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White Conquers World’s Most Difficult Marathon
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Esther White during the Inca Trail Marathon wearing her prayer shirt, a shirt adorned with the names of 80 people she committed to pray for during her 26.2 mile trek on the trail.

It’s perhaps not the typical way one might choose to spend their 60th birthday, but there is little which is typical about trainer, masseuse and outdoor enthusiast Esther White.

She recently completed the Inca Trail Marathon to Machu Picchu to celebrate the completion of her sixth decade around the sun. The race is considered the most difficult marathon in the world.

“I felt compelled last August to run this marathon for my 60th (birthday),” White explained. “It has the highest elevation profile.”

With 20 years of running to her credit, a race of such difficulty might seem logical to some. The runner shared she was drawn to the event hosted by Andes Adventures, not for the itinerary, but the race accomplishment.

In addition to the race, the adventure group arranges for the group to sightsee, as well as enjoy other hike locations.

White was able to hike the Rainbow Mountains prior to the race as a part of her itinerary. A mountain range she shared was just recently discovered in the past four years. The hike of 16,700 feet elevation, she described as breathtaking and amazing.

While it was a trip she looked forward to taking, it was also one she grew uncertain of at times.

“There were so many errors of events prior, I really wasn’t sure if I’d make it there,” she said of the trip she planned a year out. “My clients wanted me to go, almost more than I did.”

Once people learned of her commitment to go for her birthday celebration, they began reaching out with offers to sponsor her; an act which she admitted caught her a bit off guard. Struggling with staying committed to making the trip a mindful journey for herself, White came up with the idea of a prayer shirt. A shirt she would wear for the race with names and sentiments from those interested in having a prayer said.

“I was overwhelmed by the support,” she said, noting a total of 80 names collected and placed on the shirt. “This was a major prayer journey for me.”

Not one to leave anything to chance, the athlete spent the majority of the year leading up to the marathon training. The elevation gain/loss is described on the Andes Adventure website as “like running up and down the stairs of the Empire State Building 10 times.”

That fact proved to be of little problem or concern for White, who completed the 26.2 mile race with an elevation reaching more than 13,000 feet in 12 hours.

“I felt like I cheated, I was so well prepared,” she said. “Because it was like many long hikes I’ve done with my clients. I felt strong and prepared. I hiked it. I didn’t run it.”

Hiking rather than running the route is understandable, given the terrain, as well as the 4 a.m. start time in the dark. Participants camped at the base the night before and were awakened at 2 a.m. to begin prepping for their race.

The adventurer describes the experience overall, as more than she could have ever dreamed of or expected.

“The takeaway was, I’ve never taken a trip just for me,” White shared. “It was way more fun than I thought it was going to be.”

When you spend 20 years of your life running marathons, climbing mountains and hiking trails, what does one put on the bucket list as the next big thing? While the question might be valid, for White it’s not a concern.

“I’ve kind of left it to the Lord,” she said of what’s next. “Adventures are now His, and service.” 

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A hike up the Rainbow Mountains was an extra treat for local adventurer and massage therapist Esther White during her recent trip to Machu Picchu. The 16,700 foot climbed proved to be well worth it.