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Susan Barraza-The Challenge of the Messenger



Last year I ran the National Country Marathon (XCM) Cross Championship in the city of Calama, where the 98 kilometres started from the 3000 metres high in the mining Rodomiro Tomic. I remember that race was particularly harsh, maybe not so technical a circuit though,  but because you needed to finish a lot of physical and mental strength was required.

 When I read about this new challenge in the desert that required me to complete 100 kilometers starting from Calama to reach the spa Coya, without going through Maria Elena, I didn't hesitate much -  I wanted to come back and live again the experience of surviving a challenge this magnitude. The date was set for the day June 8, 2016, and I was exceited.

So what is 'The Challenge of the Messenger?' The website says this:

'Since ancient times, the caravan routes were the paths chosen by the "chosen" to travel, meet new horizons and wealth, as well as connecting the highlands to the coast. Only the most skilled could face similar distances and weather conditions. 21 Leguas (100 km) is the distance to be traveled to unite Calama with Maria Elena. We want to invite you to this challenge. We want you to recorras with your bike, you feel what they felt the messengers of the Inca Empire. We want to entrust a message of vital importance for peace of peoples. If your message does not reach its destination. The battle is lost.'

Preceding days:

Another rainy weekend so announced in the news is coming, but that did not matter much, because for me and many others rains would not be an impediment to enjoy our beloved bikes. Luggage and mind ready to have a great weekend.

Race day:

 6.30 am and  the alarm sounded to wake me up, with the temperature -1 degree and the bed invited us to go back to sleep (zzzzzz). Clothing, food and hydration had been organized the previous day. I decided to run with short tights because although the cold was considerable at that hour of the morning, my previous experience told me that the sun in the desert that would be more relentless noon.

We start at 8.30 am, about a neutralized start in the middle of the city of Calama,  with the occasional stray dog threatening to leave a mess in the middle of the 300 runners who had agreed to be messengers in this challenge. Messengers, and I say that before leaving gave us a kind of parchment impregnated with a cloth bag symbolic message, a detail that had not seen in another race. It was quite original and different taste. My own message said "The earth does not belong to us rather we belong to the land."

One of the dogs we saw on the road                  

view of the route from my GoPro         Flagstone: responsible for several retirements 

We go to the km "0"  point, and the official start of the 100 and 70 kilometers is given. Altimetry indicated an "easy" route, but again my experience said I should not trust this. I began to see the landscape around me, and I was again running in the desert and had a great desire to stop and take pictures of the fantastic scene. I did not stop, but I had left my Gopro accessible in my bag,and I took a couple of pictures and then I went looking for a good wheel to follow (lol if this route is saviour, I need to keep up with someone). I felt good, I was enjoying it; the kilometres kept coming and according to the specification from the technical talk I had to find  the first point of supply (approx 14 km, Empalme Cobija).

I quickened my pace and my saviours wheel was away, so I decided  to go through a line on a rock garden and ... oh oh, that sound was unique and well known - I had a flat tyre! I kept quiet, as I knew I had everything needed in the backpack to change things. Someone stops to help (Rodo, thank you very much), and I am about to take the bike apart when we see the wheel. I had been the victim of a stone slab (typical sharp stone desert), a cut of a couple of cms in the tyre definitely left me as a  DNF (Did Not Finish). Fortunately for me had just passed the point of supply so I shoulder bike and returned to be towed (the first of several more).

 While the challenge was over for me, for others not, so I decided not to be bitter, and take it in good spirits and support those who remained.  After all, it's only a bike race.

 No finish made me realize many other things that we pass when we go into the race, such as the last runners who may not seek a podium but still feel fulfilled when passing the finish line, completing what had been their plan. Personally I think there is no greater satisfaction than that, to say "I achieved" when conditions are simply easy to surrender to. A desert race is a tough challenge for anyone.

 The race itself was a great test, with highs and lows through the event day, but I think the good points were much more than the bad. Good marking, good support on the road, even with good supplies gels and isotonic bottles, and lunch attended and prepared by locals and a nice medal "challenge achieved." I am totally grateful to the people who dared to organize this XCM and without any doubt, I'll  be back for a second edition - to be a messenger!

 I have much to learn from this new experience. A couple of years ago to try the same event, I would have wept angrily and I would not have wanted to know anything about anything or anyone, including my bike. Today I believe that things happen for a reason and that such attitudes will not change the fact it occurred, so it depends on each one to see how we proceed. I'm more chilled about these things. It's a career like many others, and the desert will be there when you want to return to again to challenge it. And the medal is something is cherish for the challenge!