What can I say, I am drawn to Richard Donovan’s events, they are not just marathons, they are the ultimate tests of endurance and strength. When you run one of them, you run another. They are extreme, you know that going into them. When I read about the Volcano Marathon, (highest desert marathon in the world) I immediately teamed up with Training Masks, as living at sea level was going to be a minor problem. They generously sent a mask and I tried it on and ran with it, I wrote the team back and told him mine was broken because I couldn’t breath with it. They told me that was EXACTLY how I would be feeling during the Volcano Marathon which started at 14,862 feet and ended at 11,821 feet altitude.. My heart stopped.. OK this will be tough, but I’m the toughest person I know, until I’m not… I was feeling fit, coming off Fenway Park Marathon , Lowell Marathon, Berlin Marathon and Coolcore took my family and I to run the Run Disney events, which would prepare me for racing in the heat. OK no problem I am feeling fit, I’m in a good place, I got this. I’m mentally and physically prepared there is really nothing more I can do. I even took prescribed altitude pills out of desperation, I don’t even like to take Advil..
Day one we arrive in San Pedro Atacama desert. I get off the plane and check in and go four a 4 mile run with three other runners also preparing the marathon. I was especially excited to run with Heather from Australia who also ran WMC in 2016. I was breathing heavily which I expected, to the point I couldn’t talk out loud. I knew each run would only get better. (I refuse to use the word easier) On the second and third day, Richard took us to run excursions at higher altitude, Valley of the Moon where we watched an incredible sun set, and the third day, we ran at Valley of Death. I got to know all of the runners, from 9 countries we immediately formed a special bond as we’d be going through Hell together. As much as we had our own goals we all kept an eye out for each other. It was awesome. That night I got back to my hotel room and had two nose bleeds. My face started to swell like a massive head cold then my nose would bleed.. * I had one in Colorado too, that made me feel better. Joe got one too. We laughed. SO FAR out of our comfort zones. I was still excited about the Volcano Marathon, and to take on the challenge. I had gone to my daughters entire 4th grade, before I left and gave them a continents talk and told them about the Volcano Marathon. I have 100 4th graders to report back to that I did not want to disappoint. They believed in me and their questions were so fun and incredible.
On day four, race day, we took a two hour ride up to Lascar Volcano in several 4 wheel drive vehicles as a bus could not get us to the top. Ears popping, I had the shakes and tingles was feeling weaker and weaker as we approached the top. Probably more scared than anything else.
We took photos, Richard talked us through the race again (detailed briefing the night before as well on what to expect our safety is his priority) and the marathon begins. I already don’t feel good and had a long day ahead of me of very hard work. I start last in the back of the pack. Just to be sure not to go out to fast, as you can not recover once its too late if you get into oxygen debt. I was breathing very heavily, out loud the entire 26.2 miles like a fish out of water. Imagine that you are running with severe bronchitus and asthma, times that by 10, everything was tingling and I was fatigued, feeling suffocated. I kept thinking, Becca make it through this and nothing will ever stop you.
The first 6 miles were brutal. I could not pull it together. Are my organs shutting down, what is happening? I didnt sweat a drop, that happens in the desert which is bizarre and don’t think you can keep up with hydration, no matter how much I drank it wasn’t enough. Was I drinking too much, can you do that? I have heard you can over hydrate. My mind was flipping out on me. I wondered about the other runners, how were they feeling I ran most of the marathon alone, I could not see them. It has to get better, definitely cant get worse.. Or can it? Miles 6-18 were better, kind of. The only problem was the sun, I felt like I could reach out and touch it. Miles 18-21 were up hill, Jenny and I talked about this the night before the marathon, being much like Heartbreak Hill, so I gutted it out up the side of a mountain the toughest terrain was at this point, hurdling cactus/desert plants carefully watching footing but totally exhausted. She always knows what to say to make me feel better. When I went to slow down or stop for a GU, my legs went wobbly, I was sick and fatigued and slurring my speech, probably from panic, it just felt better to keep moving. At one point I said out loud to myself “Becca the leaders are ahead of you, next runner is 10 minutes behind you. If you pass out, it will take 10 minutes for someone to even know. Just keep running.. I sang out loud Taylor’s favorite dance songs from my iPod. It helped. I ran with her photo in my hydration belt and actually carried it most of the way in my hand, because only Taylor could get me through this marathon. Here is the thing.. What scared me the most, was that TWO very seasoned athletes died on the same volcano, even a lower altitude within three weeks of us being there, one just 3 days prior. Joe showed me the articles the night before, just for extra precaution, he actually thought I knew and wasn’t telling him as that was some talk amongst the runners but I live in my own little world sometimes and was unaware. . Let me be clear that the altitude is NO joke and not to be messed with. My family, friends and most importantly my daughter trusted me that I knew what I was doing.. I owed it to them to put my safety first, this was not a “die trying” race. I was fully prepared to have my first DNF (did not finish) in 62 marathons if that was the case.
I took one mile at a time, I found the course impossible. When we would run down, we’d go back up, very hilly course technical terrain was tough. Joe was with Richard (the race director) so I saw him many times on the course. Joe tried to stop me as mile 8 just telling me I didnt look well, and that he was so proud of me, etc. I wasn’t done. I promised him I would stop at the next checkpoint if I wasn’t any better. I regrouped and pulled it together and started to feel better. A local guy manning a water stop gave me a Coke to drink- a first for me and I had my 4th GU (I usually have one every marathon). I saw Joe several more times. I saw him at mile 22 and told him I was OK and to go to the finish, he looked really relived I must have looked a lot better. He took out the sand in my sneakers, poured water all over me, refilled my water bottles and I went off. At this point it was even hotter over 80 degrees, I couldn’t catch a break, but was feeling better. I started to close in on the womens leader (who is actually from Chile). She had a 6 minute lead on me I closed it down to one minute. I crossed the finish and hugged her. I was so proud of her, I was so proud of me, she made me work harder than I wanted to, she’s good people, a true tough runner, ran with her heart. We both did. I’m proud to have had two women in top 3 overall. Rarely happens.
We ran by 10 active volcanos, with smoke coming out (see first photo above) which literally took my breath away, so beautiful. The views were incredible and the perfect distraction. I wasn’t in pain I just didn’t feel good at that altitude. I ran by llamas and alpacas! One popped his head out to make sure I was gone as I literally ran right by him. At first I was thinking it might attack/kick me, I’m not going out like that, but I actually don’t have the energy to fight it so I ran fast passed him as fast as I could, then I realized when he hid behind a tiny stop sign (I could see his whole body) that he was more afraid of me then I was of him. I saw them again on the course and new from the first one that they were sweet and harmless animals and adorable.
I will never forget the Volcano Marathon experience. I cant explain how worth it, it was to run this race. ALL the feels, we laughed, cried, etc. The views, the support from the Chileans cheering us on in Spanish through local towns was awesome.. I love Richard’s Polar Running Adventure events, they are life changing marathon experiences. The places we go the people we meet, life long friends. I always come out a tougher and better/stronger person because of his races. He’s a genius race director with the most loyal loving caring staff. I literally put my life in his hands. I trust him and his events whole heartedly and will run them all.
What did I learn this time about myself? Be Brave, Be Strong… and as always, believe in yourself, take chances and do not ever give up!