Friday, June 28

Running through the Beauty of the Lost City (Inca Trail Marathon 2013)

Arrived the city of Lima late night on the 29th of May greeted by the  Andean cool winter breeze. It was cold (at least for me). Coming from a place that has been experiencing extreme summer heat, all I hope for at that very moment was that I hope I  packed enough winter clothing to keep me warm  on the entire trip especially on the days that I will be at the camp and most especially on the race proper. It was dark, and just few steps out of the airport was the hotel where I will be staying for the night. Carmela from Andes Adventures was there to assist us and as soon as we got settled in our rooms, I excitedly claim my welcome drink, I opted to try the famous native drink of Peru, the Pisco Sour. I am not into drinks  with alcohol but I said I'll give it a try, not bad after all. I just had few sip and decided to hand it over to my friend. Aside from Coca Tea, I never thought this will be the start of my several Pisco Sour welcome drinks in the coming days.

An early flight the following day bring us to the ancient city of Cuzco, the ancient capital of the Inca Empire and the continent's oldest continuously inhabited city. Hoteles Costa Del Sol will  be our home for 6 days of this adventure. And just like Lima, the weather in Cuzco was also cold. Each day from the 31st of  May has been  spent on running and exploring the beauty of this ancient place. 25 participants, 20 of which are runners from 7 countries,  with the American Race Director, Devy, and 2 local guides. Thanks to the five days spent  few hours of running and a day of trek to the campsite before the full trail marathon race came, all of those activities give myself a chance to acclimatize to the altitude and get used to the cold weather. Each day of running has been spent on famous landmarks and historical places significant to the culture and history of this region. I am so blessed for not all runners/trekkers and/or tourists can experience and see the beauty of  some parts if this country by running.

I come and join this expedition with less expectations for I do not even thought that this scheduled trip will ever push through. Last minute decision, finally packed my things and boarded the plane. Everything did not sink into my mind that I am going for an adventure of a lifetime, that I am going to a sacred place of a long lost civilization, a place that most people dream of going, my dream destination as well. All I think and know is that I am going to run a full marathon on a trail/road  that is  carved and artistically  laid by the hands of the Inca people hundred of years ago. Just enjoy what ever this trip will bring me was all I think of. As usual, I thought, just smile, explore and make the best out of what the place can offer.

Bringing inside my bag tones of excitement and less of expectations on my running performance,  I did not even know that in the next few days I will embark to do  "The Most Difficult Marathon in the World." The past 17 years, in the absence of the GPS technology to measure the correct distance of the trail, what Andes Adventures (the organizing team) has been doing is just 33km trail race along the ancient Inca Trail which is now called the Inca Classic Trail Run. Beginning this year, with the right measurement, (thanks to the invention of GPS), the distance has been measured and corrected to  a full marathon, 42.2km to be exact,  with an elevation gain of 10,384ft. Those figures did not really sink into my mind at all. Not even the running cut off time of 13 hours and a cut off of 3:30pm at the main entrance gate to Machu Picchu National Park.  Otherwise runners who will not reach within that time will go on detour to the trail that will lead to the hotel that the group will be staying,  that will serve as the finish line rather than on the famous Machu Picchu ruins.  Much worst if runners cannot really reach the detour point within day time,  an emergency camp at Phuyupatamarca, few more kilometers before the entrance gate to of Machu Picchu is being prepared. After the race briefing, two of the runners who originally signed up to do the Full Marathon  down graded to the Inca Trail Classic distance which I did not know even before few hours after the race proper. 

All the runners doing the two race categories stayed for the night at the camp on a tent before the race proper at Llactapata (2,638MASL), less than a kilometer away from the starting line. The campsite is situated on a valley surrounded by towering mountains of the Urubamba mountain range facing on an ancient ruin. The place is cold but with a magnificent view. The early lights off did not help me get an early good night sleep. It was cold inside the tent, even inside my sleeping bag. I wish I brought  my much warmer one, and much warmer inner layers, it took me a while to get a comfortable position and finally doze off to sleep but had to wake up several times to pee. The magnificent view of the glittering stars that shines bright through the Peruvian sky is just really beautiful.

Race Proper, June 5, 2013

I have been awake even before the wake up call of 2:00am, I am not too sure if I really got a good sleep, I can hear my tent mate snoring which I wish I had the same deep sleep too. As I hear one porter giving the signal for full marathon runners to get up and prepare, I pulled myself out of my sleeping bag, change to running gear, pack all my things, go out to pee  and eat breakfast. This is it, no any other day but this day. This is what we come here for and all of us are really excited to finally do it. It is still cold, with my lavender water resistant TNF jacket on and a buff to cover my face, we started the trek to the starting line 30 minutes before the gun start. It's a trek of a little over 15 minutes on a gradual ascend trail that eventually joins the old Inca Trail.

While waiting for the gun start I had to take off my last outer layer of upper clothing, my rain jacket leaving only my TNF technical long sleeves and another technical short sleeve shirt as my base layer. All set and ready to go.

Standing at the uphill of the Ancient Inca Trail that is only lighted by the rays of our head torches,  with my fellow 13  full marathon runners, few local crews and the Race Director Devy, I had no ambitious goal on my finish time on this race. All I thought was just douse myself with  positive vibes while running through the beauty of this magnificent place and just enjoy my run. I did not even have my usual chart of calculated time on certain distance, one thing that I always prepare on almost all my runs in the past. It is still dark, at exactly 4:00am all us started our most awaited adventure. Off we go. As usual I am taking my slow pace after gun start while most of  the other runners just run to their faster strides and slowly one by one were gone out of my sight in front of me. My slow pace was just proper to adjust to the gradual ascend of the trail while getting used to the cold early morning breeze while my lungs was getting used to the gradual thinning air.

And just few kilometers from the start even before reaching the last inhabit village of the Inca Trail, the village of Wayllabamba (2,951MASL), it already started to rain. Though it is only a steady minor drops combining it with the cold breeze of this season, early on I wish I brought with me my favorite red gortex TNF jacket. All I hope for was the rain to stop or at least will not continue to a heavier down pour. It gets colder and colder as I make my way up to the first major hill to Chakrachay (3,642MASL). This is just a 6km distance from the starting line but with an abrupt elevation gain of almost 700M through climbing at the edge of the hill. I catch up with the New Zealand runner Tim Manning early on the slope and we were running/trekking almost together on the climb of this place, with me leading the pace. Few kilometers after we catch up with Dawn Estelle, the Triathlete Mom of Winter Vinecki from Salem, Oregon. I was still ok with my pace  despite the gradual ascend, it was my wet upper clothing that made me worried this early on, I might not be able to sustain on the more higher elevation.

As the day slowly breaks while negotiating to this uphill trail I can  hear the sound of the river below way below the slope if teh mountain side.  I am already soak on the rain. But despite my condition it was rewarding to see and witness the beauty of the tall mountain ranges  that surrounded this place. And surprisingly the leading runner, Matt Pepler from New Zealand is already running his fastest stride on the way back down the trail. Wow...Amazing, he is just incredibly fast. Until more runners followed on their way down. Running 10th among the 16 runners that I know will be running the full marathon, I can hear the coming runners saying 10 more minutes, almost there. 2 and a half hours after the start I finally reach  the turn around point at Chakrachay, a little over 12km from the starting line. I am cold, wet and both arms  numb, I cannot feel anything. I know I had to go down faster to recover. While taking some food, Tim arrive and just few minutes after Dawn did. After few bites of bread I run down ahead of them, until Dawn and Tim catch up with me running down fast, in fact they were not running, I see them flying. They were really fast that it was just impossible for me to catch up with them. Hhhmm, I shouldn't be the last runner for there are still two runners negotiating this uphill slope towards the turn around point. At the junction on my way back to the village of Wayllabamba, I was already with the sweeper of the race, a local guide. Only then I found out that  I am the last runner of the full marathon.   Jeff and Mike (all the while I thought will be running the full marathon) decided to do the Inca Trail Classic route. As early as this part,  I was already with the company of the sweeper, which turn out to be  a very big help especially towards the second half of the race. 

Oh by the way, this is a race that is kept at a very very  low key. Runners do not wear bib numbers, no trail signs along the trail and no start and finish archs and banners at the start and finish line. No flaglets, no usual running signages at the side of any part of the route.

Back at Wayllabamba village mark a little over 18km distance, almost 4 hours on the trail, I am now with the company of Tim Manning. He is just few meters ahead of me. But as soon as we join the Inca Trail proper, it was already a never ending uphill for me and I am now joined by the hikers, local guides and porters carrying around 20kgs on their back. Sorry for me, it was all steep steep uphills, at some point I wish there were flats or a downhill part. Until we enter the mossy trees on rocky steps. Starting at this point all I wish for are my precious trekking poles. I know it could have been of great help on this part especially that I am seeing Tim on his poles way ahead of me.

I was never happy with my pace at all. The only reward for me was the beautiful view of the mountain ranges with clouds down below. Until a surprise water station at the middle of the uphill slope. Wow. Happiness. At least this will give me a chance to rest. I am now a little over 21km with 3,306MASL elevation at Ayapata. I catch up with Reagan Rice, a retired Navy from Florida, USA who used to be stationed at Subic Bay, Philippines in the late 70's. He mentioned several Filipino food he was fond of eating on his stay in the country including balut. And I catch with Tim here too.

After grabbing a bite of bread and sip of the soup, without resting my legs, I resume my uphill struggle. It was a relentless climb up to another camp  with an elevation gain  450MASL from the last aid station. Lots of climbers and porters preparing to start the trek that will eventually join me on the uphill adventure. As I come to the open trail of steps made of laid stones leaving the forest line, all I can see is the beautiful mountain range in front,  both sides (on the left and on the right) and at the back leaving the valley down where we come from early this day. On the right side of the mountain is a sweet surprise of the magnificent view of Mt. Veronica that is covered by snow.

In front of me is my final task on this part of the trail, The Dead Woman's Pass (Warmiwanusqa)  4,206MASL, the highest elevation of this trail, the highest peak of this race. With 5km distance from the last camp site, it has an altitude gain of 1,200MASL. No wonder I was just struggling this bad.  I can see each person in front of me moving, but on a slower pace just like me.  The Pass looks near but every step towards it was not easy, I need to stop, at some point sit down on the side and catch up my breath. What an agonizing feeling seeing Tim in front of me slowly moving forward while I am stopping more often to catch up my breath. I can feel the thinning air while my lungs is grasping more air. All the more I thought of my trekking pole. Several times I had to ask the sweeper to open my hydration pack to hand me some food. This difficult part  brings back my  memories of struggles on  my Mt. Aconcagua summit attempt and Kilimanjaro summit day. Hearing the words of encouragement from the hikers boosts my morale to step forward, push further and keep going. This part is just really agonizing but to DNF is not an option. I just had to move forward.

With a slow push further I finally made it to the top, covering almost 24km of the race course. Most of the hikers at this part take few minutes of rest, I wish I can do the same but I just cannot.   As I look ahead of me, the trail going down into the valley of Pacamayo is already calling. After few click of pictures, I rush down to the 3 kilometer descend on an uneven rocky steps of different sizes. One will just have to be extra careful not to injure oneself on this kind of trail. At almost noontime, I reach the next aid station, it was already hot including the Gatorade drink, a choices of fruits, noodles, soup, bread were available. I took little bites of some and proceed without even taking time to rest my legs again.  A little further after this station is another ascend of a combination of steps on ascending trail of stones to the next pass, Runkuchay Pass. It was already almost 12noon, I am still on my slow pace on all this uphill parts, despite the only 341meter of elevation gain. I was just struggling. Until the sweeper asked if I can still go on. Of course I had no other option but to continue the race despite my slow pace. He offered to bring my hydration pack which at first I refused. Passing by the ruins of the Watch Tower and the lake, I did not even take a picture at all, finally at the top of the pass again with an elevation of 3,962MASL. The mountain ranges covered with snow is just a great reward after a hard climb up.

And the sweeper said this will be the last steep ascend. Huh...what a relief. But hey, how many more hours for me to reach entrance gate of the Machu Picchu National Park, the entrance towards the finish line of this race? Around 4:30 to 5 hours Mam. What?!!! That was already 30 minutes after 12noon. Reaching that late was unacceptable. I asked further, 'if that is the case from this  part how many hours will it reach me to Phuyupatamarca?' around 1 hour 40 minutes. 'How about from that point to the entrance gate?' another 2 and half hours. Oh no, I will be in so much trouble if my pace will continue to be this slow. The gate will close at 3:30pm and they are strict about that. I need to push myself faster than my usual pace.

Giving my hydration pack to the sweeper, with a goal of reaching the gate by 3:00pm, I dash down the trail, run as fast as I can with the sweeper following me. I thank him so much of his presence, there were some junctions that I had to ask him which path to take. Remember, there was never a single trail sign placed on this race along the trail.

Leaving most of the climb, it's now mostly flat or downhill but on a rocky steps that leads to Sayacmarca, 3,580MASL. Passing three tunnels  in between stone paved trails, this is  such a magnificent construction of Inca trail with stone stair cases. It now leads to Phuyupatamarca, 3,653MASL, the 3rd and the last pass on this trail. I pass by Tim and few more kilometers I pass by Reagan. Few more meters down below is another aid station which I did not stop at all to grab anything, moving on was already the view of the Urubamba River.

I just run and run and run on the series of hundreds of steps made of stones which I finally learn the rhythm of hopping from one rock to the next of different sizes. As I go further, I pass by another ruins which we have to run on the stairs at the middle of the two terraces. I kept on asking the guide, 'where is the trail that leads to the Machu Picchu and where is Machu Picchu itself?' It turn out this part was still far to that point. Crossing the other side of the slope of the mountain, we then enter the cloud forest until I reach Weynay Wayna, 3,610MASL. Another campsite here, a small aid station with local marshals waiting for the runners and a toilet. The sweeper asked me if I need to have a bladder break, which I did not think at all. Even the sweeper probably noticed that I did not also do any toilet break on this race. All I have  in mind is to reach the gate before anything else. I proceed and few more meters is the most awaited gate to Machu Picchu National Park, its 2:40pm. I was just to glad  I made it to this part almost 20 minutes earlier than my target time.  The sweeper and my guide hand me over my hydration pack. It turn out he is not allowed anymore to enter the Machu Picchu National Park and I have to be on my own again up to the finish line.

Clueless of how many more kilometers to the finish line, I was just taking my slow pace again. It shouldn't be much longer anymore, I thought.  I was running on my own, sometimes pass by hikers who are just too happy to see me running for they there were already 17 more runners ahead of me that already pass by them at this time. Almost an hour inside this trail I reached the most awaited part   before reaching Intipata (The Sun Gate). It's the few meters of inclined steps that I hope I can use a rock climbing rope and harness to bring myself up to the other side. It's a four wheel drive for me, using my two hands and both legs, if only I can use my chin too. With legs already tired I just had to push up. I said to myself, the Machu Picchu site must be very precious for I have to endure this much, I have to run this far, I have to struggle that much in order to see its beauty. True enough, upon reaching the top of Sun Gate, with the sun almost to set, there before me is the ancient sacred city that is laid out in all its splendor, standing tall with all its beauty. Standing this high overlooking the Machu Picchu ruins surrounded by the towering mountain ranges is just a magnificent view to witness. I wanted to cry. It was all worth the sacrifice.

But hey, I am not done yet. I still have over  a kilometer to run down to the finish line. Confused of which part of the trail to go, though there is just one, I asked the Park Guide, which he leads me. Another  uneven stoney path. Guided with the view of the ruins I just run and run and run down. Until I never realized I was already at the finish line. Thanks to the presence of Siane and Nikki Manning, they were waiting for Tim to arrive. I did not realize I am already done with my full marathon.

A finish line with out a finishers banner or even just a plastic string to indicate  the you are already done, I bring out my Philippine flag and asked Siane to take some photo of me. Happy, very happy that I finished 12th among the 14 full marathoners. I just did my most difficult race ever (that is at least for me).

I am glad I decided to join this trip, I did The Most Difficult Marathon in the World. It was all worth it. I have no right to do the analysis if it really was the most difficult full marathon after all,  for unlike the other runners of this race who did several extreme races compared to myself. (I only did 27 full and ultra marathons of my over 2 years of running, 8 of those 27 are full marathons.) More than the distance and the elevation gain, it is the running experience on this ancient place that makes this adventure a worth while adventure. Inca Trail Marathon is a big check. You are so lovely and sweet to me. Thank you.

I thank few people that has a big heart who helped me make this trip happen, without them I will not be on this part of the globe. My forever Sing Phil Enterprise team who continuously support my local and international adventures, thank you Elete Electrolytes, Altra Shoes, SLS3 for the support. Thank you to the power of Essentials, Coquinone, Procosa and Active keep me going.

This is a well organized race by Andes Adventure, it is always a pleasure to meet and to be with a lot of different runners and people on some parts of the world. You all make part of my story book. Thank you. I hope I will bump into some of you someday somewhere on my adventures.   

Race Itinerary - Inca Trail Marathon to Machu Picchu 2013
2013 Inca Trail Marathon to Machu Picchu Race Result
Inca Trail Marathon Photo Gallery taken by Othe Participants

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