Team Born to Run rock Chile.

Team Born to Run features father and son Greg and Matt Donovan, masters runner and multiple recordholder Ron Schwebel, fastest ever female GNW miler debut and multiple run and rogaine podium Jess Baker and myself, Roger Hanney, ultra-compulsive and Chief Running Officer at Hoka One One Australia.

Koichi & Hiro - just 2 of the many characters we'll remember fondly from Atacam 2012.

About 4 years ago in his mid-teens, Greg’s younger son Stephen was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. As a runner with a 2:47 marathon and a 4:07 6 Foot Track, Greg’s initial notion was to run to raise money toward finding a cure. Then he found out about Racing The Planet, self-supported multiday events that cover 250km in some of the world’s harshest and most spectacular environments. Not one for half-measures, Greg has spent the last couple of years preparing for a major fundraising project. His plan with Team Born to Run is to conquer all 4 Deserts in the Racing the Planet series in 12 months, and to make his mark for charity by forming the first team to complete the 4 Deserts Grand Slam.

the Team runs into another sunrise

Running as a team presents particular challenges as race rules require teams to run and finish together. Not only is there the difficulty of faster, stronger runners having to hold back, and slower runners having to maintain a near-peak effort, but there is also the pressure of all members having to avoid injury throughout the week. Because of my own running with type 1 diabetes, I’m delighted to be part of Team B2R, and because of my work for Hoka OneOne I am absolutely rapt that Hoka is supporting Team Born to Run.

We just got back from our first desert less than 48 hours ago. The Atacama Crossing in Chile takes place in the highest, driest desert in the world. Normally receiving only 3cm of rain per year, the Atacama has received – and almost entirely absorbed or evaporated – over 100cm in the last 2 months. This meant some changes in the course we were able to take, but it also meant additional challenges. The area was under an inland sea millions of years ago. When the sea was drained from the area, a thick crust of corrosive salt was left across the land. When we ran across the salt flats – massive open plains encrusted in a thick coral of salt, sand, dried mud, and clay – we were often breaking through the crunchy surface to a slick, slippery black mud/clay beneath.

Jess Baker of Team Born to Run and Team Hoka Australia - IRREPRESSIBLE!!! Climbing to 5400m above sea level on a nearby volcano during our 'taper' week.

We became familiar with a variety of dirt – salty mud that released a mild egg smell like methane trapped underneath, blood and bone type dirt that smelled like a gardening supplies store, dry salty sandy dirt that would take the moisture out of your mouth – and so on. We raced, ran, and trudged slowly under the weight of our packs in temperatures of over 40 degrees celsias, and whether it was the 12% humidity, running in thin air, or the spectacular scenery of the Atacama, something was always taking our breath away.

Ultimately, at barely 70% of her capacity to keep pace with the team, running from front to back and forward again throughout each day, Jess Baker finished the week as the third fastest woman and the fastest woman aged 20-29. Ron Schwebel was also fastest man aged 60 or over. However, Racing the Planet’s rules block individuals entered as part of a team from being eligible for individual awards.

Ron Schwebel - Team Born to Run: diesel engine and a heart of gold.

Greg Donovan was the 2nd fastest man in his age category and put in a mammoth effort behind the scenes. The driving force behind Team Born To Run, he has slept, eaten, breathed, and dreamed this project since Day 1. Putting all his effort into bringing it to life, has also been flat out running himself back toward fitness while working 13-hour days at insurance giant Aon where he’s a highly in-demand MD.

Greg Donovan - Team Born to Run: deadline-defying running machine!

There was also no award on offer or that could match the pride we felt for Greg’s son, Matt Donovan, when he smashed the 73km long day. Only completing his first marathon distance race about a month ago, Matt had never run past about 45km. But he pulled one out of the bag, buried himself In The Zone and pushed all day through 42 degree heat, across hour after hour of unshaded salt, rock, mud, and towering sand dune.

Team Born to Run - me n Matty D. in the Valley of Death. The GoPro isn't the only machine in this picture.

With just over 10km to go we pulled level with the team that had been ahead of us all week. After we passed them they made an effort but seemed to have not much left in the tank, either from fatigue or any of the many general injuries that plague an event like this. They were great sports, lovely guys, and beat us by just over an hour on total time, but there was a real satisfaction to finish well up the field on the long day – the day that some of us had most feared and others of us had most looked forward to.

The Hoka OneOne Evo and Bondi did generate quite a buzz in camp over the last couple of days, for obvious reasons. No blisters! Across creek crossings, corrosive salt flats, thick mud, and scorching sand dunes, with most of our shoes coming out of the box the day we left for Chile, between 5 runners we didn’t get one blister or even heat rash. As the days went on, with calorie-restricted diets and cumulative leg fatigue, each day’s camp took on the air of a zombie movie. We all had our niggles and our flat spots but we never joined the hobbling, limping, or even walking wounded. As 5 runners with different issues of our own and vastly differing levels of experience and foundation, this was enough for other runners to find remarkable. With different socks and self-care regimes, the one thing all our feet had in common was Hoka OneOne.  They also ate up the widely varied terrain we covered just brilliantly.

Racing the Planet - it's in tents!! Camp life presented its own challenges - namely, that you can only eat as much for the week as you can carry. Hungry!!

Now it’s heads down as different goals and future challenges await. I’m leaving tonight for Victoria to take on my 2nd 100-miler in the Alpine Challenge because I’m feeling fresh and sassy. I have a hunch that I’m going to get 15km in and realize that I’m carrying more fatigue than I realize, but alpine running, 7,000m of elevation gain – Game On!! Jess is taking on a Fastest Known Time next week on the 267km Newcastle-Sydney trail of lore, the Great North Walk in her Evo with ultra speedster Meredith Quinlan. Then she has a 24-hour rogaining championship to smash with Gill Fowler in April, and we both have The North Face 100 to look very very forward to in May.

Team Born to Run are champing at the bit for China’s Gobi Desert in June, with Sahara still to come in October, followed by Antarctica in November.

Hoka OneOne Stinson Evo - zero blisters, drained brilliantly, and ate all surfaces in its way. Definitely our pick for Trail Running Shoe of the Year 2012.

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