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by Deo Encarnacion

The Atacama Crossing – a 250 kilometre, self-supported stage race, on the world’s driest desert. Starting at an altitude of 3300 metres, every stride easily elevated the heart rate significantly. A notable challenge for many runners to tick off the “To Do” list.

Photo credit: 4 Deserts

A couple of years ago, I attempted to run across this harsh environment. My dream was shattered as I failed to make it across the finish line.  Succumbing to severe dehydration during Stage 5, it took 4 litres of intravenous fluid to allow me to recuperate. Ironically, it felt like the driest desert on Earth - sucked the life out of me.  The experience brought me to my knees, allowing negative thoughts to haunt me for a considerable time.  What would it take to get me out of this slump??

Small steps – things don’t happen overnight, and Rome wasn’t built in a day. I allowed myself time to heal physically and emotionally.  I had to re-learn how to enjoy the simple things. A short run, a dip into a lake, a bike ride… I took the opportunity to spend time outdoors. I’m happiest when I’m amongst mountains, exploring routes I’ve never traversed.  This is when I feel most alive!

Pick up the pieces – we all learn from our mistakes.  At times, success is achieved by pushing the limits, and gaining strength from failure.  I accepted defeat and drew strength from it.  Given time to heal, I knew I’d come back focused and driven to overcome this obstacle.  Despite setbacks, we all have the innate drive to succeed.  The only difference is whether you’re willing to pick up the pieces and progress.  Seemed to me like a “No brainer”.

Believe – nothing great and fulfilling comes without tremendous sacrifice. Once again, I found myself on the start line.  I’ll be honest - I felt dwarfed to be amongst runners who have achieved so much in their lives.  UTMB, Tor des Geants, Hardrock, MDS, Grand to Grand… You name it, and I could find someone who’s done it amongst those who surround me.  It was an overwhelming feeling. I could have easily been sucked into the hype of it all, but instead took a deep breath.  I looked back at my own success.  I celebrated simple joys of scaling a mountain top, or a breakthrough session, when you overcome that feeling of exhaustion after giving it 100%.  I focused on things I can control, rather than distractions around me.  Only then, I started to enjoy the experience.  I felt absorbed by the “Here and Now”.  Staying positive, one day, one run, one step at a time.  Happy to have crossed the line 14th overall.

A friend once told me, “You have to learn to be comfortable, being uncomfortable”.  This resonated in every step I took moving forward.  It helped me ward off negative thoughts. I have always been amazed at what you can train your body to do.  Even more so, what the Human Spirit can achieve.  It allows us to elevate ourselves to higher levels and realize goals we never thought possible.  So, go ahead!  Take a Small Step, Pick Up the Pieces, and Believe

Inspire others to go the distance.