Hanga Roa, Easter Island, Chile
Anyway the wind blows.
This was my first time taking a package tour with Marathon Tours – it was a very different experience from my first two marathons, which were medium-to-large and where I didn’t know any of the other runners beforehand. With a field of only 33 entrants for the full, most of whom I’d been knocking around Santiago and Easter Island with for the previous week, the race had a much cozier feel.
We arrived at the Hanga Roa airport (extra-long runway courtesy of NASA, who used it as an emergency alternate landing site for the shuttle) on Easter Island on Wednesday, and had a couple days touring around seeing the moai. Also a couple nights sampling local beverages – my favorite was the mango sour, a variation on the pisco sour. (Runners in their natural habitat seem to consume large quantities of alcohol.) One of the bus tours took us back into town along the marathon route, and apart from the hairy hill around mile 15 it looked not bad – especially with a long downhill into town for the finish.
Friday morning I did a short shake-down run through town. At first I was surprised that I didn’t feel the least bit winded on the slopes, before I remembered I was at sea level –duh! There was also a tri on Friday on the other side of the island, and a trail bike race on Saturday that started from the same spot downtown as the marathon would on Sunday.
Saturday night we have the pasta feed and course briefing from the race director. He explains that there are no problems on Rapa Nui – because there are no solutions! The route is simple: keeping running until you reach the ocean, then turn around and come back. Taking a swim at the beach is optional. Someone asks whether the road will be closed; I hope they were joking, because it’s basically the island’s only road. A few people aren’t thrilled with the pasta and head to the pizza place next door after the briefing.
Around 7:00 the racers start to amble down to the hotel restaurant, with its panoramic view of the ocean breaking against the rocks, grumbling amiably that the late start is messing with their normal raceday routine. I avoid the scrambled eggs this morning and concentrate on toast with jam and a little sweet coffee. A few new lei-bedecked arrivals to the island drift in fresh from the plane, clutching their neck pillows and gazing about dazedly at all these people with numbers pinned to their shirts.
Back to our rooms to fiddle around and then loiter in the lobby. The temps have been consistently in the mid-70s and as per usual it rained a bit overnight, but a big wind also whipped up and isn’t showing any signs of abating. At 9:00, an hour before the official start, a huge storm off the ocean drags a curtain of rain across the island. Half an hour later it’s gone, and we all walk down the waterfront to the start line.
Off we go, marathoners, half marathoners, 10 and 5Kers, islanders and mainlanders, kids, contenders, and island dogs with their ears flapping. From right next to the school soccer field with two big moai looking on, down the wet street dodging the rain-filled potholes, we turn right at the cemetery and loop back through town to the airport, following the route I took Friday morning. A final left and we’re striking out across the island for the far shore, nine miles away. The pavement here is much better, and lined with bushes blazed yellow with sweet-pea-like blossoms – some relation to Scotch broom? We’ve already learned that almost all the flora and fauna now on the island was introduced after European contact. Open fields of grasses roll away to either side, seed heads glimmering pink in the sunlight, and the occasional band of free-ranging horses can be seen. The rain is truly gone, and the sun sails behind and out from the fluffy clouds that speed across the sky. The temperature is fine, warm but not too warm, as the course slowly climbs towards the first summit.
My target pace is 10:30. Caught up in the excitement, the first few miles I’m averaging closer to 10:00, but decide as long as I’m feeling good here at sea level figure I can dial it back later on the hills. Around mile 7 the course goes through a eucalyptus plantation, the only wooded area on the island, and I sneak off for a bush pee. Upon returning to the road I discover that my brand new clip-on pouch is missing – after a few minutes of beating the bushes I say screw it and continue on, minus one GU and a honey stinger waffle.
Up ahead and to the right is the green-robed cinder cone of Maunga Pui, the road climbing to cross its shoulder. There’s quite a few false summits, and then I’m finally over the top! There’s a fantastic view of the ocean, and a very steep two-mile downhill to the turnaround. I wave at S, my roommate, as she passes going the opposite direction, and try not to think too much about how the slope is going to feel on the return trip. At the bottom there’s a left fork to Anakena Beach and a sudden headwind from the sea – gah! H, who passed me while I was bushwhacking, is waiting for me at the turnaround. After a quick stretch, some water, and my one remaining GU, we head back together. At this point I’m right on track for my target 4:35 finish.
It’s a hard slog back up the hill and I walk often, but I’m cheerful since once at the top it’s all downhill into town. To my dismay, at the top of the hill – about mile 15 – I run into the headwind that blew this morning’s storm across the island and has been blowing unobstructed the six thousand miles from Australia. (According to the Weather Underground almanac, it was 20mph at the airport, gusting into the 30’s.) I can’t harp on this too much because wind is my nemesis and it absolutely got inside my head for the last third of this race. My pace plummets.
A couple miles out of town I catch up with D, who provides me with a honey stinger and much-needed moral support. We manage to take it back up to a running pace, except for a stretch paralleling the runway where we do our best Marcel Marceau walking-into-the-wind impersonation. He peels off in hopes of finding a loo open at the airport.
The course winds back through town, where there are still police directing traffic at the turns even though they’re 5-10 minutes between runners at this point. With a huge sense of relief I hit the waterfront road and pass our hotel. A group of halfers and 10K-ers are sitting on the retaining wall cheering. Up ahead is the “Llegada” arch and ooh, I’m not quite gonna break 5:00 this time!
What a lot of familiar faces at the finish line! H beat me in by 6 minutes, and D comes in shortly after me. S powered through and captured the women’s champion prize, a crown of bright yellow flowers! At 5:00:49 I’m just about the middle of the pack, so it was a challenging course for everyone. I get my banana and my gear bag and hang out for a bit before wandering back to the hotel. Some of the group are going horseback riding tomorrow; for me it’s a day at the beach and some cervezas!
Overall I was very pleased with the Marathon Tours itinerary and level of service. I was impressed that our tour leader Jacqui walked the full marathon with one of the runners who’d injured his ankle in a drunken dancing incident three nights before. (I’m kind of sorry and kind of glad I missed that party.) There was a good mix of structured and free time; the only thing I’d change would be to add another day on the island post-race.
The race was well supported with Gatorade and water at frequent aid stations. I brought a small bottle that I filled up as needed. You do have to bring your own food if you want it, and the only official loos on the course are at the school at the start, and a pay toilet at the turnaround. Race goodies include a good quality hat, shirt, and lightweight windbreaker just right for the weather . The event’s only elite athlete (who’ll be going on to represent Chile in the triathlon at the Olympics) was right there the midst of everything, which is a change from events where you never even see the elites.
I was a little bummed that I didn’t make my goal time (maybe I should try a flat course next time) but it was still a PR, and an age group win, so I’ll take it!