Saturday, March 12, 2011

Who is this man at the finish line?

It is a good thing, they have their bibs on. I cannot recognize my husband in this pic. Honest to god!

First Indian to cross the Atacama Desert

I got the much awaited call an hour ago. Sumanth has successfully and safely completed the Atacama Crossing. What a proud moment for him and us! He has received the medal and has checked into the hotel for a much deserved shower (after a week) and a pizza & coke lunch.

Will post pics and other updates once he gets back to the hotel for some R&R.

You can follow him on twitter as @skeeedamnbee for updates from Chile over the next few hours.

Thank you one and all for your support, your cheery messages and being there for us. Means a lot!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Sumanth's blog update of Stage 5 - The Long March

Pictures from Stage Five

Stage 5 - The Long March
11-Mar-2011 06:28:05 AM [(GMT+05:30) Chennai, Kolkata, Mumbai, New Delhi]

Atacama Crossing (Chile) 2011
It is now 10AM.  I got in here at 3.15AM, completed the stage in a little over 19 hours, including 2.5 hours of R&R.  My body has no feeling below the hip and I am limping back to normal.  My lips look like the salt flats I just crossed, torn and dry!

The stage started with 15km of extremely difficult salt flats (to CP1) followed by another 10 odd km of hard and crusty sand (to CP2). I did decent time here and also managed to reach CP3 by 1PM, given the cut off was 7PM.  CP3-CP5 was brutal.  Desert heat and no shade anywhere.  I was hobbling for the most part, given my bad legs from yesterday and at on point almost felt like giving up.  Oh, well.  It is also funny, how at times you pass people, people pass you or you are moving on alone for miles and miles, just you and your thoughts.  The key was to just keep sucking up all the good thoughts and wishes and channeling them inward, to move on.

Nutrition wise, the day did not go well.  I could not eat any solid food for the last two days and had to force some soup in at the end of Stage 4.  To ensure no nausea or giddiness, I kept nibbling on a few sugar bars during the day, washed down with loads of water and antacids at each CP.  Consulted the doctors monitoring us and I was assured no cause for concern.

At CP5, took a break for 2 hours.  Had a large cup of miso soup and took a short nap.  At this point, I had company - Len (my tentmate) and Gary and Brad (both of whom I met a day ahead of the race).  We set off from CP5 around 10PM.  CP5-CP6 took us almost on the border of Argentina-Chile and we were told that because of border issues between the countries, we were passing through a landmine field for 6km.  Oh, fuck!! Well, onward and upwards.  Gary, who worked in Tanks in the Canadian Forces took lead and we followed.  We kept to the path, following the glowsticks and not straying too far from the designated path till we reached CP6.

Post CP6, we walked on through a difficult creek/river canyon.  We stopped many times to look at the night sky -Beautiful to see the entire milky way, a sight you will never see in a city, thanks to light pollution.  We identified the southern star, orion,  the two bears.  I mean, against the backdrop of the black sky, the glowing stars were so refreshing to see.

The road into camp reminded me of "on a dark desert highway, cool wind in my hair" minus the warm smell of colitas wink wink.

With all this little soirees to keep our enthusiasm going, we finally made it to camp at a little after 3 this morning.  The four of us crossed the line together - great camaraderie.

I am more refreshed now, will be eating some soup and food soon.  Tomorrow is a 16km into San Pedro where pizza (lots of it) and beer (more than lots of it, I trust) await us.  Thank you all for your kind wishes.  There are many who have written in, who I do not know personally.  Thank you as well.  These are what have helped me complete six days in the desert.

See you all soon.


234 done. 16 to go. YAY

News is in that Sumanth has successfully navigated Stage 5 which is also called the Long March, of 74 odd kilometers with timings of 19 hours and 13 minutes. Phew!

I'm not expecting a blog update from him after running for nearly a whole day. I'd rather he rested himself thoroughly for the last 16 km on Day 7 of the crossing.

Stage 6, the last part, starts at 10 am on Saturday (12th March) - so that's 234 done and last 16 to go. I am relieved. And thank you for ALL that support, you made my week much more bearable and gave me immense strength.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

A poem from Pondicherry

Our dear friend, Vibha from Pondicherry has sent this inspirational poem for Sumanth -

One day-The Little More

One day, and all the half-dead is done,
One day, and all the unborn begun;
A little path and the great goal,
A touch that brings the divine whole.

Hill after hill was climbed and now,
Behold, the last tremendous brow
And the great rock that none has trod:
A step, and all is sky and God.

Sri Aurobindo

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Stage Four - The dreaded Salt Flats

According to the update on the 4Deserts website, the salt flats comprise hard, crusted, coral-like terrain which is extremely difficult to navigate – and sometimes will tear shoes to shreds. I did read about a couple of competitors getting their shoes torn trying to navigate these parts, and they continued after fixing their shoes with tape!

The View 

The Climb

Sumanth has done a very brief blog update after stage four and I am thankful for that, as I was worried about him going through this part without any injuries.

That's him in the picture below, green cap, red bottle in hand (Pic 23 in the set)

His update is as follows:

Completed Stage 4, The Salt Flats.  Am screwed physically, legs hurting badly.  Going to rest and recoup ahead of tomorrow's long march - 73km in total.

Will update once I complete that.  Keep your wishes coming, they sustain me throughout.


Like any wife would, I feel miserable to read that he is pain, that too 10000 miles away, when all I can send him are my thoughts and prayers. But then again, I know Sumanth is mentally prepared for this. He knew fully well what he was getting into. If he still at it, surely he think it is worth the back breaking grit and the pain.

Today, the contestants will be running the longest stage of the race, Stage Five - 74 km, also called the Long March. Here are some of the pictures of the Long March from the 2010 crossing.

At the end of Stage Four, Sumanth ranks 59th, which is a great improvement from his rank of the last three days.

Entire set of photos from Stage Four - here.

Wishing him lots of strength for stage five which stretches over the next two days.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Stage One - Blog update (delayed)

[Sumanth's blog update at the end of Day one- Stage one]

Well, we arrived at base camp last night after a one and a half hour drive into the desert.  Base camp was at Rio Grande.Managed to sleep well and woke up well.  Apart from Michelle the other Indian competitor, we have among others, Jagjit and Tan from Malaysia, Len and Stan from Canada, Pam from the US and Richard from HK.  Great people, I have made several new friends today.

Stage 1 was navigation through rock.  A total of little over 35km with three cheeck points.  Starting altitude was a little over 3,250m and we come down to 2600m at the end of the stage.  got through CP1 and 2 in 4 hours.  Terrain can best be described as a roller coasteer of loose gravel and very soft ground, followed by a walk through a winding canyon that was once actually a river bed/basin at some point in time.  Most important lesson learnt was that distance can be deceptive, followed by the importance of water conservation.

The run/walk from CP2 to CP3 was what beat the mickey out of me.  We ran through a undulating course that just keot going up and down and up and down and up again forever.  It was at a slightly higher altitude and given that we were coming down, I did not expect an uphill climb again.  Further, the route was absolutely still, no air passage at all and at times, I got a bit breathless so had to force myself to stop.  I had a great companion for CP2 and 3, Gavin from the UK.  Thanks mate.  He was who got me through CP3 and onward to Camp 2.

Covered the entire distance in 7hr15min, including R&R of 45 minutes.  I stopped several times enroute to CP3 and then to Camp2.  Took a short nap before I wrote this up.  Now it dinner time and then bed in a short while.  Back hurts like hell after lugging my backpack, so will probably stretch a bit.

Tomorrow, we tackle the slot canyons.  41.8km through difficult terrain.  So will write, once I complete the stage.

Thank you all for your kind wishes.  Nandita, Atri - love you very much.  Your pictures are what kept me going and provide inspiration.  See you all in a week, successfully.


Originally posted here 

"Daddy, phone pannu"

That's what Atri, our 2 year old son woke me up with at 4 AM this morning. 

He wants me to call 'daddy' so he can talk to him. How do I explain to him that for the first time ever, aside from the times Sumanth has been on flights, daddy is not contactable for the next few days.

I scan through the photo album in my phone and show him this pic of S that I love the most. Taken with a backdrop of the Arabian Sea on the evening of Navroz's marriage vows in January this year. 

Atri is happy to see his daddy's smiling face and is satisfied for the moment. 

This is just one of the instances. He remembers his daddy in deep sleep by uttering "Daddy Atacama"once in a while. The one night that was utterly heart-breaking as well as funny was him rattling off all things he does with daddy, in his deep sleep.

"Paakan, aavil, cif and Sippon" - For those of you not familiar with Atri-speak, that means "Popcorn, olive, chips and Simpsons" which is what father and son do when I am out for my run in the evening.

Waiting for the 16th so that we can resume our lives as one small family, once again.

Stage Three - 8 March, 2011

Sumanth did the Stage 3 (40 km) in 8 hours and 51 minutes, almost at the same pace as Day 2.

Here's a thumbnail picture of him from the Photo Gallery, the whole set available on the day's link in the Photos and Videos Tab.

Sumanth's blog update after Stage 3 - The Atacameous Trail


The day started at 8am.  Course detail was 40km in total.  The first leg to CP1 was brutal for almost 5km.  It was crusty and hard salt that could cut ankles if we were not careful.  I managed to run to CP1 in about 1.45hrs and after a brif stop started onwards to CP2.  Cutoff for reaching CP2 was 2pm and I made it around 11.10am.  The trail was relatively difficult, we were moving through waist high grass, as well as dried grass.  Very deceptive terrain and a bit difficult.

After refuelling at CP2, I started onwards to CP3 and this was where a bit of hell began.  While the first part was OK, the second half (almost 5km) was a rolling sand dune, simply brutal terrain.  I managed to reach CP3 at 1.15pm, 10km in about 2 hrs or so.  Rested at CP3 for 15-20 minutes and then I set out for CP4 (Camp for night as well).  The distance between CP3 and CP4 was roughly 11.5km.

To call the terrain enroute to CP4 murderous is an understatement.  The first half was very sharp rocky surface (the kind that could cut your shoes (if you were lucky) or seriously slice your leg).  I lost time here since I was exhausted (temperature must have been about 40C and dry heat).  I just kept drinking water like it was going out of style.  The second leg (roughly 4km odd) comprised steep sand dunes (45-60degree incline) that we had to climb and descend.  Luckily for me, I had a buddy who came out of no where - Scott (check him at  He stayed with me through the last 4 km, through and through and helped me reach Camp.

I came in 60 today, about 8 places up from yesterday.  What really worked was just going from CP to CP and not thinking about the finish line.

Afterthought - for those of you who saw The Good, The Bad and The Ugly - now I know what Tuco went through, when Blondie left him in the middle of the desert about a 100 miles from the nearest town, and that was without water, methinks.  Phew!!

Tomorrow, we tackle the infamous Salt Flats - 42 km on crusty, dry, hard salt.

Keep the good thoughts and wishes coming.  I am grateful for your support and will see you all very soon.


An update from Stage 3 : Sumanth's sense of humour is intact

Tuesday 8 March 2011, Stage 3: 

Anders Jensen (29) of Denmark is the first competitor to clear Checkpoint 2 with Martin Chinchilla (24) of Chile through just 2 minutes later. They left the checkpoint together. Anders told us that, "The terrain is not too bad, but I can still feel yesterday." 
The next three competitors came in together at 10:18 and they were Matias Anguita (38) of Chile, Darren Nichols (37) of Canada and Ian Holdcroft (36) of the UK. Meanwhile the final competitor has just arrived at Checkpoint 1 Kumi Murakami of Japan. Diego Carvajal (28)of the UK is the only other competitor at the checkpoint, undertaking some fancy taping work on his feet.
 As other competitors had passed through they shared their thoughts. Amongst them, was Andy Shephard (48) South Africa in 86th place. He said that he'd enjoyed the last 5 kilometers but not the first 5. 

Sumanth Cidambi (40) of India quipped that, "I know what Tuco from The Good, The Bad, The Ugly felt like when Blondie cut him loose and made him walk to town across the desert, especially that last section!" He was delighted when he found out he came in 55th place - way ahead of his finishing place the day before. 

Finally Franciscio Ferrer (39) of Chile is celebrating his 14th anniversary today. It is the second year in a row that he is at the Atacama Crossing for his anniversary. Apparently his wife is not very happy but understands!


I am feeling elated that Sumanth is making such good time on Day 3, and relieved that he is sounding much better than he did the last two days and his sense of humour is intact despite the harsh conditions and the back breaking run! Godspeed, dear husband!

[The update was originally published on the 4deserts website, here.]

Monday, March 7, 2011

Sumanth and Michelle's interview for a feature on 4Deserts

Paving The Way For a Nation
By Clare Morin

One thing was strikingly clear during the pre-race day in the sunny town of San Pedro de Atacama: there was an extraordinary number of flags on view. There are no less than 37 nationalities taking part in this year’s Atacama Crossing, and among them are two racers who hail from India, a country that has been rarely represented in the 4 Desert series.
We meet the two pioneers, Michelle Kakade and Sumanth Cidambi, as they sit in the lobby of the hotel La Casa de Don Tomas. It’s 9am and both are filled with excitement at the prospect of moving into the desert.

Michelle is no newcomer to making history amid desert sands. The 42-year old made headlines last year when she was the first person from India to participate in, and complete, the Marathon des Sables. She says it was while out in the Sahara Desert that the idea of competing in a 4 Deserts race came to her. “I was wearing 4 Deserts gaiters there and someone asked which ones I had done,” she reminisces. “I got curious about these events and started finding out more.”

The housewife and mother of two from Pune first started running at the age of 35. She embarked on marathons and half-marathons, but says it was the ultramarathon that made a big impact on her, “My rankings improved,” she says. “I found that taking part increased my mental strength, and that has improved my results.”

Sumanth Cidambi also started running in his mid-30s. “At the time I weighed 106kg, and now I am 78kg,” explains the 40-year old. “I could not walk one kilometer without getting breathless. Through running, I have learned discipline, patience, and how to become a more self-contained person.” 

Sumanth was born in Chennai, but has lived on various continents in the past 15 years. He currently lives in Hyderabad, where he is the CFO of a cooperative that provides support and improvements for the Human Development Index of India’s rural sector. The idea of a 4 Deserts race came to him one day through his email.

“About a year ago, a friend of mine sent an email asking if I would be interested in taking part in the 4 Deserts events,” he says. “I have run a few marathons before and got immediately interested. This is a birthday present for myself.”

When asked why they think there have been few competitors from India taking part in the 4 Deserts series, they point out that ultramarathons are still relatively unknown in the country. “Also, entries are pricey,” points out Michelle. “In India, a lot of sports are related with prize money, for example, tennis and cricket.”

“I’d say it’s mainly a lack of awareness, cost and a lack of infrastructure,” adds Sumanth. “I bought all my gear from RacingThePlanet's store because there are not many running shops in India. People see running more of a weight loss method than fulfillment,” he adds. “To me running is a very powerful drug.”

Both agree that their main mission now that they are here in Chile is to savor and enjoy the experience. “There is no time goal, says Sumanth. “The objective is to enjoy.” But they also share a deep desire to take this challenge further – and ultimately join the 4 Deserts Club. In doing so, they will no doubt inspire a new generation of Indian competitors to follow in their footsteps.

[Original article appears in the Atacama Crossing wesbite here]

Stage Two - 7 March, 2011

On Stage 2:
Stage 2 named Slot Canyons begins at 08:00am on March 7 and will see competitors complete a longer stage than today, at 41.8km (26.0 miles). The course will take them through river canyons, water crossings, across loose rocks and sand, and they will have to negotiate almost 800m of elevation gains and losses.

A video of the backdrop of Stage two-

Stage Update from the Atacama Crossing website

Sumanth's blog post on his experience of stage 2 - 

After a good night's sleep, I woke up very refreshed and mentally ready to tackle Stage 2, "The Slot Canyons".  

The first 20.8km were sheer hell - 3km by road - 8km in a river canyon where I got soaking wet upto my knees and at times, thighs - one km on a 4x4 track (and this was just upto checkpoint 1).  The next 9.6 km saw us climb up and up and up.  Great scenery but I wasn't in a frame of mind to appreciate.  The incline was really steep, at times almost 45-60 degrees.  The route to CP2 ended with a tumble down through an endless sand dune, which sloped at an incline of 60-70 degrees (almost vertical, if you ask me).  As a reward, I received my first blister of the race, which was quickly treated at CP2 and after a brief rest, I set out for CP3.

The route to CP3 was an off road track and I was walking this at an easy pace of 4-5km per hour.  The terrain was just loose sand, packed at some points, rocky in the other.  What hit most of us was that the sun was right out there and blazing away.  I must have consumed about 2.5 litres of water just to keep from dehydrating.  And I promise you, CP3 was a sight for sore eyes.  I filled up and headed out to CP4 (also camp for tonight).

The route to CP4 was just crusty and sandy terrain.  Lots of scrub/bushes which made one look out carefully for the route markers.  I can only say this - there was one single tree about 4km from CP4.  And this was the only tree for the last 26km or so.  When you see this, you only feel grateful to Mother Nature.  I rushed as quickly as I could manage and took a 5 minute stop and refreshed myself with water and salt tablets.

Reached CP4 at 5PM, a total of 9 hours in the desert. I can only sum up my feelings at this time - gratitude and a renewed respect of the sun.

I am off to dinner now and then a night's rest, getting ready for tomorrow's stage 3 - The Atacamenos Trail.

More tomorrow.  Keep the good wishes coming in.


His timing for stage 2 was 8 hours and 58 minutes.

Notes from Day One

The race started on 6 March, 2011 at 8 am.

Above, is a video of the Start line.

Sumanth completed stage two in 7 hours, 12 minutes and 32 seconds.

From the news updates of the day on the Atacama Crossing website -

Sumanth Cidambi of India crossed the line in 76th place at 15:14:26. He had this to say about his day's performance: "I am very happy. Exlcuding the time that I rested, it took me 7 hours and 40 minutes to complete the course. This is my first event so I'm really happy with that. I've learned a lot today. Not to outpace myself. I will probably go slower tomorrow. I knew this wasn't an easy course, but the only part that I felt mentally down was between checkpoints 2 and 3. There was an incline in the canyons and there was no flowing air. I thought of my son and wife and I said, Just go for it."

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Pre-Race Day - 5 March, 2011

Pre-Race included introductions, registration and getting acclimatized to the altitude of 10000 feet / 2500 meters. Sumanth seems in good cheers mingling with fellow runners in the lobby of their hotel.

Also, he is seen holding the Indian flag with the only other Indian contestant, Michelle Kakade, mother of two, from Mumbai.

The picture of the campsite shows the picturesque backgrop of the mountains.

[All pictures courtesy 4Deserts Website]

On the Atacama Crossing

The Atacama Crossing is one of the four races that comprise the world renowned 4 Deserts series of 250km, rough-country footraces.
The race takes place in Chile’s stunning but brutal Atacama Desert, which is the largest cold coastal desert, and the driest place on Earth. The Atacama is a rainless plateau hemmed in between the Pacific Ocean and the Andes, and is a unique landscape of salt lakes, volcanoes, lava flows and sand dunes, that challenges even the best runners.
The Atacama Crossing is grueling not only because of the forbidding terrain which is rarely flat underfoot, and a harsh climate, but also because of the altitude that averages 2500m (8000ft) during the race. 

[From the 4Deserts Website]