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Interview with Tommy Boss, Atacama Crossing Desert Race Competitor

Tommy and Stephan, Two Atacama Crossing Desert Racers

Tommy and Stephan, Two Atacama Crossing Desert Racers

“We’re just normal guys that have chosen to do something unusual”, said Tommy Boss and his friend, Stephan (who preferred not to have his full name published for work reasons) when I asked why they were doing the Atacama Crossing Race, a gruelling 250 km marathon race that is scheduled to be completed in 6 days. A big appeal was the distraction and adventure this race represents; “you can live a normal life and then focus your mind on something completely different than the usual.”

Usually this race is run in 7 days, but due to the earthquake in Chile, and the difficulties with international transportation, it was shortened to 6 days, but the distance was kept the same.

This race is one of four races run in the most challenging desert environments on earth: the Gobi , Sahara, Atacama and Antarctic deserts. The Atacama crossing is famous for being run across the driest desert in the world. It starts and finishes in San Pedro de Atacama, Chile. The desert that spans the northern part of Chile and into Bolivia is one of the most visually stunning and physically demanding terrains on the plane, especially considering the high altitude.

Fascinated by what motivated them to do this sort of extreme race, I aksed more questions. Both are involved in the banking industry, and were heavily impacted by the global financial crisis. Part of the appeal is that finishing this race is not dependent on money. “You can’t buy a finish” said Stephan, drawn by the fact that it was something you and only you could do. No one can cross the finish line for you.

This Atacama Crossing is Stephan’s first and Tommy’s third race. Stephan says Tommy talked him into it, but obviously no one can talk you into something this difficult without you really wanting to rise to the challenge yourself.

Both said they were looking forward to the fun, pain and conclusion of more than half a year’s planning and training.
Doing this kind of race “forces you to prioritize things in your life and think about what’s really important”. It’s like planning a major project. Preparation includes extensive research on products to buy and use during the race, and deciding exactly to the milligram how much you can carry. It’s mandatory to carry 6-15 kilograms of essential gear and first aid, as specified by the race organizers, but after that you decide what to bring. You must bring everything you need to run, eat, camp and take care of your body during the entire race. Only 9 liters of water is provided by the organization running this race. They rest is carried in backpacks on your back.

Although safety precautions are always taken (runners are checked over by 6-7 doctors, and volunteers are stationed throughout the race) it isn’t risk free. Three years ago someone on route died, and four years ago in the Sahara two people died during the race, Tommy and Stephan told me.

They trained by methodical training, running marathons, researching online and participating in runner’s forums, reading running magazines for tips and doing a lot of yoga. In fact, they credit yoga for training their minds to keep positive, as well as balance out their bodies while undergoing such rigorous training. They talked a lot about thinking positive, something they are convinced you can learn to do if not naturally inclined in a positive direction.

What was Tommy most worried about? Painful blisters. And most looking forward to? Simply crossing the finishing line, and having the tremendous sense of accomplishment that comes with this. There isn’t a lot of money to be won by winning or finishing this race. These racers are not seeking fame and fortune. They are doing it for the thrill of adventure and accomplishing something so few people in the world would dare to try to do, in one of the most extreme climates on earth.
Somehow they made it sound so logical and easy, this crazy extreme race adventure.

I followed the www.4deserts.com site and saw they successfully completed each stage and had what looked like a strong finish. All their planning and training obviously paid off.

I felt inspired just by talking to them, even before they started the race. It reminded me that anyone can accomplish anything if they set their minds to it. In fact, people often do it every day. Almost every person you know has at some point in their lives done something extraordinary that the rest of us would seriously doubt we could do. I think that sometimes the only difference is whether it was a chosen challenge or something a person is faced with and simply must find a way to cope with and overcome. It also reminded me of how far positive thinking can take you.

So, when was the last time you chose to do something that tested your limits and challenged you to the core of your being?

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