The Colombia Impact Marathon

After 24 hours of three flights, four questionable on flight meals, one Colombian beer, and one deep sleep in Bogota, I had arrived in the small town of Santa Marta on the Caribbean Coast. This Northern Colombian colonial city would act as our mini base camp before and after our unofficial go at the Colombia Marathon.

Our first night included one of my ‘top 16’ favourite things to do EVER – drink beers and watch the sunset. Emma and I were joined by Annie and Nick from Impact Marathon – the initial reason (and what a good reason!) we’d travelled across the globe to be here. After shoulder bopping to some Spanish beats at El Caribbean Team on the beach front, we were pretty hyped to start our short two weeks travel round this beautiful country. But first – we had a marathon to run, through the jungle – and it was going to be one of the best days of my life!

It was the day prior to race day and five of us had crammed into a small yellow taxi to take the 15km journey up to Minca – the start point of the marathon further up in the Sierra Nevada mountain range. Although we were staying the night in Minca, the marathon is a linear route so we’d packed lightly with only what we needed for race day, and a few additionals like bikini, insect repellant, and a knife for carrot peeling, obviously. After some very very steep steps we arrived at Casa Loma hostel. The atmosphere at Casa Loma was similar to what it is probably like to wake up on a sunny Sunday morning in Tarzan’s treehouse, handed a plate of fresh fruit by wild parrots and having your feet massaged by howler monkeys whilst you look across the Jungle. Before entering the wooden terrace lined with coloured hammocks and a communal eating area, there was a view across the lush green hills and down to Santa Marta which took my breath away and it was awesome to know we’d be running (walking) across all of it the next day!

 

 

Finding the perfect mocha (or any mocha at that!) was going to be a struggle but I was absolutely blown away by this frappuccino  at Cafe Duni . I am not quite sure what the difference between a frappa and an iced mocha is (someone tell me please…) so I will stick with the opinion that there’s not much difference, particularly if your frappa is served with a warmed up chocolate brownie at this place. Oh my…this brownie. Created with 100% cocoa straight from a farm up the road, mixed with whatever I don’t even care, then warmed by the sweetest Colombian woman with an infectious smile, this brownie and this frappuccino really did set me off in a good mood for race day!

 

After watching the sunset and getting bitten a zillion times, we sat down to eat for a communal dinner with the other marathon/half marathoners. Morale was sky high with a race briefing from Annie (founder of Exerk). Due to the heat, lack of training that noone felt ‘marathon ready’ we made the joined agreement that this was more about the views and the journey than any sort of time and that this was going to be more of a long trek than a run. Fine with that! After a carb and protein rich meal from the hostel and it was time for an early night in our little wooden dormitory with my casio alarm set for 05:32.

06:00 Tuesday 14th February – Happy Valentines day lovers! We took the long walk down those damn steep steps into Minca’s football pitch which was set to be the original start line for the Impact Marathon. With just a small group of six, then another 3 joining us at the half way point, it was set to be the most socially rewarding ‘race’.

We set off up the soft dirt track, passing scooter driving families and farmers on their morning commute down to the town. After just two km beads of sweat were well and truly falling with a temperature of 27 at just 06:30 in the morning. Still better than 06:30 on the Jubilee Line. As we continued the climb, three dogs ran out of a closed restaurant and followed along, happy as larry that they’d found some new entertainment for the day. I was equally as entertained by their wagging tails and loyalty as they continued to run in front, behind, along side. ‘Imagine if they followed us the whole way…how funny would that be’….tbc.

 

The first 19km was a very steep ascent (yay to the walking agreement!) The views were breathtaking as the sun gradually rose up over the mountains and allowed the lush green trees to show their full colour. We weaved up and down the rubble tracks, inevitably stopping to take photos, eat nuts, and take nature wees. The route ranged from small rushing streams, rocky outcrops meandering tracks, HUGE bamboo trees, and jungle vines which hung like willow. We were officially jungle swingers!

We had arranged to meet the half-marathoners at a river at between 09:30-10:30. Yep, very vague time and place – try doing that in London! We were running late (lit), and didn’t arrive until around 10:30 but I have never been so excited to run over a hill and see three ladies waiting at the other side of the river!! The last 2km to the halfway point were a real downhill struggle as legs were seizing, it was brutally hot and all I wanted was to stop and eat my carrots. The girls whooped and cheered as we crossed the knee high river, slightly confused at our adoption of the three wagging canines (who we had since nick named Dorisa, Humphrey, and Derik). Unfortunately, Humphrey, my favourite –  a brown choco lab – just didn’t seem to fancy the river crossing so hung back and chilled out on a rock whilst the other two joined us for some 13mile snacks and to our happiness, continued on!

 

An hour and a half later, after some purified river water and the fresh brownies which Clare had carried all the way from Minca (un-believable), we were ready to continue our 26 mile journey. The next half of the marathon was a winding course through smaller paths under jungle vines, along irrigation canals, passing small fruit farms. The afternoon heat was well and truly on our shoulders and it was a sweltering run, combined with the chafing of my rucksack on my sun burn, it wasn’t the most comfortable journey so I was more than happy to jog and enjoy some jungle time. It was endearing to see Derik and Borisa look back in question every time we reached a split in the path, then wagging their tails when we asserted a left or right turn. Were these dogs about to break a world record for running a marathon?

At about mile 23, we stopped in a small shop and I drank a bottle of pepsi in about 1.2 seconds. I don’t even like pepsi. After inhaling crisps to get our salt intake back we were on the road again and gradually entering a more habitable area – so close to the finish!! Strange look by the locals reminded us that we weren’t your average tourist marathoners. Hobbling, sunburnt, one of us in flipflops due to epic blisters carrying a stick, two dogs at our ankles (one of which we had attached a piece of plastic as a leash), making our way through the dry streets of Rodadero and onto the beach – the official finish to the Impact Marathon.

Diving into that cold salty sea, doused in sweat and dusty jungle earth was the best feeling ever. I don’t think any marathon finish will ever be the same. As we splashed around, enjoying a refreshing soak, you could look up and see the steep hills of the jungle East of the coastline. It was crazy to think we’d travelled that far on foot, in the burning sun, covering miles of dense jungle, and finishing 26 miles down on the Caribbean Coast, nine hours after our start time. This wasn’t about time, this wasn’t even about distance. This was about seeing Colombia with a difference, with the people (and dogs) we ran with, and the the landscape that carried us from start to finish.

 

 

 

 

Sarah Pritchard