Monthly Archives: February 2012

M&MRC Cruce Story #3: Lean on me

Maria and I woke up that next morning to the sounds of people zipping up running leggings, filling running packs with energy gels, brushing their teeth.

“How long do these people need to get ready?” It had sounded as if they had been up for hours.

Equipo 86 laughed at us as we emerged, doe-eyed to the morning. “Bird, there are some people out here with their packs on already,” I said.

Well, that’s just not our style. We pulled on our running gear and set off for breakfast. Breakfast in Argentina consists of little more than a cracker or two and a bucket load of coffee. We went for neither, but had our secret ingredient: peanut butter. A whole jar of the stuff had made it with us, and we devoured tea along with bread and peanut butter. I then sat in the tent and made a huge mess while making peanut butter and lettuce (for the crunch) sandwiches with salad we’d saved from last night’s dinner.

“Do you want slug as well?” I asked Maria, of the companion we had unknowingly had in our salad stash. “Nutritious and delicious!”

After the queue for the toilet and another last-minute toilet stop (birds will be birds), we were off. It was 2km to the starting line. The sun was already shining and there in front of us, as we walked through the village, was the volcano we were heading up. At that moment, we were at about 600m above sea level. We would go to 2200m. How this was going to be possible running, we didn’t know.

It seems others had the same thoughts as some runners dived into the tiny church on their way to the starting line.

The starting line was on the other side of a bridge that the organisers had had to construct for the event. We had to wait a while in order to even get to the bridge and the chip timer at the start, as there was no room for all 1,500 of us to go over at once. There was a nervous energy in the air; calves were bouncing up and down, shoulders were being stretched. We heard the helicopter and immediately all hands went to the sky.

And then we were on the other side. I hadn’t even noticed the chip until Maria shouted at me, “That’s it!” And we were off. There was a sudden jolt in the body and we bounced along through the grassy paths until, after about 50 seconds, Uh, Hill. “What, already?!” we exclaimed. Still, we knew the first half of today was going to be all about going up.

The first couple of hours slowly drove us upwards, through the trees, but with spectacular views as climbed. No one was running the uphills. This was encouraging. We were with normal runners! One lady saw we were hiking without poles. “They really help,” she told us, “you should get some.” Soon, eagle-eyed Maria spotted a good bit of thick bamboo and we snapped it in half. Our walking sticks had been born out of the mountain we climbed.

The further we climbed, the more the volcano revealed itself to us. It was beautiful, majestic and… far away. Still, we kept going. Over our shoulders to our right we could see the volcano Villarrica, and behind us sat the perfectly-coned and snow-capped volcano Lanin. We were in a special place.

We joked with the people they had at turning points. We knew where to turn, it was always up. “Seriously?” we would say to them, astounded the path could be so. And, as if they hadn’t heard the joke a million times already they laughed. “Yeah, sorry about that!”

Above the tree line we could see the path ahead: a track of stones and rocks climbing up and up until there was a line of tiny ants in the white. The snow. We ploughed on. There were photo and Gatorade (Lucozade) stops and we chatted to those we passed and who passed us. Our friends from the previous day asked how we were. There were only three words. This. Is. Brilliant.

Getting to the snow line, people were stopping for lunch, a toilet break and clothing changes. I don’t know how far we had already climbed at that point, but we were going higher still and the wind was going to show its face. Time to put on another top, top up the sun cream and eat a banana. It was also time to sing.

“Lean on me, when you’re not strong, I’ll be your friend, I’ll help you carry on…”

We had our sticks, we had our voices, we had each other.

We hit the snow.

M&MRC Cruce Story #2: Settling in

Our bags had been scanned by the Argentine authorities to aid in a smooth border crossing the next day and we lay in bed with our alarms set for 4:30 a.m.  We questioned why we were put on the 5:15 a.m. bus as some weren’t off until 10, but it proved to be worth it in the end.

Entering ChileWith the sun still tucked away, we woke up and had the breakfast our hostel left out for us the night before.  We walked over to the school were registration took place and boarded one of the many buses lined up in the street.  We worked our way out of San Martín and along a curvy, dirt road before arriving to the Argentine border.  The bus couldn’t cross so we got off, went through the first of what would be 4 immigration encounters and proceeded to wait in line for the bus that would take us across the Chilean border.

While waiting in line, we met Daniel and José from Rosario, who promised to share their mate with us once on the boat.  This was crucial as we’d opted not to bring mate and it was chilly waiting beside the road in no man’s land.  So we chatted with them until making it to the location of Camp 2 where breakfast was served.  We collected our bags after the dog had thoroughly sniffed them out (while almost taking a wee break on several) and boarded the barcaza to cross the Pirehueico Lake.  It was a 90 minute ride where we met the dozens of other runners that were on the Rosario running team and shared stories and drank mate while enjoying the beautiful scenery.

We arrived to Puerto Fuy to see hundreds of blue tents placed along the lake’s shore.  We found ours (EQUIPO 90!) and started making ourselves at home.  We met Equipo 86, who we mentioned in another post and ate lunch.  There were racks of meat grilling by the bonfire and a line for pasta, rice and a mini salad.  We then surveyed the camp before taking a dip in the crystal-clear water of the lake.  Most were winding down and preparing for siestas so we decided to follow in suit after such an early morning.  The other participants had yet to arrive and we were thankful that we got one of the early buses and were settled in at Camp 1 while others waited miles away for their transfer.

Our nap lasted a good 3 hours and our fellow neighbors couldn’t believe with all the noise and excitement we’d been able to do it.  They prepared one way while we prepared by getting some much needed sleep after all the traveling in the previous days.  We dined once more before the Chief of our Lives gave another speech preparing us for the adventure that lay before us.  We were hours away from the start of what was truly an experience of a lifetime.

M&MRC Cruce Story #1: Making a career out of it

Over the next posts, Maria and I are going to tell the story of our Cruce de los Andes. You’ve read about the training, the preparation, the excitement, the teams and how we found ourselves in San Martín de los Andes. We will now take you through what happened: the highs, lows, frustrations, joys and madness. Bit by bit. Where one leaves off, the other will continue. We hope you enjoy reading the story as much as we did doing it and will do writing about it.

The more that first day in San Martín went on, the more we got excited. Every hour, more and more people were arriving and were walking round wearing their bright blue new fleeces, or their running shirts, or the buff around their heads or necks. We could spot our new family a mile off.

The excitement built further as we tried to pack with all our new clothes and additions. Others arrived to the hostel with running shoes and big brown bags full of Cruce goodies. Everyone was there for the same thing.

Around 8pm, we headed to the school to take more photos and enjoy the free wine, beer and cheese on offer before the talk started. This is the second of many a great jumping photo! There was a nervous energy about the place. When talking to people, one of the first questions was “Is this your first one?”

And then there were familiar faces: not only did I bump into someone from a company I used to teach at in Buenos Aires, but there were also people we recognised from the Cruce Facebook pages we stalked in the build up to being there. It was like a party where you felt like you knew everyone and no one at the same time.

Then came the presentation, led by Sebastian Tagle, race director. For the next four days he would be known as ‘Chief of our Lives’ as he took us through logistics, distances, timings and generally scared us with lines such as, “The second day is going to be more difficult than the first“. But we are climbing a volcano on the first day, what can be worse than that?! (We would later laugh at ourselves for questioning the Chief of our Lives)

As there were people from different countries and a load of Brazilians, the talk was translated into English and Portuguese. This, for us, was the only point in which the organisers of Cruce could have done better. We had been amazed by their organisation and coordination of everything so far, so it was a shame that they had resorted to a terrible Google translation of important details they were telling us. Maria and I speak Spanish, so for us it was fine, but we did feel for the others there relying on that information and not being able to understand a thing. Sometimes, it just didn’t even make sense. One of our new friends, Dario, asked how the English was. “It might as well be Japanese for all we understand,” I told him.

One of the main errors was the translation of carrera, which in English can be race (which we were doing) or career (I don’t think so!) Some first-timers must have been sitting there thinking, Holy crap, what have I signed up to?

Of course, as we thought and realised later on, there were those there who were doing their career. The elites that get sponsored, who every week are somewhere in South America running up and down mountains, winning prize money, earning their ticket to the next adventure race; they might have understood the wrong translation perfectly.

But, laying in bed that night, that thinking was far from our minds. This wasn’t our daily comfort zone. Far from it. But this was our first adventure race and damn if we weren’t going to have fun doing it.

 

Back on the horse

I had to laugh yesterday when I got out of bed. It wasn’t pain exactly, but the muscles in my legs were definitely shouting “GOOD MORNING! HERE WE ARE AGAIN!”  This was after a 4.5-mile run on Sunday. Yes, a mere FOUR-POINT-FIVE miles.

Rubbish! And laughable after the miles and miles of doing Cruce de los Andes.

But, at some point, you have to get back to it, and finally, that was Sunday. My legs had been itching to get moving again for about a week, but  having to search the internet for wedding venues (the clock was ticking while I was still in Argentina) and catching up with friends in places like bars and restaurants put paid to that.

So that sunny late morning I donned my Cruce t-shirt and headed out on an old route. It used to be my ‘hills’ route, but after having done Cruce, I’m not going to even bother lumping those London bumps in the same sphere!

There were two things about getting back to ‘normality’ for me the other day. The first was that I spent most of the run thinking back to all those moments of Cruce and imagining being back there. Running along in my t-shirt gave me such a buzz. I am the only person on this island who has this shirt. I am the only person on this island who travelled to Argentina to do Cruce. What a great feeling. I almost forgot about the running.

The second thing was trying to emulate the ‘flying’ of Equipo 1. Team 1 from Cruce have won the race three years on the trot. On day one, 38kms up and down a volcano, we did it in 8 hours 20. They did it in just under 4. They are truly amazing. As one ESPN cameramen said, “It’s like they are flying over the ground, not running.”

So, I thought about that. I tried to keep light and smooth, pump my arms a little more, keep my back straight and lift my legs higher, tread softer, instead of wobbling as I surely do from side to side like Teletubby in trainers. It was a good tactic, as focussing on that also kept me busy. My body was loving me. My lungs were wondering why they weren’t still on holiday.

Because that’s the thing about getting back on the horse that hasn’t actually bucked you. The holiday is over. We’re getting back on a horse which had taken us round the world, delighted and impressed us. We are not putting our running shoes back on with a groan and fear in mind. Instead, there’s a feeling that it will never quite be the same again.

And there’s no going back. It was a comfy saddle.

 

THIS IS BRILLIANT!

There are many things in this world I don’t understand. Calculus. Argentine popular television programmes. Fashion.

And complainers. Especially those who complain while doing something they chose to do.

Doing Cruce de los Andes was one of the greatest things I have, personally, ever done. For the physical challenge; for the experience shared with my best friend; for the incredible views and places we saw; for the achievement.

Although the decision to do it was taken rather easily, Maria and I both knew that there would have to be a strong commitment to it. And that commitment was broad too, including: our time, our fitness, our money. And we invested in all three.

So, it pained me when we got to the finish line, burst over the time chip and happily stood in the queue to get over the lake to the final finish at the camp, to hear people complaining about the race.

“I am so over this race now. This needs to be over. Why didn’t they…” We shut our ears to the rest.

24 hours later, we were at the airport in Neuquen waiting for our flight back to Buenos Aires. The little restaurant was full of Cruce runners: faces we had spotted as we’d passed them; heads we’d only seen the back of; and all telling slightly different versions of the same last three days. It was a good atmosphere. People were tired, but happy.

Apart from the bunch of girls at the table next to us. On their mobiles, talking to friends and family for the first time since finishing (actually, it turned out they didn’t), all they could do was moan and whine on. It was as if they were the only four runners in the whole event. Their bags didn’t turn up on the second day! It was total chaos! They had to wait!

Like everybody else.

Cruce de los Andes is not an event for princes and princesses. We saw plenty of people who didn’t qualify, for whatever reason: injury, border issues. And we heard other team mates shouting as if the world was ending to their running partner, metres behind, trying to get them to hurry up. Being angry about it all is a complete waste of energy and time.

But we were so close.

I know, and that’s the point. You were there. You at least had the chance. You nearly did and probably could have (for whatever reason). You still saw all that stuff along the way. And you chose to do it, knowing it wasn’t going to be five-star service and everything at your fingertips.

So, these people should stop complaining and take away the good things from the trip. It’s not called an adventure race for no reason. It’s hard, things go wrong, you’re at the mercy of nature. And in those tough and trying moments, with burning thighs, sun beating down, a never-ending climb, the finish always round another bend, there was only one thing I could shout:

THIS IS BRILLIANT!

Cruce environment

Never in my life have I been surrounded by so many people with the same love of running.

Laura and I had spent the weeks before Cruce discussing the ‘freaks’ that would present and wondering if we’d be sorely outnumbered.  Much to our surprise, this wasn’t the case.  There were people from all walks of life and various countries, but we all had the common interest of running.

On the flight to Neuquén, we started eyeing people’s watches and shoes to guess who would be joining us.  We had our first Cruce conversation with a Brazilian man while waiting to catch the overnight bus to San Martín de los Andes.  We discussed our training, if we’d complemented with weights or stairs and if this was our first time.  That conversation was repeated over and over with members of different teams during the next 4 days.  I managed to find people that run the same routes as me and I learned where there are hills for training (just in case we do this again).  We were given tips by other runners and caught the Cruce fever by just being surrounded so many avid runners.

Even though I’ve run several road races, I’ve never felt the sense of community that I did while in the camps.  The awkwardness that might be present at the start of conversations was missing.  Chats with fellow runners were struck up with ease due to our common ground.  It made the event that much more special.  Not only did we start with a collective joy of running, but we all left with experiences of surviving the Mocho-Choshuenco volcano and the details of the ups and downs (literally) of each day.

Where angels fear to tread

As someone who loves surprises, I always welcome those moments in life when people, or something else entirely, enter it and come to the rescue. These moments are all the sweeter because you are, a) least expecting it and, b) later realise what could have happened if they hadn’t stepped in.

After doing El Cruce Columbia, our 3-day 11okm run/trek from Chile to Argentina, neither Maria nor myself can look back on the whole fabulous experience without paying homage to our running friends and neighbours, Equipo 86.

In the first camp, where we spent two nights, Equipo 90’s tent was right next to 86 on the beach of the lake which laps at Puerto Fuy, the village where we started. Equipo 86 was two guys from San Luis, a small province in Argentina which borders the mountains and wine growing region of Mendoza and the green hills of Cordoba to its east. As they said, it’s a place which is muy tranquilo.

Jose is a PE teacher and Gonzalo works in HR and that first day we got to know them over mate and cookies. We talked about the adventures we knew were coming, how we trained in such different places and what the hell this young American bird and young Brit bird were doing in the middle of all this. We traded jokes and stories and we were all there for the same reason: to take it seriously, yes, but to also enjoy the experience more than anything.

As we lay in the tent that first night, excited and nervous, giggles errupted from our neighbours (with over 750 tents on the lake shore, you can imagine how close we all were) We laughed with them, called out to each other and built a Cruce bond. The next morning they laughed at us as we were some of the last ones up, while they had everything prepared and were ready for the off. They would go off and end up doing very, very well.

After that first tough, but wonderful day, we came back to them shouting for us, smiles wide and expectations high. They shared in our feat and we exchanged more stories of the day. Tired, we put ourselves in the lake to cool the muscles and while we went to get some food, they dug a canal around our tent in preparation for the coming rain that night. We hadn’t thought about doing that. Nothing worse than waking up to a flooded tent and having to pack wet stuff or put it on to run in. Equipo 86: looking out for more than themselves.

That night we were stuck in our tents as the rain tried to drown out, unsuccessfully, the laughing between our tents, and the next day began the same. Lots of luck passed between us as they set off first for the starting line, spritely and organised, and we did it in our laid back style. And what a day that was, but for now, let’s say it was long and tough, wondrous and hellish, and full of surprises. We made it to camp after ten hours. The moon was high over the lake, it was still light. We we wet, hungry and exhuasted.

The second camp was on the southern shores of the same lake, though this time, while we had made it before night fall, our backpacks hadn’t. This meant no sleeping bags, no dry clothes, no plates and cutley to eat food with. As the stars shone brighter, we grabbed a place by the fire and took off our trainers and socks to dry out a bit. Sitting eating sausages from the grill, wondering what to do and trying to stay warm, two familiar shadows suddenly loomed over us.

“EQUIPO 90!!!” There stood Jose and Gonzalo. Two angels ready to save us from cold and hunger. They had arrived some 4 hours before us, as had their bags. They waited for us on the beach and started to get a bit worried. Still, we had made it. They lent us warm clothes, bowls to fill with pasta, mugs to fill with tea and socks to cover soggy feet. They did our washing up. And, as many slept shivering around the dying fire that night while waiting for their bags, we were on inflatable mattresses in front of a mud oven, hot and cosy. They had heard there was a cabin, and although it was full, after we had eaten, they took us over to a small cafe and got us a place on the floor of the kitchen. We slept warm and dry, and better than we would have done in the tent.

Equipo 86 had stepped in, and we had warmth and comfort because of them. This meant that for the last day of the race, we were refreshed and relaxed, and we could improve on our positioning. We had a great last day and did so. So many others between days two and three dropped out and dropped down. I am not sure we would have finished so full of beans had it not been for Jose and Gonzalo taking care of us the night before.

Of course, Equipo 86 were in San Martín when we finally made it back to civilisation and we celebrated our achievements over wine and beer and food. It was the perfect and right end to our adventure. They had shared our highs and lows, they knew the sacrifices and moments of pain. They understood the high we would be feeling for a long, long time.

And they had helped us. Our humble angels from San Luis had flown in where others never would. They were never absent from our struggles, so they deserve to share in our success.

To Jose and Gonzalo, Equipo 86 and our Cruce Crusaders. 

The wings of angels are often found on the backs of the least likely people.  ~Eric Honeycutt

M is for making it

As Maria has already written, and as you will guess from the title, M&MRC, Equipo 90 (and all the other names we are now known by!) have made it through the Cruce de los Andes. We have run, climbed, slid, stepped, walked, waded, ducked, rolled over, pounded, staggered, shuffled and run a bit more as if our lives depended on it to cross the line three days in a row and complete what I have to say has been the challenge of a lifetime, thus far.

It has been marvellous, magical and momentous. We have minged; we have mocked; and we have marvelled.

And we have made a mountain of memories.

As stories filter through on this blog over the next days/weeks/months/years/decades (you can be sure) I just wanted to pause a second and reflect on something we discussed yesterday and which came up again in conversation with my mum.

With grins a mile wide, tired eyes and quads which were aching for a massage, we sat on the bus leaving San Martín de los Andes on Monday. We remembered our worst five minutes of the race, we did impressions of those we had met and we generally distracted ourselves from the reality we were facing once it was all well and truly over.

At one point, I said: “I think this has been good for M and F (our boyfriends).”

“Why is that?” Maria replied.

“It will get them used to it, won’t it?”

The fact there was a laugh and a knowing smile instead of words told me all I needed to know.

For, now this challenge is over, there are expectations in other areas of our lives. Another two ‘M’s that like to be thrown at us: Marriage and Motherhood.

I ask myself, are they mutually exclusive? Surely not. We have met people from all over Latin America and beyond who were doing El Cruce 2012 and it was such a mixed bag: old couples, youngish friends, women pushing their boundaries while their teenage children waited for them at the finish line. We met men who train 6 days a week. And they have wives, ex-wives, children and jobs to deal with. But everyone agreed on one thing: the support of their family.

We have had amazing support from our families and friends, both near and far. And I think we’ve both realized that we’re going to have to ask for it time and again as live goes on and M&MRC throws itself at more challenges and feats.

These experiences become part of who you are: woman, wife, mother, employee, boss, runner, writer… whatever other labels you might have.

We have proved we can make it. Now we’ve got to prove we can make it work in our lives.

Accomplishment

After 3 days, over 110 kms (more details on that later) and 21+ hours moving, M&M RC has completed Cruce de los Andes 2012!!  The sense of accomplishment is overwhelming and we randomly get smiles from cheek to cheek as we realize what we’ve just done.

Although it’s hard to put into words what we’ve just done, we’re going to slowly post about our experience and share as much as we can about this amazing adventure.

Stay tuned for stories, pictures, videos and quotes from Equipo 90!

 

The last stop

We are here. San Martin de los Andes is hosting us, and another 1,500 El Cruce Columbia 2012 participants. We’d like to say the town is a hive of bright blue shirts and fleeces, and we are enjoying the lush green surroundings of the beautiful countryside in this part of the world.

But the truth is, we can’t see them so well.

Ash has descended and it feels like we are in a Buenos Aires fog. Tonight we do dances hoping for a change in wind direction. Still, it’s sunny and warm and we’re enjoying our day in the town. Not running. Here’s how we got here:

Death Ride Taxi

We nearly didn’t make it alive to the airport last night, as our taxi driver (like many, alas, in Buenos Aires) lacked basic knowledge of the road and brakes. After a couple of near death experiences and shaving quite a few pedestrians and other cars, we did surprisingly get to the Aeroparque without injuries.

Freak Spotting

As soon as we hit the bar for a pre-flight bevvie we spotted a few other runners of Cruce. Matching and personalised t-shirts, super-duper sporty watches, flourescent running shoes and that mean and lean running look: these are the hallmarks of quite a lot of the running freaks. To put into perspective, we were wearing jeans, beachy vest tops and flip-flops. You have to trick the enemy sometimes.

Late Sleep, Early Rise

After a milanesa in Neuquen bus station we boarded our rather comfy coach to San Martin. Front road seats afforded us spectacular night-time views of the rather drab Neuquen and the even worse driving of our bus driver. It was time to get some shut-eye and a few hours later, in darkness, we arrived here. Chugging with our packs to the garage, the only place open at 6am, we ensconced ourselves there with tea and coffee and the free snackettes we hadn’t eaten from the bus.

Registration

The hours ticked by and we could finally dump our stuff at the hostel and head to register for Cruce. The happening place was a local school, and both of us were amazed by the organisation of it all. Once we handed over our fit notes and paid up, we got one of the most exciting shopping lists we have ever had: our personalised t-shirts, our personalised flags, our timer chips, incredible fleeces, a huge bag full of goodies (yerba, thermos, bowl, wooden plate, base layer, thermal cup, glass, scarfy-bandana thing – ALL CRUCE PERSONALISED!) and this was finished with a photo shoot by TRU TV. We saw plenty more freaks, but what was heartening was those in wigs, normal clothes and generally messing about like us with excitement.

And Now?

After a hearty lunch, we’re going to take our last shower for 3-4 days and take our packs over to the school for boarding on the trucks. Humans depart for Chile tomorrow and, luckily, we are leaving at 5.15. Yes, in the MORNING. It’s lucky because it could have been FOUR. Tonight, we have the joy of some wine tasting (nothing like last-minute preparation) and a chat by the head organiser with some rousing music and no doubt fireworks. OK, we made the last bit up. We can only hope.

So, here we are: next stop, the Andes. And we´ll see you on the other side. Guaranteed we’ll see you with weary legs and feet,  disgusting smelling armpits, but huge smiles and a bucketload of memories and stories to tell you all. Thanks for all your support.

To check for our status see: www.elcrucecolumbia.com/2012/es/equipos/90

To donate to Cure Alzheimer’s Fund go to: www.firstgiving.com/fundraiser/maria-pugliese/cruce

To donate to the Pelican Cancer Foundation go to: https://mydonate.bt.com/fundraisers/lauramilsom1