Many have heard of — or have hiked — the Inca Trail, a 27-mile trek through Peru’s sacred valley ending at Machu Picchu. It’s got basic amenities, like bathrooms, and lots of tourists.
Then there’s the 40-mile long Salkantay Inca Trail through the Andes, including a 15,157-foot mountain pass. Generally, hikers need four days and three nights to complete the journey.
But American runner Tyler Andrews is not your average hiker.
In just 6 hours, 13 minutes and 3 seconds, Andrews has clocked the fastest known time on the challenging Salkantay Inca Trail.
“This was one of the harder things that I’ve ever done,” he says.
Although his body was in a lot of pain from the run, the feeling he experienced finishing at Machu Picchu was priceless.
“I try to write a mantra on my arm before a big effort like this and the one that I wrote before this run was, ‘Savor every moment.’ I knew that I was going to go through patches where it felt really uncomfortable or I was feeling sorry for myself, and I really just want to take those moments and redirect them,” he says.
Andrews, co-founder of Strive Trips, a running and service program for teens, holds the world record for the fastest half-marathon on a treadmill. And in 2018, he became the second-fastest American in history at the distance for a 50-kilometer run on a track.
Sponsored by the athletic company HOKA ONE ONE, he’ll soon be running in the 50K World Championships in Bucharest, Romania, and February’s Olympic marathon trials.
On what it’s like to run the 40-mile long Salkantay Inca Trail
“It’s a lot to take in at once. So one of the things that I did was try to really segment it in my mind. I kind of knew, OK, this is where we usually stop. This is where the campsites are. This is where the high passes are. These are the most challenging sections of the route. So I was able to really not think about it all as one big thing, but more as a whole bunch of little things that were strung together.”
On the extremes in temperature
“It was crazy. I’ve never experienced anything like that in a single race or anything. I mean, it was probably 20 Fahrenheit in the morning when I left the camp at dawn — below freezing. Then once the sun comes out, it warms up really quick. Plus you’re going way down in altitude so it gets much warmer. It’s probably in the 80s and 90s even in the sun.”
On having support during the run
“In terms of the way they do fastest known time records, [known as] FKTs, there’s a category for supported and unsupported. And I did the entire run what they call unsupported, which means you carry everything you need for the entire run.
On finishing the Salkantay Inca Trail knowing he beat a record
“When I finished, I was lucky enough to have my close friend and training partner there but really, it was this moment where my body is in all this discomfort and I’m feeling a lot of pain but just so happy with what I had done and really loving just where I was in this place at that moment.
“There’s no finisher’s medal. There is no race T-shirt. There’s nothing like that. The FKT world is kind of like this cool underground community where there’s essentially a forum, a web forum, a website, that is maintained by its users. You do have to post your GPS track and you have to say like, ‘I’m going to attempt this race,’ but unless you kind of bring the press to you … like I finished in the main plaza at the base of Machu Picchu, and there were just tourists there taking pictures like, ‘What’s going on?’ So it’s kind of funny.
On what he was thinking about while running in a sacred place
“I definitely channeled the chasquis. The chasquis were the Incan runner messengers. So the Incas have this incredible network of relay runners essentially so they could send out messages in all directions, and they’d send out these runners on all the different trails to all the different cities.
“There’s a lot of running in Peru’s history and culture, and I really try to channel that when I’m there and I try to learn and be inspired by the incredibly fit people that I see down there, the indigenous Peruvians. I do think that I got a little bit of love from those guys. There are definitely moments where I was passing, not so much the tourists, the tourists mostly just looked confused, a couple of people asked me if I was all right. But the Peruvians, I think a few of them had heard that I was doing this attempt because I have a bunch of Peruvian friends who had told other guides and stuff. And so there were definitely some teams of the indigenous people who gave me a big ‘whoop’ as I went by. So that was really exciting to kind of know, ‘OK, these guys kind of get what’s going on here.’ ”
This article was originally published on WBUR.org.