Inspiration: The Story of Sumanth Chidambi Conquering the Atacama Desert

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Six years ago, Sumanth Chidambi was a man who couldn’t walk even a kilometre without tiring, who weighed 106 kg for his 5.11 frame. “I used to be waist size 42, now I am 35.”

(ref: Bangalore Mirror)

On 12th March 2011, he became one of the first Indians (Michelle Kakade was the other, in the same race) to complete the Atacama desert edition of the 4deserts series of runs covering some of the toughest places on the planet to run.

What was the course like? From the article he himself wrote on the race.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the course itself, the Atacama desert race is a six-day six-stage race covering 250 kilometres (or nearly 160 miles).  It takes place in the heart of the Atacama Desert in Chile, South America.  The desert itself is 15 million years old and 50 times more arid than California’s Death Valley.  The entire race is held at an altitude varying between 2,400m-3,200m above sea level.  Daytime temperatures are expected to reach 40 degrees Celsius/104 degrees Fahrenheit, while night-time temperatures may drop to 5 degrees Celsius/41 degrees Fahrenheit.

Joining me in this race were over 120 other people from 35 countries.  The entire race is self-supported which means that each individual must carry his or her own gear, food and clothing for all days in a backpack.  There are just checkpoints, plenty of water (at checkpoints and campsites), tents (at the campsites at the end of each stage) and medical assistance – no other outside assistance is allowed.

He further describes to the Bangalore Mirror:

Temperatures in the Atacama desert ranged from 42 degrees C in the day to 5 degrees C in the night. The day’s race would start at 8 am. “Most of the time, you are running with the sun hitting your face. Now imagine a 45-degree incline climb in that condition. At that altitude with the heat and the dryness, you have to combat blisters, fever, dizziness and nausea to keep going. To top it, running is a solitary sport, you have to push yourself. On Day three, I ran 26 km without a person or a tree in sight. I say it all the time, this was one hell of a masochistic experience,” says Sumanth with a laugh.

Since the race was self-sustaining, Sumanth had to carry almost everything that he needed in those days on his backpack. He writes:

My final equipment list read somewhat like this – 30litre backpack, sleeping bag, headlight and backup, compass, knife/multi-tool, whistle, survival bivvy, sunscreen, lip screen and blister kit, medicines for fever, inflammation, etc, red flashing LED safety light, jacket, shorts/tights/underwear, t-shirts, shoes, socks, cap and AC buff, fleece hat, iPod and sunglasses.

In addition, I carried food for six-seven days including freeze dried meals, nutrition fuels/gels, energy bars, electrolytes, salt stick caps, instant coffee and creamer.

References: Bangalore Mirror, Live Mint, Runners for Life article written by Sumanth himself journalling the entire experience – a must read.

Also check out the blog maintained by Sumanth’s wife Nandita to track his experience in this race.

The official Atacama desert race homepage says in Big Block Letters – 7-days, 250km, self-supported.

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