Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Skyrace Bolivia 2014


One of the great frustrations I've had about living here in Bolivia has been the lack of advanced notice one receives pertaining to races.  It's out there, but you have to know where to look, and Google isn't much help; it's best to know somebody who knows stuff.

Fortunately during the run up to the Superbowl a motivated chap from New Zealand got a group of expats together to watch a playoff game and I met another runner (who knows stuff) who pointed me in the direction of something called the Bolivia Adventure Series.  This past Sunday was the third race (of 5) in the series, the SkyRace.

As near as I can tell, this was the third running of this event, the first having gone off in 2012.  What makes the event unique is that it climbs up the World's Most Dangerous Road.

Photo taken from the window of the bus as we headed back to La Paz.
Now I should note that the moniker "Worlds Most Dangerous" seems rather hyperbolic.  It certainly wasn't dangerous for those of us who were traveling on 2 feet, and I'd be perfectly comfortable bombing down it on a fully suspended well maintained mountain bike, but you'd have to drag me kicking and screaming into a large bus or material transport vehicle...

Race Morning

My alarm went off promptly at 3:15 am.  A rather beastly time for an alarm, but given how I was waking every hour on the hour, not too bad.  I had a hotel room (very nice, which will get a follow up post) in La Paz about a mile away from where a bus would be waiting for us at 4 am to drive us the 3 hours to the race start.  The concierge was kind enough to be waiting for me and had already called me a cab when I came down the stairs at 3:45.  

Once on the bus, I got settled into a seat next to a French chef and owner (I think) of a restaurant in La Paz called Chez Moustache.  We talked a bit in Spanish at first, but switched to English when it became apparent I was still learning...How do you think you'll run, what do you do, etc., then quiet.  

To me it became apparent we were traveling through some rather dramatic country, but because it was so dark, I found it better just to close my eyes and meditate.  

The view from La Senda Verde's footbridge.
Eventually we arrived at La Senda Verde, which provided the race headquarters near the start.  I had to sign a liability release and pick up my race kit, then get changed and stash my clothes on the bus.  I also needed to eat something, as the 3 am wake up call does all kinds of weird stuff to my desire to consume solids, but eventually all ducks were aligned and we walked off to the start.

The long slog

Once at the start, many people were running around warming up.  I don't mean to be too critical, but I don't really get the point of warming up for a race that's going to last multiple hours.  I can understand a "system check", but to crack a sweat even before the race starts just seems silly to me.  Take the first half hour or 15 minutes of the race as your warm up and call it good.  
The race start - Herbalife is everywhere in Bolivia it seems...
Turn number 1.  Right out of the gate.
Something seemed to be up with the chip timing (as in: we were supposed to have it, but nope) of the race as we were delayed until the clock struck 8:45.  During this time I was able to talk to a couple of other racers including the guy that eventually finished 2nd overall...nice guy from Denmark, who lives in Santa Cruz.  Beat me by an hour and 45 minutes.  I expect that the race between him and the winner was solid too, as they were separated by less than 2 minutes at the finish.

At some point along the bus ride I had decided that I was going to shoot for a sub 4 hour time, even though I thought 5 more realistic because I've been fantastically inconsistent with my training this year.  Visits from the homeland, rain, and other things have conspired to keep me from developing any kind of routine with regard to my training.  Had I participated in this race last year, my goal time would have been closer to 3:15, but this year fun was the only objective.  And that was achieved.
Someone by the name of Patricio Crooker got this picture of me having a good time. Thanks for the hat mom.

Anyway, the "gun" went off at precisely 8:45 and I was quickly at the back of the pack, not wanting to go out too fast.  I was "running" consistent 11-12 minute miles and taking a gel every 25 minutes.  

The race was pretty well supported, with aid at 6km, 12km, and then every 3 km thereafter.  However these aid stations only provided water or Gatorade, no food.  I'm positive I picked up a bunch of places in the second half of the race because I was fueling and others were suffering severe bonk issues.  In future editions of this race, the organizers really should provide food.  It's a necessity for any race that can be reasonably expected to go over 1.5 hours.
Coming out of an aid station about 1/2 way into the race.
Death Road? This doesn't look so bad...
I kept up my early pace until about mile 9, with only a bit of hiking sprinkled in.  However, something switched at that point and I barely ran 1 more step after that .  Even so, I was hiking fast enough that I passed many people who were "running".  Around mile 12, my lack of fitness really started to show up and I started cramping, but I was able to manage it by taking an extra gel and fluid.  I could still hike quite quickly however and only got passed by 1 person (who I had been going back and forth with for several miles) in the last 5 miles.  Had I been able to stay with her, I would have caught up to my friend from the bus who finished just 3 minutes in front of me.
Race profile - relentless.
Near the finish, a few competitors who are just a bit too far away.
Coming into the finish.

After the race

The finish line was quite crowded.  Several mountain bike tour operators were staging for their adrenaline rush, and lots of racers were milling around.  I recovered my bag, and found some food (post race bar-b-que with beer was missing - presumably it went to some ultramarathon in the US).

I felt really quite good at the finish.  The surrounding vistas were quite spectacular:
I must get back to La Paz and explore the mountains.
I had several good chats with other competitors as we waited for the awards ceremony to play out.  One of the conversations resulted in my (immediately upon returning to my hotel room) signing up for a marathon in Uyuni in October.

After the awards, it was on to the buses and back to La Paz.  As I had suspected in the morning, the countryside was dramatic.  Quite possibly the most beautiful scenery I've ever driven through, but I've got to go for a run so I'll leave it there.

Thanks for reading,


  1. "I don't mean to be too critical, but I don't really get the point of warming up for a race that's going to last multiple hours"
    I learned that from you at Blues Cruise when I asked about warming up :)
    Love that picture of you! The scenery looks amazing!!

  2. Your warm up is some minutes of really easy jogging. But if you are really going to compete you must. I warm up before because im going to start at a faster pace which is going to get faster and faster till the end. Great post!


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