A report of the Inca Trail Marathon from Invercargil based EPC athlete Jan Taylor
Inca Trail Marathon, Peru, South America
Running the Inca Trail marathon on the 8th August high in the Peruvian Andes, seemed like a good idea when I signed up for this trip twelve months earlier. It wasn’t until I saw the profile of the marathon and you- tube clips of the event that I began to realise what I was in for.
The Inca Trail marathon was organised through Andes Adventures. Devy Reinstein a native of Peru now living in the United States has been guiding runners and trekkers in the Andes for the past 18 years. While visiting Cusco in 1995, Devy, a talented ultra-runner, decided to run the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu in one day. That gave birth to the Andes Adventure run, a tour he now leads several times a year.
Andrew and I, on the advice of Devy Reinstein, our tour leader and guide, arrived in Cusco three days prior to the tour starting. Cusco is the ancient capital of the Inca Empire and the continent’s oldest continuously inhabited city situated 11,150ft above sea level. Just walking up to our room on the 4th floor had me gasping for air. We spent the three days resting in the morning, going for sightseeing trips in the afternoon and resting again in the evening.
On the evening of the second day Devy contacted us to say that 10 runners had checked in and he was planning a run at 7am in the morning just to get a feel for the altitude and get our legs moving. This was the first experience of what it was like running at altitude. We took the bus up to Sacayhuaman (prounounced “Sexy woman” by those of us speaking English) at 12,136 feet. The run was mainly downhill but had a few inclines which were small rises but made my legs feel like lead and breathing was difficult. I was starting to realise how hard this marathon was going to be. Our run finished back at our hotel in time for breakfast.
This was the first of three acclimatization runs, the second run was similar to our first run but down a different route while exploring Inca ruins and running through the village of Yuncaypata arriving back at Cusco in time for lunch. The third run was went primarily downhill for 10 kms, past a large community owned salt mine finishing down a scenic trail leading to the Urubamba River. The elevation on these runs ranged between 8000ft and 12,136 ft. Shortness of breath and “heavy legs” were a common experience on these runs. The weather was very warm so not only did I have to adjust to the altitude but also the heat. Being so high up sun burn was a real problem and the 30+ sunscreen was not providing much protection. I ended up having to purchase 50+ sunscreen.
The day before the marathon we hiked to km 88 “Qoriwayrachina”. There we entered the Machu Picchu Sanctuary National Park. Arriving at our camp site in the archaeological site of Llactapata “Town on Hillside” at 8,400 feet. We arrived to find our campsite set up, tents already pitched and a bowl of water we could use to freshen up with. That afternoon we were involved in presenting the gifts of the used shoes and clothing that we had brought from home for the porters who were supporting us on the marathon. This was truly a humbling experience.
The following morning we were woken at 2am to get ready for our 4am start. We had a 30 minute walk to the start line. There were twelve of us in the marathon 9 males and three females. We all came from different counties, back grounds and degrees of experience but we all shared a common passion in running.
Starting the race in the dark was a new experience for me although it didn’t take long to for me to get used to the light which was a good thing as I would be finishing the race in the dark as well. During this gruelling course, we would face donkeys, cows and Llamas blocking trails not to mention hikers heading to Machu Picchu, thousands of stone steps rising and descending more than 10,000 feet. The hardest part of the marathon physically and mentally was the seemingly never ending climbs up Dead Woman’s Pass, at a height of 13,779 feet, the highest pass in the Inca Trail.
Jan at the top of Dead Woman's Pass
After a rocky descent into the valley, to the Pacaymayo River, where we begin the climb toward Runkurakay pass at 13,100 feet. The trail descends rocky slopes and reaches the strategic fortress of Sayacmarca “Dominant Town” at 12,234 feet. Beyond Sayacmarca the trail enters dense groves. At this point we had passed the halfway point of the race. Below Sayacmarca the trail drops away into lush cloud forest before climbing to the next pass. This is one of the most beautiful sections of the route, and forms a remnant of the Inca Road. At times, the trail winds next to sheer drops that spill thousands of feet down to the Urubamba River in the valley below.
After negotiating a 20 meter Inca tunnel with carved steps I came to the top of the third pass, just below were the Phuyupatamarca “Town in the clouds” at 11,939 feet which was where I knew I wouldn’t make the Sun Gate in time before it closed but would take a trail down to the railway track which would take me to the town of Machu Picchu. From this point the trail descends a series of hundreds of steps and to make things more difficult it was getting dark so it was back to running with the head lamp again. The trail I had to take down to the railway track at the bottom of the valley next to the Urubamba River was a series of more steps. In the light of my torch light I could see scorpions and spiders on the ground attracted by my light. However I had the company of a guide and two porters who escorted me down the trail. At one point I slipped but my bottom didn’t even get to touch the ground before being pulled back to my feet by these amazing porters. To finish the marathon via the railway track I had an extra 2 miles to get to the town of Aguas Caliantes (Machu Picchu) where our hotel was. As we making our way along the railway track we had to make a quick exit off the track to avoid an oncoming train just to add to the adventure of the day. Finally the lights of Machu Picchu could be seen and it was an amazing feeling to see that everyone from the tour party waiting to greet me at the end of the railway track. It took me 16 hours 55 mins to complete the marathon but it was the most gruelling but satisfying event I have ever done. Devy and his team provide an amazing, supportive running tour that catered for everyone’s needs which I would recommend to anyone wanting a challenge and exploring some amazing historical sites of South America.
WELL DONE JAN