By Clare Morin
Five teams took part in the Atacama Crossing 2011, but only two were able to cross the finish line at the end of the 250 kilometers. Chile’s Team Andes-Gear was one of these teams – a fascinating group of four who hail from Temuco, a city in the Araucanía Region of southern Chile.
We spoke to them the morning after the long stage. “It was not easy, but being out there and finishing as a team was our goal and that’s how we kept it together,” explains Cristian Valdivieso, a famed Chilean mountaineer who has summated Everest and K2 among other conquests. “Of course there were times when one was feeling more energetic and one was dragging behind; it was challenging, but the rules had been decided early on.”
Rock solid teamwork has surrounded this group from the very beginning. They first decided to enter when Ican Ferreira Ponce and Luis Riquelme had been following the 4 Deserts events, and decided to go for it. “We were all gym mates,” explains the fourth member, Mauricio Bernal Chaparro, an upbeat character with a huge laugh that fills the entire campsite.
“We got curious about the event, and played with the idea. A little later we started running together with the goal in mind, and soon after signed up.” Their coach, Christian Sieveking was another inspiration - he had also signed up (although not in their team) and created a year-long training program for Team AndesGear.
Mauricio states the sheer of importance of teamwork, and of knowing each other extremely well. “Our running styles are not the same, but through training we have become more similar,” he says. “And more importantly we know each other very well and know how to read each other, to recognize the frustration, fatigue and other challenges on the course.”
They have exhibited some excellent teamwork (and huge expressions of happiness and laughter when they have finished their stages), and hopefully will inspire their Chilean compatriots to also race on home soil. “[The ultra running scene] is very small here,” says Mauricio of the fairly low number of Chilean entrants. “You can count the runners on two hands. However, the majority of our hometown sent us off with best wishes, so we have received a lot of positive support.”
They explain that things are gradually improving, although the Atacama Crossing still seems like a “tough and impossible idea” for many Chilean runners. But it was the very nature of this race, its sheer scale and immense challenge, that they say has given them an entire year of enjoyment. Says Mauricio, “Knowing it would be tough gave us our training goal, and kept us motivated for the whole year.”