By Clare Morin
As the sun set over the pre-race day in the Chilean desert, we caught up two of the top contenders for this year’s Atacama Crossing - the Danish runner Anders Jensen and America’s George Chmiel.
Both racers have put in impressive performances in previous races, with Anders earning first place in the Sahara Race 2010. “I was glad the race was over,” he says. “But it went quite some time before I really realized I won the race. I remember I was searching on the RacingThePlanet past results and then my name among Ray Zahab, Ryan Sandes and Jimmi Olsen, then I realized what I’d done!”
It may have taken a while for the news to sink in, but the Singapore-based athlete has been quick to make sure he has had ideal training conditions for the Atacama Crossing. The Dane has combined midweek speed workouts and five-to-eight hour runs on the weekends, with core training in the gym. And then, two weeks ago he got on a plane and flew to South America to train in altitudes of 4,000 meters on the Bolivian border.
Anders shared this time in Bolivia with another strong contender, Youssef Khater. “I’ve been talking to him and training with him on the Bolivian border and he looks very strong!” he warns.
Despite his advantage of training in high altitudes, Anders says that there has nonetheless been a strong sense of nervous anticipation looming with the Atacama Crossing. “For me, everything will be difficult,” he predicts. “The altitude, the terrain, the hills, the cold nights and to get a victory! Everyone I’ve talked to says that this is the absolutely toughest race of the 4 Deserts, and I can only imagine after I have been training here for two weeks.”
American competitor George Chmiel hasn’t had the advantage of training in Chile and Bolivia before the race, but he has been sleeping in an altitude tent in his home in Massachusetts. The 30-year old has also been undertaking a lot of speed work, high intensity and burst training, strength training and Pilates. “I have also just run a marathon on Sunday in a snowstorm at sea level,” he says with a laugh. “A totally opposite experience!”
George is another experienced 4 Deserts athlete who, when he looks back at his experience in the Sahara Race 2010 and RacingThePlanet: Australia, says: “After the last stage [of both events] I swore I’d never do this again. I just collapsed and was shaking. But already the next day I was ready for it again.”
He says it’s the thrill of testing one’s body against the elements, pushing oneself mentally and physically, and also the appeal of fundraising for his goddaughter Lucy who suffers from panhypopit (a growth hormone deficiency) that is continually pushing him forward.
But like Anders, it was a sense of the unknown that filled his mind the night before the Atacama Crossing unfolded.
“The Sahara Race was nice, nothing unexpected,” he says. “Here there are more unknowns, the heat, terrain, altitude…. I have conflicting emotions,” he admits. “On the one hand eager and energized, on the other hand nervous about the unknowns.”
Both men knew that all was needed, was for them to stop thinking and start running, to get out there and – as we are now watching - let the event unfold in all of its challenging euphoria.