High Altitude Harmony: Egan's Volcano Marathon

June 18, 2024

In 2013, Ian Egan embarked on an unforgettable journey that took him to the heart of the Atacama Desert in Chile for the Volcano Marathon. This adventure, marked by physical challenges, breathtaking landscapes, and newfound friendships, left a lasting mark on his life. He spoke to Run Republic all about the experience.

Ian's story begins with a serendipitous twist. Much like his unexpected opportunity to run in the North Pole Marathon, Ian learned of a last-minute cancellation for the Volcano Marathon. Despite nursing a hamstring injury and having only run a few significant races since August of that year, including winning the Garrafrauns to Dunmore 6k for the second consecutive year and earning a bronze in the M45 5000m at the National Masters, he seized the opportunity.

"We flew into San Pedro de Atacama on November 11th," Ian recalled. The town, sitting 2300 metres above sea level, would serve as the starting point for their acclimatisation. The Atacama Desert, one of the driest places on Earth, offered a unique and challenging environment. Ian spent three days walking and jogging through this harsh yet stunning landscape, preparing for the limited oxygen they would face during the marathon.

On the morning of November 14th, they were bussed to the starting line at an elevation of 4500 metres on the side of the Lascar volcano. The early morning views were nothing short of spectacular, setting the stage for the gruelling race ahead.

"The race briefing was critical," Ian emphasised, particularly noting the private advice he received from legendary race organiser Richard Donovan: "Don't go off hard." Easing into the race, Ian quickly realised that pushing the pace at such a high altitude was impossible. The thin air made breathing a challenge, let alone running fast.

Ian settled into a steady rhythm alongside a runner from the UK. Together, they navigated from one water station to the next, each spaced 10km apart. As they progressed, the two runners formed a strong bond, encouraging each other along the unique and difficult course.

Around the 20-mile mark, amidst splendid isolation, they encountered another runner, a woman who was about to head off in the wrong direction. They called out to her, and their duo became a trio. The trio faced the race's brutal underfoot conditions, working together to overcome the relentless terrain.

As they crested the final hill, the finish line shimmered in the sunlight about a kilometre away. There was no sprint to the finish, just a collective effort to reach the end. Hand in hand, they crossed the finish line, holding each other's hands aloft, securing 4th, 5th, and 6th places.

The moment was incredibly emotional for Ian. "It was a true lifetime experience which I still struggle to vocabularise," he admitted to Run Republic. The race, marked by its physical demands and the profound friendships formed, left Ian with memories that he cherishes deeply to this day.

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