Thursday, April 4, 2013

First Annual Maraton por La Paz, Bolivia

That's right, the highest capital city on the planet (elev. 3650m or 11,975ft) has now joined the marathon craze, and I know this because I've got a man on the scene down there (up there as it were). The intrepid Major Brennan, DesertDirt's swift-footed brother, was one of the reported 2500 runners to take on the inaugural oxygen-thin course in March. The Major has been living, working, and training in La Paz since September so in actuality it made a lot of sense to jump into the hometown race. That, and Irishmen who grow up in the 7,000ft perch of Santa Fe at the foot of the Sangre de Cristo mountains are fearless.

Right, so the first section of the course was an out-and-back climb that topped out at 13,490 ft, roughly analogous to Imogene without the steep grades. My brother reports that there were a sizable number of runners, perhaps first-timers, that took off like a shot at the start as if it were a 5K and not 42K, and faded badly by this point. There were other runners that waited to jump into the field at this point perhaps because it was more convenient than back at the start. The back-end of the course enters the city and begins to weave through many of the neighborhoods. Like many first time races, the aid stations ran dry before much of the field came through. Several of the local folks lining the course through this section were thoughtful enough to bring out pitchers of water, and some store owners handed out bags of water to the runners. A bit like the good folks handing out orange wedges in Boston, except with probable health implications! Tough it out and hydrate I say. Most of the course's second half was a net descent ending with 300ft of climbing over the last 2K. Kind of a rough finish, but you know, you've got to earn your post-race beer so you gotta suck it up and charge through it.

Major Brennan at far left, crushin' it
Here's a better photo of the guy in which his relentless
speed isn't blurring the image

Bishop and the Stars and Stripes
My bro's run was good for a 4:06 finish and second American in the field. Pretty solid run. He lost to this guy, Aaron Bishop (at right), who ingeniously outfit himself with red knee-things to simulate the inhuman speed of the blade runner. A wily and ultimately successful strategy, well played sir. Bishop reports that his bannered escort was a friend and local cab driver that picked him out of the field right at the finish. He should probably buy his friend a drink for creating a somewhat epic finishing pic.

The runners up front seemed to have little difficulty with the course challenges or elevation. The winner hailing from Bolivia, finished in 2:33:20. He was shadowed by two Peruvians who came through in 2:34 and 2:35. We figure the altitude handicap to be about one minute a mile for the average finisher, maybe double for a runner not training at altitude (quite possibly DNF cause running at 12,000ft is a freaking chore).

All things being equal, my bro felt La Paz was probably not as difficult as the Great Wall Marathon in China. Great insight, I could make that call and I've run neither. The Major adds those two finishing medals to his finishes in Athens and Rwanda. Yes, he ran his first marathon in Rwanda, and no, people do not consider me the odd one in the family.

Related Posts:
 - Maraton de Santiago, Chile

Assorted race photos courtesy of Ms. Sara Greengrass:

Bolivian Bear Costume Guy, likely thinking that all the other runners in the field are chumps

Boliviano Clown Guy making it happen

Guy at left sucking on water bag, guy at center without water bag hurting badly

Awesome Old School Guy running with retractable pancho, satchel, and color-festooned socks creates a sharp contrast with lame punk-kid runner at right. A similarly old-school attired runner finished 12th overall. One word for that:  Badass.

View Maraton por La Paz - Bolivia in a larger map


  1. Very good, very interesting post. You never do cease to amaze.

    So what, your brother is down there to help Evo Morales make the transition to Socialism?

    Things get a little rocky there from time to time. There's more to worry about than running out of breath. Any reports about any of that? Has he marched down from the Alto Plano in the water wars?

  2. Wait a second, are you inferring that I may be the odd one in the family? Sounds a little far-fetched in my mind. You also left out the Buenos Aires marathon finish, which I thought was quite impressive seeing as I pretty much got off the couch and ran that one.

    Good write up bro, it was a tough marathon. Despite a bit of gravity assistance on the down-hills the depleted oxygen and lack of hydration stations were the ultimate downfall for many a runner on this course. Likewise, I often pride myself on my stomach of steel and can almost always eat anything in third-world countries without feeling any ill effects. However, my stomach hasn't quite been the same from gulping down the water hand-outs from the kind spectators. I'm not sure if it was syphoned straight from the river which depending on the day can be an exotic color of neon purple or blue, or simply have a strong odor that no living being should ever have to smell. All in all pretty fun marathon though.

    Bubba, Evo doesn't need any help transitioning to Socialism. He's been pretty successful doing that all on his own over the past 7 years. And when things get rocky here you have to think of it as speed training. You just have to run faster than the guy next to you.

  3. Frank - Life is short. Make lots of friends, drink good beer, run foot races in Bolivia!

    Bro, I don't know how I could have left off Buenos Aires (one of these things, is not like the others..). Kind of a unique tally you have there, that makes three finishes in the southern hemisphere to only two in the northern hemisphere. None in the Estados Unidos.

    I hear you regarding the water, but I tell you what - to truly experience an event sometimes you have to drink the water so-to-speak. Figuratively and literally in this case. It would have been preferable if beer had been option. If there's a silver lining it may be that the water borne illness distracted you from the disappointment of the Jayhawks getting cut down by the dastardly Wolverines of Ann Arbor. Just cruel I tell you.

  4. Congrats Sean, wow that looks like a cool event. Did they have coca leaves at the aid stations?

  5. If as the altitute was not enought, they just made a 42k in the Salar de Uyuni, a 42k around Tiwanaku and for 2016 they are doing a 50k ultra-trail around lake titicaca. Gosh these guys got to be the future Kenyans in the sport right?right? O.o

  6. And now the 4th time. This marathon was about to dissapear. The county and the company that called it out the first time did not want to continue. In a hurry the 3rd time was organized and now the 4th time, along a new course is going to take place the 24 april. Register at

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  8. Wow, i find this page again! March, the 12th, I am organizing the 5th version of the marathon. Do you know anyone willing to race it? This time, the race does not go to El Alto, it completely stay in the La Paz neighbourghoods. Thanks. (I like your post of the route. I will post the new route on the site also.)



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