A Peruvian at the MDS: a clash of cultures


Marathon des Sables

Remigio HUAMAN QUISPE is rather incongruous on the bivouac of the 32nd MARATHON DES SABLES. With his alpaca cap, typical of the Peruvian region of Huancavelica where he resides, and his quite minimalist equipment with respect to the other competitors (for instance, he has no gaiters), one can wonder if he really knew what to expect when coming here. Yet, Remigio is ambitious: “I think I can win, thanks to my altitude training, my food, and how I'm able to manage my sleep and my tiredness,” he told us a few days before the start.


But Remigio knew almost nothing about the MDS. It's the first time he travels out of his country –an incredible opportunity for him. Everything started when he realized that running could enable him to increase his income, thanks to the prize money of the races. He started competing in local events, eventually winning them, which enabled him and his family to put butter on his bread. He recently finished in the 2nd and 3rd position, in 2014 and 2015 respectively, of the 'Wings for Life' race, an event which takes place simultaneously throughout the world and where runners race side by side to keep ahead of the Catcher Car. Those two results enabled him to be noticed and eventually take the start of the MDS. A totally incredible opportunity: “It's very important for me and my family.


His face has strong features, and his words are few but always meaningful when he explains his life in Peru: the fields, the animals, his family, and his training sessions at an altitude of 3,700 m... His ancestors have always lived in the region, and by tradition he started cultivating the land he had inherited. With his wife, their three children and his mother (his dad died in February, a sad event which has boosted his motivation), they live a simple, frugal life, paced by work...and training sessions: “I wake up early, I train for 2-3 hours, and then I work in the fields. In the afternoon, it's more or less the same.” With such a schedule, Remigio covers 180 km per week, with a high altitude gain.


But the MDS has very few mountains, and for him, jebels looks like hills. So he is somewhat “lagging behind” with respect to his initial objective: 13th, 9th and 6th for Stage 1, 2 and 3 respectively, which is actually not so bad! He was hoping to learn from being in contact with the best runners, but unfortunately communication is difficult since he only speaks Spanish and Quechua. However, he is supported and encouraged by other Spanish-speaking competitors. For him, everything is really new here: “There's so many people...I'm not used to that. Everyone has high-tech equipment. And then, the desert... At home, I go out to run, I take nothing, the earth provides me with everything. Here, you can't cross the start line without your rucksack.


Regarding food, Remigio is also discordant: no gels, no cereal bars, no recovery drinks. Instead, before leaving home, he prepared a flour with all the products he grows (corn, wheat, barley, quinoa, beans) and only eats that. His new friends gave him cereal bars, but he didn't like their taste and texture.


He hopes to prolong the dream he's living for the greater benefit of his loved ones. He's already signed up for 2 races: Transvulcania (13 May) and HALF MARATHON DES SABLES FUERTEVENTURA (25-30 September). He hopes to return to Morocco next year and is already thinking about improvements that will enable him to achieve his goal of winning the race: “I must make my bag lighter and lose 5-6 kg myself. I will also travel to Ica, in Peru, to train in the desert and better adapt to that environment.


A last anecdote to fully understand the discordance between Remigio and his fellow racers: at the age of 34, he recently saw a doctor for the first time in his life because he had to provide the MDS organisers with the mandatory electrocardiogram... What about you: how many times have you seen a doctor?