“The mountains are calling and I must go.” 
John Muir

When you feel kind of chubby and sluggish amongst all the other contenders you know that this must be some severe footrace clash. Examining all the other joggers while warming up for the “Campeonato Suramerica de Carrera de Montana” I had more than a notion that this would be some pretty serious get-together. I was probably the only one that wasn’t racing in a national vest. Runners from Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela, Ecuador and the host nation Colombia beside several other countries looked like they meant business. When you show up at a mountain race and nobody wears mountain running shoes you finally know that this is going to be wild!

The La Mojarra canyon in Colombia’s “Parque Nacional de Chicamocha” was the perfect playground to host a championship race like this (…and the World Championship course in 2013!). Just by looking at the raw figures you get an idea on what the route feels like. I checked the course the day before with a gentle downhill jog to get an idea what’s been waiting for us. The data I got looked like this:

  • Course Length: 7,5 km
  • Elevation Start: 540 Meter
  • Elevation Finish: 1.580 Meter
  • Climbing: 1.040 Meter

Given that the first kilometer and the last 500 meters were plain flat or slightly downhill gives you an idea that climbing 1.040 Meters during 6 kilometer is pretty nasty climbing and not really runnable. If I trust what a Swiss math’s teacher told me, this would be an average of 17,59% elevation. Pretty bad ass.

As the “Teleferico” transported us to the start at the bottom of the valley the sun came out and heated up the route. Once arrived at the start it seemed that the organizers were waiting for the hottest part of the day to start the race. I tried to cool down with loads of water. As always in South America the water at the races was handed out in little plastic bags. I became a huge fan of that drink system. It is so practical and easy, more than an alternative to cups. I just wonder why nobody else picks up that system.

The gun sounded and after a smooth 1k stretcher the climbing madness commenced. Straight up the hill we went. Just wright from the start the course was technical and the tight trails did not give many possibilities to overtake. I did not need them anyway. No serpentines, no switchbacks. Parts of the course were so extreme that the only chance to not fall or slide was to use the hands, a full body effort. My race routine moved between power hiking and sprinting for a few meters. It requires a special type of fitness to be up the front in a race like this. Jogging for hours on South American trails is more less my daily routine. Running hard not. I felt it from the start.

The field was stretched out right from the first vertical. A Brazilian girl and I experienced the same troubles. It was helpful to have someone to run (hike?) with. A bit after halfway I passed the Brazilian miss and caught some more runners (hikers?). I felt stronger the longer the race went and suffered on in the boiling Colombian lunchtime sun. Despite not having the top fitness for a race like this I really enjoy the concept of the Vertical K races. Certainly something I would like to train for in the future. The last downhill stretch towards the finish line in front of the National Park was a relief. I was literally grilled and ready for shadow and a cold beer. This mountain racing is sick. My muscular agony was (…and still is) so intense. I haven’t had a similar experience before.

The Colombian hospitality and friendliness doesn’t know any boarders. Coming from Ecuador I was already stunned and spoiled by warmhearted and welcoming people. Hanging out around Colombians just tops that. The atmosphere before, during and after the race was an example on how to deal with guests. Pointless to say I had to take heaps of pictures with tons of people I haven’t met before. I was just surprised how many of them knew my name. It is refreshing and inspiring to be received in a community that way. Columbia – hands down.

Song of the day: Madvillain – Sick fit


This is the end – Finish in front of “Parque Nacional de Chicamocha”
Numero 27 – The canyon where it all happened in the back.
50 Meters to go…
Team Colombia with a certain sunburned and bushed holidaymaker.