FKT: Tyler Andrews - Ruco Pichincha Ultra Trail (Ecuador) - 2021-12-05

Route variation
Standard route
Gender category
Start date
Finish date
Total time
6h 9m 18s


TLDR: Pichincha 50K FKT: 6’09’17 (21+ min off the old one). 70% effort. Very fun. Great.


05:20: What a day!


This route had been on my mind for a few weeks, and actually even since last year as I remember seeing it come through as a new FKT when Oscar ran it. At the time, I remember thinking, oof, that’s way too much vert. Fuck that. In the last few weeks, I thought, huh, could be fun.


I scouted things out over the last two weeks, including running the whole south-west portion which was completely new, as well as the very steep and rugged climb from Primavera (which I’m calling “Machete” after a few rounds up it with the Machete).


At some point, out of curiosity, I plugged in my splits from the various segments and lined them up with Oscar’s FKT run and realized I was fairly close to what he’d strung together. And so, I set off with the idea that the FKT might be within reach, even as a true training effort in a very heavy week and without any support.


I left the house around 04:45am and got to the bottom of the Teleferiqo in the pitch black darkness. Two big mutts greeted me, but they seemed friendly enough. (I gave them the crumbs from my stroopwafel and we were best buds.) After some very light mobility, I started my watch and headed up.


The route begins with a climb up to Cruz Loma on the mountain-bike trail. This starts off on some wide switchbacks and gets steeper and narrower about halfway up. Dawn was just breaking and the view of the city glowing beneath was spectacular, as was the sunrise over the snowcaps of Cayambe and Cotopaxi.


I tried to really hold myself back and used my HR as a limiter on the first climbs, trying to keep things around 145-150. I hit the top in just under 48 minutes and grabbed the bottles I’d stashed the day before and began the short descent over a rocky jeep road.


At this point, it was fully light and I was having a blast looking out over the clear morning. I got to the bottom and then had a long, sloggy uphill push (12.6km, 759m gain) to the flanks of Padre Encantado. I knew this stretch would be tough mentally, but stayed positive and tried to focus on just enjoying being out there all alone.


I had memorized a few of Oscar’s splits and knew I was a few minutes ahead at the Padre turn, but I was also aware that he had moved much quicker than me over the more technical middle section. Still, I was just having fun. No worries.


The scariest part of the route for me is the climb up the back-side of the Rucu Pichincha saddle. It’s super steep, with lots of loose rock and, sometimes, ice and snow. I’d opted not to bring a helmet, as this very short stretch is the only one where one might be helpful, but there’s always some danger in scrambling up a steep, loose rock face. Each time I do it, I feel more comfortable, more in control of myself and the risk. Luckily, it was still before 08:30am, so there were no climbers on the ridge above me yet. I got to the top (which I’d calculated to be just about half-way) in 3h07, 10 minutes ahead of Osacr. This was also the highest point on the route at about 4,620m (15,157 ft).


Now, I was on very familiar terrain, and quickly skirted down the sandy “arenal” on the normal route up Rucu and onto the traverse trail which leads out to the main corridor trail that all the tourists hike. It still wasn’t too crowded so I was able to move quickly and get to my next bottle drop with only a bit of confusion (turns out there were a lot of bushes that looked like that one I’d used as my stash spot).


With more fuel, I headed on the rolling downhill ridgeline. There’s a lot of frustrating footing as the trail is super narrow through the tall “paja” grass and you’re constantly taking little half-steps or side steps to avoid turning an ankle. One of the longer-feeling pieces mentally, for sure.


I finally hit the Antenas -- a bunch of cell/TV towers on the hill across from Rucu, at about 3,950m in about 3h45. I was still a few minutes ahead of Oscar, but hadn’t gained any more time on this last stretch.


What follows is a nice easy dirt-road descent, about 600m over 7km. I knew I could run quick on this piece without issue, and it felt good to open up my stride a bit.


But then, whoompf. Less than 3 minutes into this easiest piece of the trail, I caught a toe on a rock and hit the deck, superman style, very hard. It really knocked the wind out of me and both knees were dinged up pretty good.


I yelled a bit and teared up and hobbled over to a rock and sat down for a few minutes and thought for sure this was over and I might even have some kind of serious injury. But, luckily, within a few minutes, the pain became manageable enough to walk and then jog and then begin to run again.


Maybe it was the adrenaline from the fall, but I actually ended up feeling great for the rest of the descent, averaging 3’57/km for the remaining 7km+ (and I watched my feet extra carefully!) Near the bottom was the only very short section of the course that I hadn’t scouted: It connected the Antenas road to the Machete climb. It seemed easy enough to follow and I managed to follow the route without issue.


Finally, I was at the base of Machete in 4h33, about 12 minutes ahead of schedule. I knew the climb would be slow and tough, but I thought I could hang onto my lead if I just kept the effort steady.


And, that’s basically what happened. The climb was a bit brutal. It took almost an hour to cover 2.8km (773m of climbing) and despite my frequent machete passes, it was still a lot of muscling my way through overgrown plants. But I knew I was in control and was making good time.


I re-emerged at the top of Cruz Loma (for the second time), which was now full of tourists who looked at me like, “where did this gringo just come from and why is he covered in dirt and blood?” But, I ignored the stares and looped around once more before hitting the mountain bike trail for the final descent.


This was where I knew I was having a great day. Timing-wise, I could have walked down and still gotten the record, so I mostly just focused on staying in control and not falling (again). I had tons of energy left and could feel my body wanting to push, especially over the last few kilometers which are super runnable. But, not today. Yes, I wanted to get this record, but I also didn’t want this to be a true race-effort that left me fried for the next week.


So, I cruised in. I smiled a lot. I yipped and skipped. And I made it down in one piece.


6 hours, 9 minutes, 18 seconds. A new FKT by 21+ minutes, and unsupported at that!


Looking back on this now, I’m proud of this one not because I squeezed every ounce of effort out of myself, but because I stayed within myself and had a blast doing it. Oscar is a great runner -- he trained with me and the Kenyans and the Almachis on the track and he’s a great trail runner -- and to be able to break his record in this kind of effort, completely solo, well, I think that speaks to how well training has been going.


I’m excited to build off of this one now. I love Pichincha, but it’s time to head to the bigger mountains.


Fuel: 6x Maurten 320 + caff nuun

1 caff 100 gel (before Rucu Saddle)

1 caf 85 gel (on antennas rd descent)

= 2120 cal = 353 cal/hr


Shoes: Old beat-to-shit HOKA EVO SGs