HK man in race across driest desert on Earth

PUBLISHED : Monday, 05 July, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 05 July, 2004, 12:00am

A Hong Kong adventure racer yesterday began one of the world's most gruelling marathons - a 250km foot race across Chile's Atacama Desert, the driest place on Earth.

Derek Tsan Kwik, 36, set off on the opening 30km section of the high-altitude race, in which competitors from 21 countries run across the Atacama carrying all their own food, equipment and clothing.

Today he faces the toughest day of the race, with a 47km leg at an altitude of up to 4,000 metres above sea level, the longest single section in the six-day marathon.

Tsan, who has competed in races across the Sahara and Gobi deserts to raise money for the Hong Kong Cancer Fund, trained partly by carrying a sack of rice on his back while working out on a treadmill at a Causeway Bay gym.

'It's going to be tough because I've never run at high altitudes before,' he said. 'The Atacama is 50 times more arid than California's Death Valley. The terrain is so rugged that Nasa uses it to test its Mars space vehicles.'

Tsan, who began running charity marathons after losing his job as a venture capitalist during the economic downturn, said he expected the Atacama crossing to be as much a mental as a physical challenge.

'People tell me, 'I couldn't do what you're doing', but it is all in the mind. These races don't require a phenomenal amount of physical fitness,' he said.

'Your muscles give out long before your mind does. Your feet might hurt, you might have blisters, but you have to think to yourself, 'I am still going to get to the finishing line whatever it takes'.'

Tsan hopes to raise more than $200,000 for the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals if he completes the race. He did a tour of Hong Kong schools to talk about adventure racing before flying out to Chile last Monday.

The SPCA is carrying updates on his progress on