Epilepsy Research UK supporter, George Moss, has recently returned from the Atacama Crossing, raising just under £8,000 (with Gift Aid) in support of our work. George tells his story here.

“For many years I had wondered what it would take to do an ultramarathon. A race in conditions so extreme that your training is always going to leave you short; where mental toughness would be critical to finishing, and which was so far out of most people’s comfort zone, that I would, I hoped, be able to raise a substantial sum for a cause close to my heart. In September 2010, I took the plunge and signed up for the Atacama Crossing.

This is a 250km race over 7 days across the Atacama desert in Chile, the driest desert on Earth and where Nasa test their space vehicles. Essentially, I would be completing a marathon on each of the first four days and then nailing an almost double marathon on day 5. The race is not only in 40+ degree heat but also at over 3,000m of altitude! Additionally, I would be carrying all of my equipment and food for the week on my back (c.10kg). It was clearly going to be a challenge.

My training involved bikram yoga (for heat acclimatisation), altitude gym training and many weekends of running 20 miles back-to-back over hills, with a heavy pack. My life became very focused for a few months, balanced between work and training, with almost no other distractions.

Flying out to Chile, I felt confident but also a little apprehensive, as I didn’t know quite what to expect. The race went well, covering a brutal range of terrain, including packed sand, deep sand, mud, grass, salt flats, salt crusts, shale and much else across the desert and over mountains. The first four marathon days broadly went well, keeping a reasonable pace fuelled by a steady stream of carbo/protein drink, electrolytes and nuts (the best calorie / gram food). Day 3 was my low point though when I pulled a thigh muscle and had to have heavy strapping. Walking was painful and I was in pieces at points, but I managed to do another 30km and finish that day – just.

My thigh held up for the next day and then it was into the longest day. This 75km day was a journey into the complete unknown as I had never run more than 45km in a day before. That said, it was pretty much all that stood between me and the end and I had not gone through four marathons to fail at this point! After the first 40km, I still felt pretty good, but by the end of 15hrs and 75km, I was running on nothing, my legs were stiff and cramped and my face crusted with salt. However, I finished at a few minutes to midnight, running across a clear desert with the most beautiful starry sky overhead. Some people took nearly 30hrs and finished the following day!

With 240km behind me, we had a short run on day 7 into San Pedro de Atacama to be met by the crowds. It was an amazing feeling and one that will always live with me. Beer, pizza and a shower have never tasted so sweet.

The reason I did this race though was to try to raise a substantial sum for Epilepsy Research UK. My motivation for doing so stems from the fact my brother has had epilepsy since the age of 11. I have watched how it has affected him, seeming insurmountable at times during his teenage years. Yet now, aged 29, he has succeeded in so many ways that seemed unreachable once and he lives a happy, successful and independent life. That said, he still has epilepsy and the £8,000 I have raised will, I hope, go towards developing better drugs to improve the lives of him and others with the condition.”