The traditional Inca Trail runs from km88 to Machu Picchu and is about 18miles long and trekking groups complete the trail in three and a half days. The marathon adds circa 8 miles to the traditional trail in the form of two 6km loops to make up the full distance.
Two key cut-off times are imposed on the race, firstly, to complete the first 6km loop in 1hr and, secondly, to get to the control gate at Machu Picchu national park (approx 36km) by 10hr15 – not getting to the gate by this time would mean camping overnight and completing the race the following day.
After camping overnight at Llactapata (2585m) the race started at 05:00 with the marathon runners focusing on hitting their first cut-off target (there was also the 18 mile Incathon race starting at the same time). Running at altitude, in the dark with about 400m of ascent, I was fairly pleased to hit my target time of 57min and after a quick energy bar the second loop was completed as the sun came up and I was finally on the actual Inca Trail to Machu Picchu.
Reaching Wayllabamba (2965m) at 19.6km after 3hrs, I was nearly an hour ahead of my schedule but this is where the “race” really started… What followed is a 1250m climb up to Dead Woman’s Pass, which at 4119m is not an insignificant altitude. Having motored up the first 700m of the climb fatigue and altitude started to bite as my pace dropped to three steps at a time before stopping to gulp in the thin air. I eventually reached the pass but the hour advantage I had built up was now largely gone; after a few photos and checking up on another runner who was on an emergency oxygen supply I started the long descent to Pacamayo (3590m) along with Shelley, an American girl who agreed that we should pace each other to the second cut-off. The Inca’s were clearly amazing engineers but their trails weren’t exactly smooth; with long sections of step gradients and ad-hoc steps making the downhills a real knee breaker making the descents almost as painful as the ascents.
After reaching Pacamayo it was straight into the second big ascent to Runkuracay Pass (3960m), an Inca watch tower marked the pass so obligatory photos were taken whilst more energy gels were gulped down.
The next section included a steep descent followed by the third, and final, big ascent up to Phuyupatamarca (3665m) which Shelley and I reached 30 min ahead of schedule.
Having a bit of float in our schedule to hit the second cut-off more time was spent making sure of footing on the long descent to Winay Wayna (2625m) with sections of the trail hitting a 70% gradient it could have easily ended in disaster by going too fast!
We reached the second cut-off with 30min to spare which meant we had over two hours to finish the last 6km including the monkey steps, through the sun gate and into Machu Picchu itself – fatigue, elation at making the Cut-off and having time to take in the scenery (I’d spent most of the day staring at my feet to that point) meant it was particularly slow going…
Coming through the sun gate and descending into Machu Picchu at the end of the day when most tourists had long gone was incredible, it only got better as at the finish as every runner and supporter had stayed to welcome home all the finishers.
I don’t know what my final time was but it was something like 11 hours to complete 26.2 miles with 2596m of ascent, 2683m of descent, a max altitude of 4119m and an epic finish at one of the most iconic places in the world; that’s what I call a good day out!
Special credit has to go to Jon and John down at the millennium arena for fixing me up so I could even attempt this – thanks!