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Race report: Half Marathon Des Sables Peru

The Half Marathon des Sables Peru is no ordinary event. For one thing, it’s not a half marathon. It’s a 120km ultramarathon. Over four days. Through the desert. One finisher’s account of this epic race.

 

Damien Bettinelli works for French outdoor and adventure publication Les Others. Which means he’s no stranger to tough terrain. Making it from A to B over inhospitable landscapes is part of the job description. But his latest challenge would take him into new unknowns: 120km over four days in the desert at the The Half Marathon Des Sables Peru

 

 

Last time out, Damien and friends spent three days putting the Cloudventure trail shoe through its paces on the Swiss section of the iconic Via Alpina trail

 

 

Damien’s next expedition would be an entirely different test for the shoe’s Missiongrip™ outsole. When he told his colleagues that he was headed to the Peruvian desert for a four-day ultramarathon they joked that it would be the last they saw of him. At least Damien hoped they were joking… 

 

 

We’re pleased to report that Damien lived to tell the tale of this epic off-road adventure. This is his mission debrief. 

 

 

Damien, even by your standards, 120km through the desert is a big ask. What convinced you to take it on?

Damien: “Even though the effort seemed like a big challenge for me, the prospect of discovering unknown landscapes was what convinced me. Before I was told about the race, I’d never heard of the Ica desert, and had never been to Peru. I did some quick research on Google Maps and found stunning pictures of dunes overlooking the Pacific Ocean. That was it, I was sold on the adventure.” 

 

 

Did your recent mission in the Swiss Alps help prepare you for running mountains of sand? 

“For sure, the Via Alpina trip was actually the best training. If you can make it in the Swiss mountains you can make it anywhere. Running in the sand is very demanding, so you have to be prepared. The week we spent in Switzerland was a multi-day run as well, so my legs were prepared to run several days in a row. The terrain in Peru was certainly different though – you don't find much sand in the Alps!”

 

 

What was the toughest aspect of the Half Marathon Des Sables Peru?

“The wind, definitely. It’s actually not too hot in the Ica desert as it's very close to the ocean. Even though the wind is refreshing, it’s also an invisible enemy. Facing a strong headwind for kilometers is exhausting. It slows you down and saps your energy. It also creates mini sandstorms that whip your legs and face.”


 

Were there any surprises during the race?

“I was actually surprised by how few people used poles. They were really helpful in the Swiss mountains, but they were essentials in the desert. When it's flat, poles help you keep your balance. When running uphill, they stop you from sliding back on the sand.”

 

 

How did the Cloudventure trail shoe perform in the dunes? 

“It was perfect. Because there is so much sand, I had to wear gaiters over the top. As gaiters cover the feet, it's very important to have light, breathable shoes. It’s also absolutely necessary to feel comfortable in your shoe – as it’s a multi-day race, you can't risk a blister on the first day. In every respect, the Cloudventure did the job.”

 

What's in a desert runner's pack?

According to Damien, the biggest challenge for Half Marathon des Sables Peru runners is not distance or heat, but logistics:

 

“The race is based on the principle of autonomy,” Damien explained. “Each runner is self-sufficient with food and has to wear everything they need during the race (except water, which is provided by the race organizers). This is the list of kit in Damien’s back pack, which had a start-line weight of 7kg (15.5 lbs.).

 

Food: 4kg of freeze-dried meals providing around 3,000 calories per day. There are a variety of savory foods (pasta, rice, puree, tabbouleh) and sweet options (compote, cream, muesli). Also plenty of energy bars for during the race and carbohydrate drinks with minerals for hydration in the heat and post-run recovery. 

 

Kitchen kit: A small alcohol-burning stove and a spoon. “I have never been a great cook anyway!” says Damien.

 

Sleeping:  A mat and a good sleeping bag are essential. The bag should be warm enough (night temperatures can drop to 10°C / 50°F) and light and compact.

 

Mandatory equipment (required by the race organizers):  Sunscreen, a signal mirror, a knife, a passport, a headlamp, a survival blanket, a lighter, a whistle, antiseptic, safety pins, and some cash. 

 

Clothing:  Despite being on the sand by the sea, Damien is quick to stress this was no vacation. When you have to wear the same clothes for four days, lightweight fast-drying gear like the Long-T and the Hybrid Shorts are invaluable. The gaiters, a scarf or similar for face protection and the poles are all essential to face the sand.

 

The Long-T
Damien: “For a race like this, a Long-T is your must-have T-shirt. The sun in the desert can be very aggressive, so it's necessary to wear a shirt that’s light, breathable and long-sleeved.”
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The Hybrid Shorts
“I wore the two-in-one Hybrid Shorts for the entire race. The tight under-shorts worked well, with gentle, supportive compression shorts.”
See the details

 

So, after surviving his tour of the desert, will Damien be back to take on the Peruvian desert again?

 

 

“I've been seduced by the format and I'd love to find another multi-day race, but the thrill of this experience was mainly going into the unknown, and the discovery of such stunning landscapes. So I’m open to new ideas – and new adventures.”

 

 

You can view Damien’s full race report at lesothers.com (in French only). 

 

The Cloudventure
The lightweight, fully cushioned off-road running shoe. Now featuring the Missiongrip™ outsole - with varied grip patterns to handle even extreme terrain.
See the details

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