despite almost breaking my foot (crashing into a stack of plastic chairs on my motorbike, that had fallen off a lorry on the Panamericana Highway, this is Lima), I got to the start line in one piece and jogged round in 3hrs and 5mins. However the mean streets and crumbling pavements of the city were of zero motivation/inspiration to me after the race and I very quickly relapsed into lazy ways again. With no target nor goals I switched my energies to exploring the local trails on my dirtbike and my trainers gathered dust on my dusty balcony, (Lima is on the coast but actually in a desert, hemmed in by dusty montañas, so dust is in plentiful supply here).
A well-timed “Enter now and get a big discount” email from the organisers in April 2016 saw me signing up for the marathon again. A highly unoriginal target, but a target nonetheless. It gave me just 5 weeks to get fit this time, so I ran 6 days a week and got to the start line in one piece. Plodding round in 3hrs 10mins, I was relatively happy, but a chance discovery 2 weeks previously had changed things completely. Before lumbering round 26-and-a-bit miles of city centre tarmac mid May, my sights were fixed on new trails and mine eyes were lifted upwards to the dusty, rocky montañas that had been catching my eye ever since I first moved here…
DESAFIO HUAROCHIRI league!
Three races up in the monta%C3%B1as of the 'Sierra de Lima%E2%80%9D; out of the city but still within the vast area that encompasses the department of Lima. Some of it familiar territory from previous Clunk expeditions, other parts brand new to me. Excitement levels were off the scale.
Race I %E2%80%93 Cocachacra (18.5km/1160m)
I had no expectations, nor ideas what to expect. I knew nobody who had run it, so it was to be an adventure. As fate/bad luck would have it, training was going well into the first race, but I copped for some seriously bad guts. This wasn%C2%B4t just an upset stomach, this was something far more unpleasant. I%C2%B4ll spare you the details but I didn%C2%B4t dare venture more than 30 seconds away from a toilet for a week, so was a tad worried on race day. Leaving the dank, grey cloak of Lima to burst into brilliant, blue skies and a blazing sun just 2 hours away from my house was bliss. I%C2%B4d taken a bus laid-on by the organisers, but due to tardiness of some folk, we arrived with 10mins to 'The Off%E2%80%9D. It was going to be close. Everybody has their pre-race routine, but my only priority was finding a bathroom. The infamous scene from 'Trainspotting%E2%80%9D came to mind when I did find it, but I was past caring. Changed into race gear and then OFF. Up into the hills, starting at 4600ft rising skywards to 8300ft and plunging back to where we all started. I%C2%B4m used to fell races and navigation, but this was different. It was well marked and marshalled, it even had a drinks station! The higher we got, the more breathtaking the view (and exertion) was. It had a bit of everything, including a technical singletrack bit. At the top we were directed down a wide trail, more like a road and I presumed it was all the way to the finish. A trail I had Clunked down many times. I was just daydreaming how tricky it could have been 'in reverse%E2%80%9D. Always be careful what you wish for!
Around a sweeping bend, with incredible view west over soaring peaks (that one day I will venture on to), we were suddenly diverted down a tiny, tiny trail which felt like it had been covered in ball-bearings. Despite my new grippy-as-glue shoes, I felt like I was wearing roller skates, and the gaping drop to the left was not something you would want to tumble down. Sometimes on descents you just need to “let go” as tensing up makes it worse! I got back into my stride and was enjoying it immensely. The finish was in sight, but it was like looking down at it from an aeroplane! There was still a l-o-n-g way to go. As I´d been holding back (partly because of my stomach and partly because I simply didn´t want to blow-up, up there) I had a fair bit left and started to overtake tail-enders in the shorter race. Into the grandstand to booming music and a very, very enthusiastic race commentator, I´d done it. Race I in the bag.
Result: 19th/4th V40.
Race II – Matucana. 21km/1280m
Another hour-&-a-bit up the Carretera Central lies the town of Matucana, lodged in the bottom of a steep valley at an altitude of 7800ft. Training had been ok and my guts had finally stopped rumbling/grumbling/exploding. The bus arrived with a good 30mins to spare and it was the most beautiful day imaginable. It had been an early start. Up at 4am having had to endure the over-volume style music that is prevalent in Lima, (especially in my “Barrio”, and especially when I have to get up early). As I walked across the Panamericana Highway the fiesta was still in full-swing, at 5am!
Back up in the hills, this was a different beast of a course. Much more my cup of tea. A long, steep climb out of the valley to the isolated tinpot, one donkey villages in the clouds, where you reflect on just how different life must be. A freefalling drop, then the sting in the tail. A second climb and then a brilliant sliver of a trail contouring around the slopes. It was running-in-the-mountains bliss.
I had been dropped by the leading pack, but was ahead of the “peloton”, in no-man´s land, but accompanied by 3 dogs who were content just to jog along behind me for this stretch. One final checkpoint/water station, where I allowed myself to stop for a second to drink in the view. I never carry a camera in a race, but I wish I´d had one at that moment. A sense of being high in the hills, but also being dwarfed by much bigger montañas across the valley. Humbling, inspiring and mesmerizing in equal doses. No time for loitering though, I had a race on my hands.