Guide to the Atacama Crossing marathon

The Atacama Crossing isn’t strictly a marathon, but we’re going to use the phrase because it’s really outside any race category we’ve seen. Forming part of the 4 Deserts series of races, the Atacama Crossing marathon asks participants to cover 250km/155 miles over 7 days. The Atacama is set in Chile in some seriously impressive terrain. Want to know more?

Chile isn’t known for its flat desert plains. The famously steep mountains provide the landscape for this ultramarathon. Runners will ascend around 1700 metres and descend over 2500 metres during the 7 days of the race. The race is broken up into 6 stages. Each stage provides unique cultural experiences, including seeing ancient Inca rock art, running through the Valley of Death, navigating sand dunes and accessing restricted areas.

The race is very well supported. There are checkpoints every 10km along the race trail, and participants must register their arrival and pick up allocated water supplies. Fully trained medical doctors are present at each checkpoint, although participants are required to carry a list of medical supplies with them.

The Atacama Desert is known to be the driest place on earth and is hot to boot. Race day temperatures hover around 35C during the day while they drop to around 5C at night. Runners should be prepared to face these varied conditions. In fact, participants must be fully self-supporting throughout the race. They must carry their own food and other supplies. Only water, tents and medical aid are provided along the way.

The 5th stage of the Atacama Crossing marathon is relatively flat as it spans majestic sand dunes, but participants are asked to cover almost double the distance during that stage (between 70-90km). In this case, an overnight support station is provided for those who choose to tackle this over two days.

Race fees are set at approximately USD$3800, and include hotel stays both before and after the race, some meals, tented accommodation during the race and complete medical and logistical support. As the Atacama Crossing marathon forms part of the larger 4 Deserts racing collection and is a qualifier for the more challenging Antarctica race, places can book out a year or two in advance. Waiting lists are available if you’re keen to try the 2018 or 2019 races.

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