By Larry Carroll
When an event bills itself as “the running experience of a lifetime,” you might be inclined to think it’s just hype. But when we’re talking about Patagonia – the sparsely-populated South American region shared by Chile and Argentina and boasting views of the Pacific, Atlantic and Southern Oceans – it’s anything but hyperbole.
In recent years, 3 groundbreaking (and endearingly unique) running events have been introduced in the extreme south, allowing athletes to compete amidst a backdrop unlike anywhere else in the world. The Ultra Fiord, Ultra Paine and Patagonian International Marathon each offer runners a chance to compete in various distances, across wide-ranging terrains and elevations.
“Through these events, runners have the unique opportunity to experience running in Patagonia,” says race director Stjepan Pavicic. “By holding these races during the low season, not only does it help support the local tourism industry, but runners are also guaranteed greater access to accommodations, travel and other services, and all at a more affordable price.”
If you’re thinking about putting “the running experience of a lifetime” on your to-do list, which of these races is the one for you? Let’s take a closer look.
The Patagonian International Marathon launched in 2012, marking the first time a road-running race was allowed in the Torres del Paine National Park – a majestic natural marvel between the Magellanic subpolar forests and the Patagonian Steppes, encompassing lakes, mountains, glaciers and rivers. Featuring distances of 10K, 21K and 42K, it certainly offers a challenge to any runner, whether you’re a rookie or elite. Touting itself as the ultimate way to get up close to the breathtaking beauty of Chilean Patagonia, the event has grown exponentially over the last 8 years while attracting over 4000 runners from some 65 countries around the world.
Patagonia then upped the ante in 2014 with the introduction of Ultra Paine, which embraces runners of all levels in the region’s first trail running race. This is your chance to navigate stunning river crossings and forest climbs, in distances of 14K, 35K, 50K or 80K in one of the world’s most pristine running environments.
In 2015, Ultra Fiord was introduced as Paine’s extreme younger brother. Encompassing high-mountain passes, glacier crossings and views of the fjords and mountains of Torres del Paine National Park, it has since gained a reputation as one of the most challenging trail running races around.
With the calendar turning to 2020, the Patagonia triad of races is getting ready for their close-ups. Ultra Fiord (https://www.ultrafiord.com/) kicks things off on April 24 and 25, featuring everything from 21K, 42K, 50K, 60K and 80K to two-day races of 95K, 115K and 136K. The 9th Edition of the Patagonia International Marathon (10K, 21K and 42K) will take place on September 5 Patagonian International Marathon . Ultra Paine (14K, 35K, 50K and 80K) goes down just a few weeks later, on September 26.
Ultra Paine is an Ultra-Trail Mont Blanc qualifying race, with different points being awarded for your chosen distance. Like the others, it is also quite active in conservation partnerships with the Chilean Patagonia, seeking to increase environmental awareness and tourism promotion.
As for the Ultra Fiord, perhaps 2015’s 100-mile 2nd place finisher Enzo Ferrari said it best on his blog: “A tremendous, wild, tough, and strong race, suitable for those who truly are mentally strong and have a powerful heart,” he remembers of his time in Patagonia. “My goal was to finish, and, in the best case scenario, finish amongst the top 5. I had the opportunity of finishing second – not for being the fastest, the most trained, or the most capable, this was perseverance, toughness, mind, mind, and mind – convincing myself that there are no more limitations that one could put. Today, I am a person more prepared from what I went through.”
If you have a similar desire to develop your whole being through a transformative, once-in-a-lifetime experience, you might want to consider the Patagonia race most appropriate for your skills. It’s the rare opportunity to combine running, nature and travel – and if you love all 3, it’s hard to imagine a better gift combining fitness and adventure that you could give yourself heading into the new year.