Katharine & David Lowrie completed running the length of South America, 6,504 miles, through the largest rain forest on earth, the longest mountain range, from the Southern Ocean, finally into the Caribbean Sea of Venezuela. Here is their story in 27 photos…
1. Finding the starting line, southern Chile
To reach Cabo Froward (the southern tip of South America) we ran (or waded) 60 miles there and back mountain-marathon style.
2. Four glacial-fed rivers barred our way, Southern Chile
We had to cross ice-melt rivers, which involved pulling out kit across in our dry bags, stripping and swimming across before our limbs gave up- it was terrifying.
3. Cabo Froward, southern Chile- the start of the expedition
The start:- 28th July 2012, the first day of the Olympic Games, London and we started our challenge- we were dangerously cold and low on provisions but knew that at last every step forward would count!
4. The Trailer, Carretera Austral, Chile
David constructed a trailer made out of bamboo, old bicycle wheels and inner tubes so we could be self-sufficient in some of the most remote places on earth.
We shared pulling it, swapping the trailer every five miles. We transported: food, water, a tent and hammocks, tarps, MSR, binoculars, Spanish books, wildlife books, solar panels, satellite phone etc.
At times it reached well over 100kg, so pulling it over Andean passes and through rubble was particularly challenging! We soon realized that running barefoot (or in Vivobarefoot shoes) was a bad idea whilst pulling the trailer, as we ran inclined forward, rather than in a natural light upright pose. So whoever was pulling the trailer ran in ‘Inov8 transition shoes’ with a very slight heel to reduce the strain on our Achilles tendon.
5. The road to Puerto Natales, southern Chile
Bed was wherever we ended up at the end of the day. We averaged 20 miles per day during the fifteen months we ran, but often run much further: our longest run being thirty-six miles in one day and we ran nine marathons in nine days at the end of the expedition to reach the Caribbean Sea.
6. South of Cochrane, Carretera Austral, southern Chile
Whoever’s turn it was to run without the trailer could run barefoot. It was amazing to be free of the load and to concentrate on our running technique.
7. Running through Snow, south of Coyhaique, southern Chile
We ran through extreme temperatures: from < 0'C when our hands would freeze to the tent pegs at night, to >40’C when it was like running in an oven.
8. Collecting Water, near Torres del Paine, southern Argentina
Water was a constant concern throughout the expedition. At least in the south there was plenty of freezing, clean & generally abundant water once we had cracked through the ice!
9. Tyre Fix
The great thing about a low-tech trailer was that we could mend it ourselves, wherever we were. We even ‘tidied up’ inner tubes and bungy chords from the side of the road as spares!
10. Camping in Volcanic Ash, near Puerta Varas, southern Chile
We spent weeks running in a cloud of ash in southern Argentina, due to a recent eruption in the Andes. The fine grains worked their way into our ears, noses and between the keys of our laptop… but we couldn’t complain, at least we weren’t anywhere near when it erupted!
11. Guanaco, Chacabuco Valley, north of Cochrane, southern Chile
We ran to give to raise money for nature conservation and to prove that with small steps we can tackle seemingly insurmountable challenges; it’s not too late to protect the world’s remaining unspoilt ecosystems, but time is running out. The wildlife and phenomenal wildernesses would also prove to lift our spirits through the tough times.
12. Camp Fire, Carretera Austral, southern Chile
We needed to consume at least 4000 calories a day. This proved difficult, especially in Bolivia, due to the incredibly remote sections, where I lost two stones and David one stone.
13. Demonic Wind, Volcan Troman, southern Argentina
The wind in southern Argentinan Patagonia was one of the most gruelling parts of the journey. It was like running against a foe; it howled in our ears; pelted gravel against our exposed skin and made camping a fraught affair, as we desperately sort somewhere safe to anchor our tent in the featureless plains.
14. School children running with us, Rosario de la Frontera, northern Argentina
Children would accompany us as we ran- it was so lovely having company, especially as we didn’t see a single person for days in some of the remoter sections.
15. Humidity, northern Argentina
By northern Argentina, we ran out of the hot-dry oven-like climate, where our sweat evaporated from us as soon as it was formed, into the hot humid zone which would accompany us to the end of the continent.
Here a whole new set of concerns kicked in such as prickly heat and rot. David’s legs and nipples were rubbed raw- he tried everything from talc to vaseline, he even tried wearing tights to relieve the pain!
16. Running through cloud forest, north of Catamarca, Argentina
Running on tracks, away from the heavily-trafficed main roads was utterly blissful. Here we ran in the hills in mud and rain with amazing birds, which was an enormous relief after the hot and steamy lowlands.
17. Kindness of Strangers, ‘Australia’, central Bolivia
We received such amazing kindness from people throughout the continent. Motorists would stop and run after us with food and drinks. People invited us to sleep in their gardens and houses.
18. Spiders above our camp, northern Argentina
The run was for wildlife and wildernesses, but not all animals were so desirable! Leaf-cutter ants cut holes in our kit; termites whelded earth motorways over our belongings; while snakes and spiders became bed pals.
19. Dave succombs to an illness, northern Bolivia
We were remarkably healthy while running; managing to avoid illnesses, even with our regime of eating and drinking absolutely everything we were encountered! But in the Beni province of Bolivia, our health started to unravel, necessitating serious self-medication from the arsenal of drugs we were lugging behind us.
20. Teaching at a remote rainforest school, near Mariposa, Bolivia
An important part of our expedition was inspiring people about the natural world and running. It was amazing to meet local children and learn more about their communities.
21. Road block, south of Santa Maria, Bolivia
Gauchos were a feature of the remote sections of South America and offered a unique perspective on South American life.
22. Pumping Water, Jaguar Road, Amazon, Brazil
We carried a water pump with spare parts and filters. But it took time to pump and we were often too exhausted and thirsty at the end of day’s run to do it.
23. Talking about the run, national TV Santa Cruz, Bolivia
Talking to the media along the way allowed us to enthuse about running and the amazing wildernesses we were running through.
24. Boiling tarmac, northern Argentina
We started running in the early hours to avoid the stifling heat. But even so, we still ended up leaving our footprints in the tarmac!
25. Blisters- the result of scorching tarmac, northern Argengina
My feet were becoming so leathery, I didn’t react quickly enough to the scorching road surface and burnt them. We ran on the white markings where ever possible to avoid this.
26. Two trailers, Brazilian Amazon
We constructed a second trailer in the remote Amazonian section to allow us to lug an extra 100kg of food. We ran for 400 miles and three weeks along the ‘Rua de Onces’ or Road of the Jaguar.
27. The end, Caribbean Sea, Venezuela
We ran into the Caribbean Sea on the 20th October 2013, fifteen months, 6,504 miles and 10 pairs of shoes each later. It was an incredible feeling to have conquered a continent and to be the first in the world to have run it unsupported and for me to have completed the second longest run ever undertaken by a woman.
Running South America with my Husband and other animals
Contact Katharine directly to buy a signed copy or head to one of the couples speaking/book signing events:- http://www.5000mileproject.org/about/speaking/
To find out more go to 5000mileproject.org & twitter, facebook & youtube @5000mileproject
For a flavour of what the expedition was like in film, check out Katharine and David’s 2 min mashup they did while running: http://bit.ly/2dkTlQI