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On a summer day in March 2010, a doctor from Scotland met up with some of the best athletes in the world under the heat of the Atacama Desert.
There she was waiting for one of the most extreme competitions that you can ever imagine to start: an individual footrace of seven days and 250km through one of the driest places in the world.
Never before, Jo Zakrzewski has participated in a competition. Her decision to participate in Atacama Crossing was even a last minute choice, taken while she was drinking wine with some friends.
When Zakrzewski crossed the finishing line, she did not only leave all the other participants behind, but she did it with an advance of 4 hours. Directly she converted from a person once unknown in the world of the ultra-marathons to one of the most feared combatants.
“I am surprised by what happened”, says Zakrzewski to Chile.Travel. “All I had planned was to go on vacation and run a little. I never thought it would result the way it did.”
“An empty land” – La Araucana.
It is not necessary to explain that Zakrzewski is a special case. In March, when the almost 200 participants start the Atacama Crossing 2013, most of them won’t even get to the finishing line, and those who get there normally walk. The route begins at 3.000m over sea level, in the Arcoiris Valley (Rainbow Valley), and on the way the competitors have to overcome rocky obstacles, dunes, rivers and the famous salt lake of the Atacama before they get to the town of San Pedro.
The altitude is one of the main worries of the South African Ryan Sandes, winner of the male category in 2010, when he starts the race.
“The footrace is very hard and the altitude converts it into one of the most difficult things I have ever done in my life”, says Sandes to Chile.Travel. “I have spent a lot of time in the mountains Drakensberg in South Africa and y trained one week in Bolivia so that my body could get used to the low pressure in the atmosphere.”
What Sandes says should not be underestimated; after all he is what comes closest to a rock star in the world of the extreme footraces. In March 2008, Sandes entered the world of the ultra-marathons with success, winning each and every stage of its first competition in Gobi, China.
In the following two years he repeated this great performance in the Sahara Race in Egypt, in the Atacama Crossing and The Last Desert in the Antarctica, what makes him to the first man who has ever won every stage of the series of the 4 deserts.
For both Sandes and Zakrzewski, the Atacama Desert is a special place to run. According to Zakrzewski, the beauty of the region makes it easy to run for those who attach more importance to the stubbornness than to the training and genetics.
“When you are running through places like the Moon Valley, you don’t feel the effort it takes”, says Zakrzewski. “The run is so diversified and beautiful that it distracts your mind from the exhaustion. However, the only place where I couldn’t ignore the painfulness was the salt lake. It is the most difficult place.”
Where to run in the Atacama.
In addition to the Atacama Crossing, the lovers of the marathon can take various routes from San Pedro. The route of the Atacama Marathon (that usually takes place in September) includes beautiful landscapes following the Cordillera of the Salt, crossing the Death Valley, reaching the fort of Quitor and finishing in the canyon of Kari after passing the Moon Valley.