The day started on the quiet stone cobbled streets of Cusco at 4:30am as our convoy of minibuses rolled onto the road. After wolfing down a final breakfast in preparation for the long drive to Cloud Forest Base Camp, the runners began to pour onto the street and pack their kit bags into the assembled vehicles. The early morning quiet gave way quickly to bustling noise and nervous anxiety.
Our Peruvian team are exceptionally organised. After year’s of hosting this race, they have the logistics down to a fine art. Gloria, one of the senior members of the team, wielded a clip board and herded all assembled drivers and runners into vehicles in record time allowing us to get on the road ahead of schedule. Previous runners will remember this as a long, slow, bumpy drive along rocky mountain roads that takes well over 6 hours. In the pandemic years, whilst we’ve been unable to travel to Peru, the roads have been resurfaced and we flew up and over the towering mountains outside Cusco.
As always, we stopped in the small market town of Puacartambo for breakfast. This is always a popular spot with the runners and one of our favourite parts of the journe. Massive, colourful, fresh fruit lines the stalls and street food fills the air with delicious smells. We passed a happy half hour exploring the town centre before heading out again.
Given the speed at which we were able to move, we decided on another stop at the very entrance to the Manu National Park, the stunning area that is home to our race. It’s a long steady climb out of Puacartambo and the entrance to the national park sits at the highest point. From here the runners got their first look down into the cloud forest from a viewpoint with a monument to the engineer who built the road connecting the Manu area to Cusco. The earthy colours and sparse plants on the Cusco side of the mountains give way to a sea of green on the jungle side, with rolling clouds boiling above them.
After leaving the viewpoint, we reached Cloud Forest just half an hour or so later. There were a lot of happy reunions as returning runners, our UK race team, and many of the Peruvian team saw each other again for the first time after a 3 year absence. We quickly ushered the runners down to their new campsite home where they began the process of hanging their hammocks between the heavy wooden poles our team have hammered into the earth there. Friendships form quickly as they trade tips and work together to position their fly sheets for optimum rain cover and talk over each other’s kit choices.
Kit choices are particularly important for the next stage of the day as our team carry out full kit checks. This is an extremely challenging environment and our runners carry a lot of equipment designed to help keep them as safe as possible along the route. Every item of that kit has to be shown to our team and accounted for on paper. Extensive race and medical briefs then followed, with the runners sat together listening to Kris and our Head Medic and looking down the Madre de Dios valley behind them, seeing for the first time the route that they’ll be taking tomorrow on Stage One.
Things have gone smoothly for the runners today. The hammocks are sturdily hung, the weather is currently cool but dry, and the runners’ spirits are high, even the one who managed to drop his phone into one of the dug-out latrines.
Stage One begins at 0700 (1300 UK Time). The energy on the start line, as always, will be a bristling mix of excitement and anticipation – as much among our team as the runners.
Follow the action live via our live GPS tracker and look out for posts on social media.