Chris and teamHSX on Atacama
Atacama Crossing 2011 Competitor
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Farewell to San Pedro
13-Mar-2011 10:45:04 AM [(GMT-03:00) Brasilia]

Atacama Crossing (Chile) 2011

We started yesterday's final stage at 11am and finished just after 12. The atmosphere in the square was brilliant and there was indeed pizza to greet us! After a few photos we headed back to the hotel for a long overdue shower and spent the afternoon eating, drinking and doing very little else.

The awards banquet in the evening was a great occasion, although a few people were tricky to recognise after a shave and without their running kit. The party continued into the early hours at a bar down the road, and the evening was made even more memorable when Alan proposed to Emily! Not planned, but it was bound to happen sooner or later!

This morning we demolished the hotel breakfast buffet then headed into to town for a follow up brunch with most of the people who haven't left town yet. It was great. And there was lots of it.

It's been a great experience, even if the end result wasn't quite what I'd hoped for. The staff, volunteers and other competitors have combined with an amazing part of the world to create a week I definitely won't forget. Will I try something like this again? Probably, but I think I'll take a few months to think about it.

If anyone else fancies doing one of the 4 deserts, we'd be happy to encourage you!

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Friday 11th March - The long-awaited rest day!
11-Mar-2011 06:21:04 AM [(GMT) Greenwich Mean Time: Dublin, Edinburgh, Lisbon, London]

Atacama Crossing (Chile) 2011
Not long after I sent yesterday's update Alan and Rich appeared at the finish line. In spite of covering just 15km in the first 3 1/2 hours before I withdrew they had an absolutely blinding run from there onwards and covered 73km in less than 12 hours. People continued to arrive throughout the night and the final finishers crossed the line about half an hour ago.
Today we don't have a lot to do apart from eating, drinking and chatting. Although that may summon up images of a pleasant lunch in a restaurant it's worth bearing in mind that we're actually in a tent in the desert, haven't washed for 7 days, and all the food we have is freeze dried or in PowerBar form. The tent is starting to become rather... fragrant, so the afternoon breeze will be extremely welcome to get some air circulating.
I also seem to have lost a bit of weight, which isn't surprising given I've walked/run 175km and have only taken in about 2700kcal each day. My hips definitely seem a bit more prominent than before, and any trace of stomach flab has disappeared. Although some would consider this an encouraging start to their 4th decade, I'm intending to reverse it before we head home!
While I'm not too tired or rushed for time, I thought I'd share a few highlights and lowlights.
The Highlights:
1. The atmosphere on the start line each day
2. The views of Licancabur during the day, and the stars at night
3. Crossing the finish line (4/5 times for me, sadly) to the sound of drums and the cheering of volunteers.
4. The other competitors: an all round fantastic bunch of people, and extremely supportive both on the course and at the overnight camps
The Lowlights:
1. Expedition Foods breakfasts: great when tried during training, not so great after 7 straight days.
2. The smell of my running top.
3. The smell of the toilets: it seems freeze-dried food isn't great for anyone's digestive system...
We're still in good spirits and looking forward to getting back to San Pedro tomorrow. Allegedly there'll be beer and pizza at the finish. Can't wait!
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Thursday 10th March
11-Mar-2011 05:43:58 AM [(GMT) Greenwich Mean Time: Dublin, Edinburgh, Lisbon, London]

Atacama Crossing (Chile) 2011
Thursday 10th March – Chris falters as Alan and Rich keep the teamHSX flag flying
While Alan and Rich are part-way through stage 5, I find myself at the overnight camp quite a lot earlier than expected. Just before the start of this morning’s stage I was wretching and throwing up. We debated whether I should start, but given the cool conditions it seemed worth pressing on to checkpoint 1 to see if I improved on the way. Unfortunately I didn’t, and struggled to keep down any food. On arrival there I was given some antacid and anti-sickness medication, but this didn’t seem to help, and I lay on the floor of the checkpoint wondering what to do. Had it been another 10km I’d have considered pushing it, but with 58km left to go and the temperature rising it was looking like an unwise option. Attempts to give me IV fluids didn’t work out (Clare: it turns out my veins aren’t always so easy to canulate!) so that really left me with the choice of withdrawing or trying to push on slowly in the hope I improved. Stopping at a checkpoint rather than passing out in the desert seemed a sensible move. Once again Alan and Rich did everything they could to support and encourage me, but it just didn’t seem to be my day.
I guess I’ll never know whether this was the right call or whether I should have powered through. It didn’t feel like the easy option: it felt like I was letting the team down after we’d all worked so hard, but I can’t hide the fact that I also felt a sense of relief.
Thank you so much to everyone who has sent messages of support and commented on our blog: I’m sorry I won’t be able to deliver the result we were all hoping for. Thank you in particular to former Chief Scout Peter Duncan for his comments – it’s great to see him still taking an interest in HSX – and also to Rowland for delivering the great news that the Real King of Spain is back on what has otherwise been a rather subdued day.
I’m hoping to cheer Alan and Rich over the line later this evening ahead of tomorrow’s rest day. I should be OK to run the final 16km on Saturday so at least we’ll cross the line together, albeit with me as something of a spectator.
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Wednesday 9th March - Now the big one!
09-Mar-2011 06:25:46 AM [(GMT) Greenwich Mean Time: Dublin, Edinburgh, Lisbon, London]

Atacama Crossing (Chile) 2011
Another challenging day. I went through a bit of a low patch between 10km and 20km but Alan and Rich carried me through and we crossed the line together, although not as quickly as we'd have liked. No idea where we are in the team standings, but I was happy enough just to finish.
Tonight's campsite seems a bit on the windy side, so I reckon we have a 50-50 chance of making it through the night without the tent collapsing. They're not particularly well anchored...
Tomorrow is the 74km "long march" which we're not looking forward to. The idea of doing the same distance we have today with another 30km tagged on doesn't really appeal, but once that's finished we get a rest day before the final short stint to San Pedro.
If anything it looks like we've got a bit too much food, so no worries on that front.
Thank you to Russ for answering our question about the Japanese celebrity. Much appreciated!
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Tuesday 8th March - (Almost) half way
08-Mar-2011 06:02:25 AM [(GMT) Greenwich Mean Time: Dublin, Edinburgh, Lisbon, London]

Atacama Crossing (Chile) 2011
We've had another good day. Not quite as strong during the race as stages 1 and 2, but we all felt pretty good at the end so can hopefully keep up the pace tomorrow. Feet and legs are in reasonable shape although my rucksack straps are starting to take their toll on my shoulders.
A Japanese film crew are filming a documentary about the race, and allegedly we have a Japanese celebrity taking part although so far we've failed to establish who it is or what they're famous for. Hiroshi (or anyone with Google and a lot of time!): can you shed any light on this?
Hope all is going well for those in Barcelona. 3 days in, I can confirm that this is a piece of piss compared to winter testing. The tent is only marginally less comfortable than the Granollers, and I'm getting 9, yes NINE, hours of sleep!
For the benefit of Tom and everyone else from HSX, we agree that this isn't as hard as advanced training!
I hope you're all enjoying the photos and videos on the race website. We can't see them from here, but I've just had a look over the shoulder of  the event photographer and his shots look stunning. I think they give a pretty good  impression of the terrain and scenery we've been running through.
So, onwards to the infamous salt flats of stage 4...
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Monday 7th March – Getting tougher
07-Mar-2011 05:38:22 AM [(GMT) Greenwich Mean Time: Dublin, Edinburgh, Lisbon, London]

Atacama Crossing (Chile) 2011
We’ve now ticked off the 41.8km of stage 2. It seemed much harder going than yesterday, but looking at our finishing position it seems to have been a similar story for everyone. Amazingly, we’re still the first placed team, although this really isn’t part of our game plan: we’re not here to win!
We’ve had another delightful freeze dried dinner. Tonight it was 800kcal of chicken korma followed by a well-earned cup of tea while watching the spectacular sunset. Once that’s disappeared we’ll no doubt be treated to another awesome view of the stars.
Thank you very much to Alex for his concise summary of Licancabur volcano, and thank you to everyone else who has sent us messages of support. We really do appreciate it.
Tomorrow it’s another 40km. Bring it on!
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Sunday 6th March - Feeling good!
06-Mar-2011 06:57:50 AM [(GMT) Greenwich Mean Time: Dublin, Edinburgh, Lisbon, London]

Atacama Crossing (Chile) 2011
Our Atacama Crossing started rather inauspiciously as the bus taking us to Saturday's first overnight camp overheated and ground to a halt on the main road out of San Pedro. Fortunately this was only a brief setback, and not an indicator of things to come, as we made it to our tent without any further mishaps.
teamHSX are sharing tent 5 with a cracking bunch of people. We've got Dan from New York who's running the race for a cancer charity, Ben and Seranica from Australia who are currently based in Canada so have been forced to train in snow shoes, Alex the medical student from UCL, and Gerard from the Italian Alps who looks to be our most serious competitor. They don't seem to be too concerned by our strange sense of humour, or at least they're too polite to say anything about it.
I didn't get a great night's sleep last night - possibly a combination of pre-race nerves and too much sleep earlier in the week - but still woke up feeling in reasonable shape. We were staying at about 3400m, so quite a bit higher than San Pedro, and were conscious that the combination of heat and altitude could make it far too easy to overdo it over the 35km of stage 1. Fortunately we began with a nice downhill stretch and looked to be sitting somewhere in the middle of the field as we headed towards checkpoint 1. The first 20km seemed to pass quite quickly in the relatively cool morning air, but leg 3 - from about 21km to 31km - was a lot tougher as the temperature started to rise and we tackled a seemingly endless ascent to the final checkpoint. Seeing the Racing the Planet flags lifted our spirits, as did the opportunity to take on some more water and the realisation that we had just 3.5km to go.
We crossed the finish line after about 5h10m: a great performance from the team, and certainly faster than I was expecting. We were also greeted with the rather shocking news that we were the first team to finish, although the Hombres de Mais from Guatemala were only a few minutes behind. Hats off to them for being such great competitors and sportsmen: I lost count of the number of times we exchanged words of encouragement as we swapped places, and we later found out that they'd stopped to help another runner in trouble, so I think they can justifiably claim a technical victory.
Tonight's camp has a brilliant view of the Andes and Licancabur volcano to the west, which brings me on to a quick request for help: this morning we saw what looked to be a whisp of smoke from the top of Licancabur, but it might have been a cloud. Is Licancabur an active volcano, and if so when did it last erupt? We're not worried about a nocturnal lava flow taking us all out: just curious!
Tomorrow's stage is about 40km, and hopefully we can carry over today's form.
Finally, I couldn't sign off without mentioning Richard's "human sprinkler" act following his post race milkshake. I'll let him fill you in on the details when we return, but suffice it to say that Alan's stolen hotel slippers will be playing no further part in the Atacama Crossing 2011...
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Still waiting...
04-Mar-2011 05:51:40 AM [(GMT-03:00) Brasilia]

Atacama Crossing (Chile) 2011
I seem to have picked a stunning location for my 30th. Off to the west there's a whole load of desert, and off to the east we can see the snow-capped Licancabur volcano and the Bolivian border. At the moment we're all feeling good and, if anything, a bit impatient for the race start. Since leaving the UK we've met quite a few of the other competitors who have scared us to varying degrees. If we took on board every story and bit of advice we'd probably be on the next flight home, but we've prepared well (hopefully well enough...) and we aren't expecting to keep up with many of the 4 Deserts veterans we've talked to, so won't be downhearted if we see them streak off into the distance. Reassuringly, it sounds like our start line weight will be pretty much in line with the other runners, so that's an encouraging sign. I have, however, managed to pick up my first blisters. Fortunately they're on my fingers - as a result of sewing badges onto my race clothing - and apart from doing up shoelaces and shovelling energy bars into my mouth I don't think my hands will have much to do for the next week! A big thank you to everyone who has sent me birthday greetings, and an even bigger thank you to everyone who has helped us to raise money for Cancer Research UK. The current total is 4,255.27GBP (can't find the pound sign!), and we're hoping this will continue to climb. If you'd like to take part in our finish time sweepstake, visit and sign up before the race starts on Sunday morning. Finally, I wish everyone heading off to 11-T10-Barc02 (you know who you are!) a successful week's motoring. I think I'm in for an easy time by comparison!
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