Atacama Blog: Stefan Danis gears up for the race

Mandrake's CEO, Stefan Danis, blogs about running 250 km unaided in the Atacama Desert to raise funds for NABS.

Mandrake’s CEO, Stefan Danis, blogs about running the Atacama Crossing (Chile) – a 250 km, one-week trek unaided in the Atacama Desert – to raise funds for NABS to help distressed and unemployed execs.

Pre Race

Race day panic starts when you begin comparing the size of your bag to others. I weighed in at 12.2 kg, well above my teammates, but for the fact that I am carrying a small bottle of champagne for one of those special moments. I think this moment will be now; just making it to the start was an accomplishment in light of injuries and a busier work schedule.

My thoughts today are about the choices you make when you train this hard. Saying ‘yes’ to Atacama meant ‘no’ to friends, skiing, reading, TV, date night. A sacrifice which will right itself in 10 days when it is all over.

The air is thin in camp 1, we are at 10,670 feet. I think climbing a volcano two days ago is aiding a great deal. The landscape is Mars-like; high clay cliffs, reds, blood colours and ochre. Stunning and reminiscent of the Gobi. The stage tomorrow is designed to hurt us early; the elite runners (230 marathoners and under) will run the first 10 km in 1h20 or so. Running at the altitude with a full pack will be challenging and we have discussed our plan as a team.

Running as a team will be an extraordinary challenge. We seem to be on the same page and the first stage will be the one where we find out how our running styles will blend. Some of the running pedigrees around here are extraordinary; as such our strategy is hope. Stay alive, stay around, and who knows. We have already hedged our trip here by creating incredible memories for ourselves, hiking up to a volcano, and yesterday I hired a car to take me into the desert and sand boarded with a local pro. Imagine hurling yourself down a 45-degree, 300-foot sand dune and taking turns barefoot on a board with straps. A complete rush.

At the same time as our competitive spirit is sure to be awakened, our objective is to fully partake in the communal experience. Believe it or not, we share a tent with Laurie Brophy who is returning to the Atacama after being pulled out of the race last year for being too slow as he was helping another racer in distress. The medical team felt they had to leave a doctor behind to look after him in case he put himself at risk. What injustice; but he decided to return this year despite his anger at the way it was handled. Laurie is from Wales and I will find out more about him in the days to come. He is 78 years old! He is the embodiment that nothing is impossible. Another noteworthy tent mate is a nurse in Charleston; I think we will get to know each other well… (mom I am therefore safe).

I reconnected with a few racers from the Gobi who are here; including Norma Bastidas, a Mexican Canadian. Norma is being followed by a camera for Oprah Winfrey. She is one of eight amazing women who are single parents doing extreme activities to bring attention to their charities. Norma has a special place in my heart; she introduced me to desert racing! There are three other crews here filming for other networks, for other purposes.

Time to go and eat my back pack to start reduce its weight.

This will be my first marathon since June 09.

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