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Deguzis Crossed Atacama, Lived & Learned

Ryan Deguzis chose to run his first ultramarathon and the longest race of his life through the driest desert on the planet, the Atacama. We caught up with him for a quick follow up from our first chat with him before the race, and just a few days before his wedding. 

Any life lessons you feel better educated about or better prepared for? 

Yes, definitely. This type of ultramarathon requires that you stay calm and in the moment. If you are thinking about mile 45 and you are only on mile 20, you could be in big trouble. To deal with the task at hand and stay in the moment helps get through the race as a whole.

I think this translates very well into everyday living. It is tempting to try to tackle a variety of problems in life with a “battle like” mindset. To slay the problem- like some type of Kraken. But I think if you approach everyday issues with a positive mindset and look at it as as growing experience within that moment, it's a different way to live; perhaps a truer idea of what problems actually are.

The other key thing I learned about myself is that my past experiences–whether good or bad–make me a better person today. In recovery it's very easy to feel ashamed of the past, and I still do feel that sense of shame even after 4 plus years of recovery. But in the desert while tackling those 155 miles, I honestly don't think I could have done it if I didn't have to deal with alcoholism earlier in my life. The experiences in my darkest days of abuse have made me so strong mentally that many problems–including running through the Atacama–really pale in comparison. In short, our darkest moments in life can make us exceptionally strong people in the present and we shouldn't always try to bury those moments, but use them to our advantage.

Anything you wish you would have known going into this particular race?

I felt very prepared going into the race. I did so much research and had Linda [Quirk] giving me a lot of hands on advice. Probably the one thing I wish I could have known was exactly how hard the terrain of the Atacama was going to be. I had trained and imagined running 60 to 70 percent of the course. But on Stage 1 of the race, I realize this was impossible. With the salt flats, river crossings, and sandy dunes it was almost impossible to move past a trudge at times.  And impossible to train for that type of terrain completely.  

I had to mentally re-calibrate the amount of time I expected to be on the course each day- which was difficult. I think a lot of other people had trouble with this aspect as well which may be why about 30 people ended dropping out by the end.

Advice to those training for their first ultra?

Anyone can do these races. In the desert I saw a 70 year old man and an above the knee amputee conquer the Atacama Crossing.

I would suggest to anyone that they do their homework. Research everything you can about the distance you are going to attempt. Read books, listen to podcasts, read blogs, e-mail past competitors or race directors. Most of ultrarunning requires you to be mentally fortified and just being knowledgeable about the distance helps in a tremendous way.

In training it's important to know what works for your body. Everyone works very differently and it's necessary to know what your body in particular needs. For example- how much water, electrolytes or calories do you need per hour running and how does that change in different temperature ranges. Will you stick with real foods or go with gels. Everyone is vastly different in their approach and I honed in my personal requirements over a series of years- I'm always still adjusting things too.   

He finished the race, 155 miles of the Atacama Desert in 43 hours, 26 minutes. 

Want more? Listen to Ryan's podcast with The Marathon Training Acadamy, and check out this article about his experience in The Courant

If Ryan's recounting of the Atacama Crossing inspired you, consider joining an event with us! 

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