I had a great group to run with in Paraguay – more generous souls, one of whom even gave me his much-loved hat. I then ran with a man who was on his first run after a bad cycling accident in Santiago, Chile, and ran some of my 33rd marathon with an ankle-biting pack of dogs in La Paz, Bolivia. In Lima, it was back to gazing at the ocean.
Day 71 – Paraguay, Marathon 31
Today’s marathon is entitled: ‘The one with the hat.’ A landlocked loop today. No shoreline, but I still managed to find a beach. A support car stopping ahead every 3km or so was a lifeline. We started at 6am when the sun was not quite awake, pretty similar to me, really. Despite not being able to see the big ball of gas, I could certainly feel it – 27°C. At mile 2 we were literally dripping wet. So humid I could ring my top out. When the locals tell you it’s especially hot, I start to worry. At mile 25 it had reached 45°C. Like a rat hunting for cover, we were darting from one small patch of shade to another.
My 31st marathon was split into three stages. The first was Jaun’s leg, with help from a fab lady called Rocio. The middle section was with Eugenia and Rico. Eugenia was a speedy runner and a seriously competitive athlete, on her toes the whole time and setting a good pace – all this after having her second child just four months prior. Rico was one of the most instantly lovable people; so warm-hearted it just oozed from her. The last 8 miles-ish was spent with Hugo and Eugenia running some sub-8-minute miles around a lovely park. Considering the heat, we were actually all pacing along nicely. We had the comfort of ice blocks, oranges, Powerade and water, all cooled in a chill box every few km provided by Jaun and his wife. All this at dusk, so the sunrise over the city was spectacular. Marathon done, no sunburn, not as exhausted as I was expecting having had very little sleep, time to rest. This is where Hugo steps up.
So far this trip has been one big mission pin balling from one cluster of lovely people to another. This was no exception. Hugo drove me to his house via another store to collect ice. He bought 100kg of ice so I could soak my legs in his hot tub. It’s now a cold tub. I lasted 15 minutes. The ice lasted about 60 seconds. The highlight of the day was Hugo’s huge kindness. He gave me his much-loved and well-travelled hat. I am now its proud owner and will guard it with my life. Hugo, thank you.
Day 72 – Paraguay to Santiago, Chile
Why the blooming Henries do they not give you pens when handing out immigration forms? RANT WARNING. I have an idea, ditch the forms altogether and there would be no need for pens. We can grow artificial hearts from a petri dish, put men on the moon, and send a message to the other side of the world with just a tap of a button, but we can’t make the leap to electronic immigration. Why do they want to know my name and date of birth on a piece of paper when I’m handing over the most significant document of my life that holds exactly that information? Rant over, nearly.
I’m writing this on the plane to Santiago, Chile. My 43rd flight of the trip, I believe. A three-hour flight. I’m sat in the middle seat, loud snorer to my left, who is fond of cuddling up to my shoulder every so often. To my right I have a small human kneeling on his seat, turning around to speak to the row behind. This 40ish-year-old man finds it necessary to laugh loudly at the aforementioned snorer. He is starting to get my goat. Sit down, shut up, and behave less like an irritating child. Oh people are fabulous. Peace and love to all, and the occasional whack to the head of some with a strong mallet. (On the off-chance this lovely chap is struck down by a mallet or another equally useful utensil, it wasn’t me, and nor do I condone such violence…) Generally all that is needed in these situations is a very British glare followed by an overly polite request to please ‘Sshh’. Oh wait, one second, it’s now my turn to pick between coffee, water or coke; once I decide I also get handed a little napkin and a fantastically insincere smile from what I call the ‘dinner ladies of the sky’. I think I need sleep. Marathon 32 in Santiago tomorrow.
Day 73 – Santiago, Chile, Marathon 32
Chilly in Chile – my first long-sleeve day since Toronto on Day 1. Seems like a long time ago. I suppose it was, really. Today was one of the most peaceful and relaxing marathons of the trip.
I hopped in an Uber taxi at about 5am to go to the home of a lovely chap called Bernar. This was all thanks to Jaun. Like so many occasions on this trip, amazing people have come together to help without any hesitation or even asking. Jaun dropped his mate Bernar a message last night, over dinner. And this morning I met him at his home. A fellow ultra runner, we had a lot to chat about. We drove from his home, north, towards the Andes. It was dark, hazy, but the large shapes on the horizon were peeping through and it got me a little excited to say the least. The crisp ridges of the mountains were looming over us as we parked up about 45 minutes out of the city.
Bernar had sorted the route so we would be over the other side of the valley in time for sunrise. This was spectacular, although the astronomical dawn phase of the sun’s cycle was by far the best bit – a pastel painting of deep reds, oranges and yellows seeping into the sky above and the horizon below. I had to keep stopping every few minutes as this magical work of art unveiled itself in front of us. We climbed higher ahead of the sunset. Bernar talked about the smog captured by the city’s valley; once we were in position just below the sleeping volcano in the south of the city, it was like someone had slashed the pastel painting in two with a marker pen. The smog was neatly in the middle, fading out at the edges as the density of the city reduced. I could have sat there all morning.
Just 40 days ago, while I was in the Caribbean running another marathon, Bernar had a terrible accident. He hit a pot hole while cycling in the mountains. Unconscious for over half an hour he was saved by a passer-by. Broken ribs, broken collarbone and with pretty bad head injuries. This was his first long run since.
Day 74 – Chile to La Paz, Bolivia
Today’s post is entitled: ‘Australians, food of the gods, and a headache.’
If I’ve learnt anything on this journey so far it’s that I’ve changed my preference of seat. I was always an aisle man – leg room, easy access to the bathroom, and not as squished as the other two options. But you miss the view and the chance to nest your head in the window dip. Needless to say, I am officially a window man! Anyway, I’m off on a tangent. Seat 27K sat me next to a couple who I heard speaking (Australian) English. We chatted. They were super friendly and chilled. A few hours later we had shared a taxi, had dinner and been sightseeing together. This dinner was certainly the highlight of the day. The cost of food, and more or less everything, was cheap for us, so we went all out. I don’t have enough words to describe the food, but let’s just say, Bolivian tastiness – a huge platter, fish linguine, satay sauce, falafels, dips, the list goes on.
We roamed around La Paz, taking a lift up to the highest point on the east side of the valley. It is bizarre, like someone designed a city without knowing it would be clustered together amongst huge peaks. This is also a little daunting – nowhere is flat and my altitude head set in pretty badly. I’m generally pretty positive with most things, and today was no exception. I knew I was flying from sea level to about 11,000 feet, and yes, I understood that altitude sickness affects 80% of people at this height for a few days. In my blind optimism and warped logic, I didn’t have a few days, I had one, so I couldn’t possibly get altitude sickness. Besides, I’ve been at altitude quite a lot before, so I decided to go with the ‘nah, I’ll be fine approach’.
Drunk-like dizziness, very sore, throbbing headache and in a matter of hours I would be running virtually as far as the eye could see, always running either up or down. Bedtime I think. Lights off, alarm on, and sleep…. or not. Apparently altitude can cause restless sleep. I’ve never had it before but I’ve made up for it now. The morning is coming. Aaagh…
Day 75 – La Paz, Bolivia, Marathon 33
13,401 feet above sea level, 44% gradient hills and 5,000 feet of elevation. Oh, and nine dogs chasing me. This is a day I’ll remember. This incredible city in the sky is littered with small terracotta huts all nestled together with tin roofs glinting in the sun. Three cable cars connect each side of the valley. Not for tourists, but for commuters. From my cute hotel Casa Fusiontowards the bottom of the valley, I made my way up to the nearest peak, my head pounding and my lungs seemingly wanting to escape my chest as I weaved around the roads of morning traffic. The culture, clothing, shop fronts, buses, markets… everything was new and different. My senses were in overload as I trundled onwards and upwards. Large empty zigzag steps leading to the highest point. These took me a while.
Despite the fact I felt so incredibly unfit due to puffing harder and louder than I have for a long time, I was really enjoying it. The more running I do, the more I really enjoy the hard ones. Added satisfaction from every step. Runners, you know what I mean, right? Reaching the top, I was treated to a big band rehearsing for a marching band parade. They stopped me, told me to wait, gathered their thoughts and started to play to me. Music is special and it was oddly emotional. Something to do with the lack of energy, oxygen or sleep, probably.
Many hours later I had descended back into the valley and was making my way up the other side. The downs were just as hard as the ups. My route was simple – run down the street that doesn’t have an angry dog in it. Eventually I was trapped. Dogs everywhere. I love dogs, but not these ones. My leg meat, although pretty scrawny now, was certainly on the menu in their mind. I was up in the forest, right at the top of the east valley and my last high point when one dog signalled to his other dog mates that there was a stupid human in their garden. Needless to say I was asked to leave in the form of barking, chasing and attempts to nibble my Achilles. I made it back down, and back to the hotel, with my legs intact and feeling surprisingly good.
Day 76 – Bolivia to Peru
Leaving the land of headaches was bittersweet. I was pretty keen to get low and release the throbbing in my head… but on the other hand, there were so many great little streets full of new smells, bright colours and weird little tin shacks with more smiling people to explore. Like most of the journey so far, my life is lived through a series of short, full-on and tiring 48-hour blocks. No time to miss my previous phase of the trip because I’m already in the middle of the next. Peru marks the first significant rest for me, though. Roughly 10 days to explore Peru, rest my legs and ultimately sleep, a lot. I’m looking forward to a well-earned few days of no running. Let’s see if I can keep away from slipping my trainers on. We all know that won’t happen…
Today’s journey was simple but I had a little hassle at the last line of defence in the airport in Lima. Just as I was popping my collected luggage in the big scanner on the way out to Arrivals, I was once more questioned about my blooming drone. After about 20 minutes of negotiation the guy in charge let me through. It didn’t start this way though. They had wanted to charge me the full cost of the drone to allow me to enter with it. I must have had the words ‘Fleece me, rip me off, extort me’, written on my forehead. I took this polite request for an absurd amount of money to mean ‘We want a drone, so let’s charge this idiot.’ I was now a pro and I wasn’t going to have another Cuba situation. After some strong words and strong gesticulating I walked out into Arrivals feeling pretty pleased with myself having narrowly avoided a hefty fee. 34th marathon tomorrow and it’s supposed to be dry, clear and not too hot. Ideal.
Day 77 – Lima, Peru, Marathon 34
My lungs weren’t thumping out of my chest and I could jump out of bed a little later. It was a cool 22°C, overcast, and wasn’t due to heat up all day. A 10am start had me run through the middle of the day, though, and while I didn’t feel the heat, my skin was frying. Stupidly I’ve now burnt my arms and legs, again. Give me another 500 days and I might eventually learn.
It was yet another surprise surfers’ paradise here in Lima, the coastline very similar to Venezuela. The sea was littered with long boards, tiny pro boards and body boards, and I ran past half a dozen learn-to-surf pop-ups. I really wanted to kick off my trainers and jump in the ocean to join the gang of folk all bobbing around on boards. A little later, after gawping at the long barrel waves, I came across an odd combination of fish market and funeral procession. Another South American big band was playing smack bang in the middle of a fish market on a pier with approximately 50 mourners waving incense sticks. Almost like one of those dreams where your brain muddles a few situations and chucks it all together. Very strange. It was a chilled run and my last for over a week. Whoop. My legs, feet and hip flexors can have a break. Time to put some weight back on, having lost nearly 5kg since the beginning. Tomorrow I travel to the desert, several hours south of Lima, by bus.
There are plenty of ways you can get involved and support this expedition. The website http://www.runningtheworld196.com is the hub of all things #196. We have a virtual challenge set up where you can sign up to run your 196 miles by the time I get home next year. We also have t-shirts on sale and a message board where you can leave your support for the journey.
The main thing – please tell as many people as you can about this trip. I want to raise £250,000 for Prostate Cancer UK over the course of the next 18 months, but I will need your help to do so. Please text NRTW89 £10 to 70070 or visit the Just Giving page. Search for Nick Butter Just Giving or Running The World 196.
British Endurance Athlete | Motivational Speaker | Adventurer
Social Media: http://www.runningtheworld196.com| Twitter @nickbutterrun | Instagram@nickbutterrun
Sign up to the Virtual Challenge: https://etchrock.com/challenge/buy-ticket/running-the-world-196
Promotional Video: https://vimeo.com/228583946