More extreme conditions awaited Ben Dame when he took on the Atacama crossing in Chile.
The 250km race is a seven stage event which includes sand-dunes, river crossings, gravel, loose rocks, hard packed earth and even waist high grass. Perhaps the best known feature are the salt flats which are so uneven they make running at speed almost impossible.
“Apart from water and tents, everything you need for the week has to be carried on your back” Ben told us afterwards. Ben has previously completed the 4 Deserts Sri Lanka race and has the second fastest time for the lake Baikal marathon, which is run across a frozen lake.
“The stage distances were different each day" he explained. “The first four stages were roughly a marathon per day and stage five was the ‘The Long March’, 74 km in total. The next day was a day to rest and a final 10km to the finish on the last day. “ Around 130 started the race, although around 25 dropped out for various reasons over the coming days. The distance and terrain wasn’t all Ben had to contend with, as temperatures present other challenges.
“They can reach over 40 degrees Celsius during the day and close to freezing temps at night. The terrain is really tough and ranges from really soft sand, barely runnable salt flats, ice-cold river crossings, loose rocks, sand dunes to dirt tracks. At the same time you have to deal with the altitude: the race starts at 10500 ft (3200 metres) and finishes at 8000 ft (2400 m).”
The organisers estimate that there are ascents totalling 1883 metres and descents of 2508 metres.
Ben started strongly, finishing stage one in second place, and stage two in fifth place. Stage four saw him finish in second, just a minute behind the stage winner. The Long March that was stage five saw him finish fifth., leaving the relative ease of a 10km final day which he finished in 38 minutes.
His consistency meant that the aggregate time left Ben in third place overall.
Fuelling the extreme
“My nutrition and hydration strategy worked out quite nicely: I had roughly 2200 calories of vegan food per day. For the camp meals I used the adventure food range from BackPackersPantry. They focus on high caloric plant-based meals that are not only super nourishing, but actually taste great after a long and hot day of racing.
“During the race I snacked on my home-made trail mix (nuts+raisins) + nut butters and a few ClifBar products, salt sticks, nuun tablets.“
This strong performance was a credit to Benand his determined training that has enabled him to convert from triathlon to distance running extremely successfully. Hoiwever, he also drew a different positive from the harsh week.
“What I love about the 4Deserts race series is the camaraderie and family-atmosphere in the camps and on the course. The competition is really tough and extremely dialed in, but at the same time we all support each other during the week and I've made numerous friendships that will last a lifetime.”