Part 4. Hypoxic Training, Costumes, and Me

”I am gonna race the Atacama Desert 250km with a team.”

”My target will be to become the world champions.”

We told ourselves.

The three of us, Kuro, Shin and I.

Every one of us kept on beefing up our running ability, without even pushing each other. 

On weekends, we would FLASH-CLICK for full/100km marathons, encouraging one another.

Gradually we increased our level of challenge – like running 140km in 24 hours (The Hagi Oukan Race), trail-running 156km around Mount Fuji in 48 hours without sleeping for two nights (Ultra Trail Mount Fuji).

All of us had a job. We were neither professional runners nor were we out of jobs.

Although we didn’t have time to meet up, we shared information and encouraged each other online, looking forward to the Atacama day.

By then, each of us had accomplished quite a bit.

- Me

June 2011: Gobi Desert Race in China

October 2011: Sahara Desert Race in Egypt

- Shin

October 2011: Sahara Desert Race in Egypt

June 2012: Gobi Desert Race in China

- Kuro

October 2011: Sahara Desert Race in Egypt

Every one of us had completed a desert race, and we were gaining confidence in ourselves.

However, the Atacama was a new experience for all of us.

The biggest difference between Atacama and other deserts is that Atacama is at a high altitude.

“There’s a possibility that you might get altitude sickness because Atacama Desert Race is held 3000 meters above sea level, and its oxygen level is so low.”

That’s when I came up with the hypoxic training and recommended it to the other two in order to improve our heart-lung functions.

It was incredibly painful!

Basically, it’s like this:

You wear a mask covering your mouth and nose first.

Then you run on a treadmill, increasing the pace and inclination, while gradually lowering the level of oxygen.

During this training, you must always measure the oxygen concentration in your blood (SPO2. Usually it’s 100).

When the SPO2 gets under 80, you must breath hard or slow down in order to get back the oxygen concentration to normal.

Never had I felt breathing was so painful and difficult.

On days I planned for the hypoxic training, I was terrified to go to the gym.

But we competed against each other with this training.

“I did the hypoxia level of Kilimanjaro!”

“For a moment, I ran the Everest!”

Afterwards, it turned out this method of training was a very important one.

Another feature of the Atacama’s was the cold temperature.

Because of the Atacama’s high altitude, the temperature may get down to 0 degrees Celcius during nighttime.

If you don’t have proper protection against the cold, you won’t be able to run.

But the desert races’ rule is that you must carry all your equipment and run.

If your equipment is heavy, it will slow you down.

If it’s a team race, this might affect the entire team’s running pace.

“How to reduce your equipment’s weight, and yet be prepared well enough to race safely”

- This was an important issue for the three of us.

The desert race office specifies a whole list of mandatory equipment.

If you are missing any of the equipment, you won’t be allowed to start.

There will be equipment check during the race too – if they find out you have something missing among the mandatory equipment, they will penalize you.

Some examples of the mandatory equipment for the Atacama:

- Sleeping bag that can be used under 5 degrees Ceicius

- Whistle and a mirror (to reflect the sunlight) to call for help during emergencies

- Knit hat, down jacket, gloves (for protection from cold)

- Headlight or two flashlights

- Blanket for emergency use

- Food supply with more than 2,000 Kcal per day (more than 14,000Kcal for seven days)

“Hey! This gear’s 5 grams lighter!”

“This food’s got lots of calories per gram! And looks quite easy to eat in the dry desert!”

We were sharing information with each other such as “equipment that’s even just 1 gram lighter” and “desert-suited food”.

One day, another crazy idea came to me.

Me: “Hey guys, we have been completing 100km marathons in costumes so many times. Aiming for No.1 is not enough for us. Why not wear costumes and go for No.1?”

I was the one who started running in costumes in the first place. The reason is simple.

“Aid staff and the spectator’s cheering supported me throughout these races. I want to entertain them in return.”

It’s not that I want to be cheered on by girls or something like that (really!).

Running full marathons and 100km in costumes, I realized that not only the staff and audience but the other racers get entertained too, and their smiles give me power. Also people will remember my name, and notice me in other races (this made me very happy). My friends started running in costumes too.

Through the process of testing various costumes like pandas and penguins, my own “Costume Policy” developed.

- What the costume is should be instantly recognizable by people of all ages and sexes, and its name should be called easily. That way, everyone can enjoy it, and cheer in the short moment I run through.

- The audience could recognize our face even though we wear a costume. Then people could see our smiles, which makes them happy.

Running so many races wearing costumes, we developed our own favorites.

Shin: Banana

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Kuro: Giraffe

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Me: Radish

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Later I find out that radishes aren’t so popular overseas…

“Imagine a banana, a giraffe and a radish running through the desert to become world No.1. That would be awesome!”

Maybe we were so hyped up by the hypoxic training.

Maybe were starting to go crazy.

Oh, here’s how much the costumes weighed.

Shin: Banana – 730 grams.

Kuro: Giraffe – 711 grams

Me: Radish – 635 grams

“We should care about lightweight with other equipment, but not our costumes! These would be useful as sleeping pads and protect us from the cold too!”

We were obsessed with costumes.

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(Equipment being measured by the gram. And the radish)

(Continue to Part 5)