Problems and possibilities: A runner’s tale


In February, the always reliable BBC reported that training very hard is as bad as no exercise at all. Timed well to relieve the guilt of possibly already broken New Year’s resolutions, the study of 1,000 people found that strenuous joggers were more likely to die sooner than couch potatoes. Later it turned out there were 36 people in the self defined category of ‘strenuous joggers’ and two of them died (of unknown reasons), but the story was out, and now only strenuous joggers and sociologists were interested in the truth.

So when my running buddies joke that I run nine days a week, it’s not far off from the truth. Never mind what BBC would make of that, I don’t know how many casualties there might be if I _didn’t_ run. The more intensive training plan coach Rolando has devised to prepare us for the Lima 42k in May has not just kept this sociologist out of mischief but also reasonably balanced. This is code for not going completely berserk. Because, man, do I have reasons to start buffering:

The school holiday in Peru is longer than an average Kardashian marriage and about as long as the Falklands War, which precipitates all kinds of problems in itself.

Our tourist visas expired, we had made zero progress in obtaining residency (of course), and thanks to the mental damage caused by David Cameron I couldn’t bear the thought of staying in any country illegally. Having read about foreigners being denied re-entry or, worse, being kidnapped by bandits, our border hopping trip to Ecuador was ok. DD got fined for overstaying her visa, though. Given that the stamps in our passports had exactly the same dates, and that you just don’t argue with border officials, my only conclusion is that time must literally fly faster when you’re small (except on school holidays), a bit like, you know, dog years. It was the only time in my life I was happy that I don’t own a Bichon Frisé.

There comes a point when a career break becomes unemployment. We can argue about the exact coordinates; my guess is definitely by the time the bank balance drops below £ 49. My sympathies go to anyone trying to find a job in a foreign country that requires that you’ve gone to primary school (and possibly other places…) with every Juan Pablo’ worth knowing. Peace be with you.

So, against these and other adversities, I’m happy to share some running success. My first race since the Amazon Race Forest was a slightly less respectable 10K dirt track by the beach on a hot Sunday that the Real Club organizers preposterously called a ‘marathon’ (note: Real Club is a leisure club).

_(Photo: Dulce Pedroso Facebook)_

Had it been a marathon, I’d be in the world records, which I’m not, but nevertheless took my first ever podium position in an organized race. I also got 500 soles (and so doubled my wealth) for coming second! This was great given I’d just spent 200 soles to sign up to run a 21K in the North Face Endurance Challenge on February 28th. I can’t help feeling that my achievement had something to do with the state of women’s participation in amateur sports in this country. The very elite aside and the people from Huancayo aside, I think the gap between men’s and women’s level in such events is not really justifiable.

But, if that means I can run through the cracks and to the podium, what are ideals for if not for discussion?

_After the race, yet prior to the the controversy, Remigio Huamán stands proud (Photo: Peru Runners Facebook)_

No such cracks at the NFC event though. We’re talking about one of the main ultra and mountain races (including a 10K and 21K) events in Peru taking place in the _serros_ of Asia, about 100km south of Lima. The landscape may feel homely if you’re e.g. a Taliban, but for me the sight of endless dry rocks, sand and screen with a few pitiful cactuses, made a too strong metaphor for the solitude I often feel in this country. If it was a jigsaw, it would be one with 5,000 pieces and just two colours: blue and brown. I filled my bag with more water, snacks, vaseline and sun screen than what might have been necessary.

The NFC also supposedly had cut-off points, meaning anyone taking longer than a set time to pass an aid-station would be automatically disqualified. I didn’t see this being enforced by any degree (as with most of civil law in Peru), any more than I saw anyone getting penalised for throwing rubbish on the route, another commendable principle, I think.

What was enforced, and controversially so, was the two hour penalty to the originally claimed male winners of the 80K, Remigio Huamán and Emerson Trujillo. According to the race organiser, the elite runners had “involuntarily shortcut”. This is a very Peruvian way of assuming responsibility, be it bad sign posting or bad public policy. (“!No es mi culpa!”, as I’ve heard several times from our back garden during this – did I already say ‘long’? – school holiday.)

Apparently, somewhere at the 70K mark, the two leaders (“involuntarily”) missed a turn and so cut 3 kilometers off the official route. Of course the opprobrium of Peruvian runners and fans, was not the least alleviated by the gold or, to be exact, North Face gift vouchers – which makes it worse – being now handed over to a gringo, Michael Wardian (US).

“The route wasn’t well sign posted,” people protested on Facebook. Even worse, some of the poor course marshals, whose job it was to keep the runners on the route, had involuntarily fallen asleep when the first runners passed them at the crack of dawn! (They’d been up since 2 a.m. and it was only the most hailed ultra marathon event of the year.) Those who hadn’t fallen asleep gave wrong, even contradicting directions, which _anyone_ who has ever asked for directions to _anywhere_ in Peru will find extremely shocking…

But back to the more interesting topic, that is me, at least to me. Although proper trail shoes and protective gloves wouldn’t necessarily go to waste on a route like this, I enjoyed every second of the race, and was kept going by some atavistic survival instinct. When many seemed beat by the mountains, I was able to pick up pace and run the last four kilometers well below a 5 min/km pace, ending up as the 16th woman.

More importantly, this race marked a special anniversary. One year ago, one moment I had been filling my time sheet or doing whatever important consultants do on a Friday, and preparing to go for drinks with the colleagues. The next, I was sitting in front of someone with a lot of letters in front of their name calling an operating theatre about an urgent case of a female patient, who I figured, had some connection with me.

A lot has passed since the spine operation, including miles I thought I’d never be able to run. The organization of these events hasn’t put me off the idea of doing an ultra marathon either. It’s Peru. “Problem and possibility”, as Jorge Basadre, the nation’s historian put it nicely. By the time I’ll be passing them, no course marshals will be asleep anymore – or they’ll be waking up to my victory scream, should I ever, ever, ever in my life make it past 70 km. And I promise, they don’t want that to happen.

_Dulce Pedroso was working as a management consultant in London until July 2014, when she exchanged the fog to the smog of wintery Lima. If settling into a new country is like getting used to a new pair of shoes, in her case those have been running shoes. Getting to know the pavements and cerros of Lima and further afield before the sun rise, has brought many friends, adventures and much needed respite from the city’s daily chaos. This in turn has led to, if not more frequent, at least less frustrated blog posts about another foreign transplant’s life in Peru. Her dream is to take part in one of this country’s spectacular ultra marathons and live to blog the tale. Read her original posts_ here drama lurked behind Dulce’s latest race, the North Face Challenge?