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Date : 23rd September, 2016
Time : 1h 09’ 22” (high, very high…and hilly)
Total distance run to date : 860 km
Run map and details : https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/1382864583
The advice had been pretty consistent. ”Trying to run on the day you arrive may not be a good idea. You should spend more time in Bolivia and acclimatise first.” “Someone should have looked at a topographical map of Latin America before booking your itinerary.” “You may be fit but not everyone can handle the altitude, let alone run 10km..” “ Coca leaves, that’s the answer. Chew lots of coca leaves.” “ Make sure you take a canister of oxygen with you. All the hotels have them.” “ When you land, don’t rush to customs. Just walk slowly and don’t be surprised if you get a headache and feel nauseous.” “Why not skip Bolivia this time round and do it on another trip?”
To be honest, I was pretty nervous by the time we landed at El Alto – La Paz’s aptly named airport at the I’ve-never-been-this-high-before altitude of 4100m (13 451 ft). Nervous enough to heed the advice and walk slowly and calmly to customs instead of my usual speed walking. (If you spent as much time as I do in airport queues, you’d also be one of those irritating people who rush to be first in line.)
Continuing in slow motion, I picked up my luggage and made my way to the airport exit. So far, so good. I hadn’t collapsed – or developed an immediate headache – but I could feel the air was very thin. It was good to get into a taxi and begin the descent into La Paz itself which, thankfully, is 500 m lower than the airport at 3640 m.
Having said that, 3640 m (11 942 ft) is still pretty high. To put it in context, now that Tibet has been subsumed by China, La Paz is the highest capital in the world. By about 800 m.
After a couple of hours of ‘acclimatisation’ at my hotel, I made my way to the British Embassy where the lovely Jill had put together everything you might need to make it through a run at altitude.
A group of people to run with. Tick. (Picture above.)
Lashings of coca tea to drink. Tick.
The local press. Tick. (See links above.)
A car plus chauffeur to ferry those for whom 10 km was possibly a touch too far. (And to scrape me up off the road if I collapsed.) Tick.
The only thing she couldn’t provide was flat ground – because it doesn’t really exist in La Paz. And so it was that, after a kilometre or so of gently paced running on the flat, the road began to climb. And climb. And climb.
And, when I finally reached the highest point, after possibly the slowest ‘running’ I’ve done in my life, out came the piece de resistance. A giant canister of oxygen (picture below.) Time to suck in loads of lovely oxygen and admire the surround of towering Andean peaks.
The run down was a little easier but I was well and truly knackered by the time I reached the end. And relieved to have finished the run I’d been dreading all week. (So relieved that I celebrated like I’d completed a marathon – bottom picture).
It was very, very tough. So tough that I allowed myself to ignore my usual 1 hour time limit for these runs. In fact I went way over at 1h 9’ 22”. And, if that sounds slow, all I can say is – it wasn’t easy! (In my defence, it was my sixth run of the week..and, in case I didn’t mention it previously, it was quite high..)
Thank you Jill for the amazing organisation. And thank you Chris, Lizett, Maria Elena, Licy, Gaston and Feliciano for all the support and good company!