Letter from the South: Racing the Tide

May 19, 2012 • Uncategorized • Views: 646

by Diana Saverin:

I arrived in Puerto Montt yesterday—after nearly 24 hours of bus riding—in the late afternoon winter darkness as wind rattled the metal roof of the station. The first thing my friend who picked me up asked me, as we passed a stoplight that would later be thrown down by the storm, was if I liked to run in the rain.

The next thing I knew my alarm was sounding at 6:30am (still dark). I climbed out of my sleeping bag and reached for my running shoes. It was the first annual Chilean army-sponsored race around the perimeter of an island in the sound of Puerto Montt called Isla Tenglo. Since I have an injury that has had me in and out of MRIs and walking boots since late October, and has kept me from running during the past month, I told myself I would just do the small four-kilometer leg of the race. But the same tendency towards excess that got me the stress injury in the first place made my self-imposed limits unlikely to succeed…

An image of the early-morning Desafío Tenglo race set-up on the black-sand beach. (Credit: http://www.facebook.com/DesafioTenglo)

In contrast to the pricy races in the US, this race was free. The first 500 participants even got a t-shirt—and everyone got water and snacks. But as I signed up and later as I ran, I was struck by the universality of race culture: there are the gear-zealots who sport compression-fabric everything, with mazes drawn onto their spandex to tight socks that reach their knees. There’s the blasting American pop music at the start line, and the rush to use the bathrooms. There’s the halting of the mass movement when someone falls, and then quickly scrambles up, while trying to lift a thumb in order to prevent anyone from stopping. There’s the camaraderie and conversations with random strangers (one man even gave me a square of my favorite Chilean chocolate bar, Sahne-nuss). There’s the awkwardness of being cheered on by strangers, who inevitably start yelling when you are too far away and cannot maintain the enthusiasm (only exacerbated by the fact that many spectators were in small skiffs or rowboats along the coast). There are the trail-runner stripes that leave zigzagging lines of caked-on dirt, rock, and blood from the soles of my shoes on the inside of my legs (sloppy form doesn’t improve on sand, it seems).

Those things were the same as many races I’ve been in—or at least similar (I’ve rarely had “vamosvamosvamos!” screamed at me at the US). But this race was unique by any standards. To get to the start line, we jumped in Navy boats to cross from the mainland. The beginning crossed a stretch of black sand, followed in large part by long stretches of slippery rocks reflecting, with textured brightness, the pink mist-muted morning light. Some of us didn’t beat the tide in time, and had to wade through patches of ocean to reach land again (encouraged at higher volumes from nearby boaters). We circumambulated the island, following the rocky and sandy beaches for thirteen kilometers.

Since I was running, I unfortunately don’t have pictures, but there are several on this site: http://www.facebook.com/DesafioTenglo.

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