Motivated by friends in Luxembourg to return to the challenges of the Chilean desert, Beat Hintermann and his twin brother, Max, are second-time competitors in the Atacama Crossing 2012 who remain captivated by the exhilaration that awaits.
Beat, whose name is derived from the lexicon of the Romans and means “the happy one,” says he is again thrilled to be “among these crazy runners fighting every day against the heat.” As 54-year-olds from Switzerland, the Hintermanns have spent several years preparing for serious competition. Beat participated previously in the Ultratrail du Mont Blanc, the Diagnole des Fous and the Marathon des Sables. Together with Max, he twice tackled the Annapurna Mandala Trail in the ragged mountains of Nepal, competed regularly in road races like the Swiss Alpine Marathon, and created a formidable team for several two-day mountain and orienteering marathons.
Their twin instinct is especially strong in competitive environments and “creates a harmony for us,” says Beat. “We have won several competitions, and beaten teams with better runners, because we have the advantage of running together in our best harmony.” The internal synchronization can unfortunately work against them if one suffers a problem. When Beat dropped out of a race due to health issues in 2009, Max was instinctually hindered and followed suit, despite his good health.
Nevertheless, the brothers are among 150 competitors who are preparing to find new ways for their bodies to generate peak energy while competing in the Atacama Crossing 2012. Beat and Max prefer to digest fat rather than burn glycogen alone. To simulate that and build endurance capacity, the twins put mandatory emphasis on the need for long distance training runs. “Personally,” says Beat, “I prefer to do long runs in the mountains with running and walking combinations depending on terrain and elevation. Since the Alps are covered by snow at this time, preparing for the Atacama Crossing leaves me to find a flat part of our country. I don’t run too fast, and I don’t like to run with a backpack.”
The risk of dehydration weighs heavily for both Beat and Max, who are coming into this year’s competition with new strategies for eating and drinking at regular intervals to aid swift recovery. They also discovered that “the feet increase in size when exposed to the Atacama heat, and thus more space is needed within the shoes. Socks should be worn and washed before packing, and it is critical to find protection against “the little stones and sand that penetrate into shoes and damage skin.” The circle of friends in Luxembourg who help push Beat and Max to the point of ultimate readiness for another starting line for the Atacama Crossing are members of a running group who have ties to ultra events themselves.
When Beat and Max began training for the 2011 Atacama Crossing, the Luxembourg runners were an integral part of the daily workout regimen. After hearing about the experience through the photo albums and reports that Beat and Max put together, many of their fellow runners decided to compete themselves in the Atacama Crossing 2012, signing up for a “unique week together as part of a very promising event.” Beat adds, “The Atacama Crossing is a wonderful race where the runner has the feeling of being part of a family. I was, in particular, delighted by every arrival into camp last year and the welcome at the final finish line.”
The charm of the Atacama Desert is, for many, a rare combination of landscape, light and weather. “Every evening,” remembers Beat, “I paused to watch the snow-covered volcano at sunset. And every day opens anew with fascinating pictures and impressions.”
By Melissa Dibona