Not long ago, Mercedes Gatti of BBVA Uruguay wouldn’t have been able to finish a race of any length, let alone a 5K. However, when the bank started a running club, she had the opportunity to participate in one of the toughest and most beautiful races in the world: the Crossing of the Andes. She discovered that everything works better as 'One team'.
Mechi, as her coworkers call her, says there no room for excuses. “I couldn’t even run a hundred yards when I got to BBVA,” she says. “It’s just a matter of training and finding a group of people who support each other.”
She backed up her words with action. The BBVA Uruguay running club progressively increased its training load, which enabled it to take on what would previously have been unimaginable challenges. “We started off by running 5 miles, then 6, then 13, and finally a marathon,” Mechi says. “We kept setting increasingly more ambitious goals, which led to the idea of doing the Crossing of the Andes.”
Her coworker Gabriel spearheaded the plan. “He convinced us, one by one, and we started to train to cross the Andes,” Mechi says “He had to convince many of us. I like the triathlon and other kinds of races more, for example. Some signed up right away, but it took others more time to warm up to the idea.” The key to convincing everyone was “the idea of having a very ambitious common objective and forming a more tight-knit group; we all liked that idea, so we went for it”.
Tough training camp
That’s how 15 people started to prepare for the race of their lives, which was even more difficult than they had imagined. “The Crossing of the Andes covers many kinds of terrain,” Mechi says. “In Uruguay, we don’t have the mountains we needed to prepare for the race properly.”
Even getting the right equipment was difficult. “This isn’t a street race, or an adventure that only last a few hours. We had to make a list of the things we needed. For example, backpacks, special clothes, thermal blankets, good trekking poles. We didn’t have a lot of that stuff in
Uruguay either, so we had to order it from the U.S.”
"It’s just a matter of training and, especially, finding a group of people who support you and you can support in turn
Then we had to deal with the psychological aspect. “Sixty percent of every race is mental,” Mechi says. “Even more so in this race. We have seen people quit after three days with just 5 miles to go.” In her opinion, that marks the difference. “You have to prepare yourself to face those moments when you have blisters on your feet after three days of running and sleeping in tents and you don’t think you can take another step.”
Name: Mercedes Gatti
Position: Engineering Risk & Corporate Assurance [BBVA Uruguay]
Function: Maintain a framework for monitoring and managing both technological and operational risks
Dream: Complete an 'Ironwoman'
A race not many can finish
The Crossing of the Andes is a 100K race that consists of three stages. The distance isn’t the only intimidating aspect, either; the terrain is also daunting. “In some stages, you started off with very pleasant temperatures, followed by a Summit at 32º with a scorching-hot desert waiting for you below.”
That’s why the BBVA group’s goal wasn’t to win the race, but for all 15 competitors on the team to cross the finish line. And they did. “Our team spirit carried us through the tough times,” Mechi says. “That was the key. Sharing this experience was really something special.”
"The team's support during tough times is key
Perhaps the race’s motto sums it up best: “Not everyone can finish it, but no one can forget it.” Mechi says she couldn’t agree more. “The sights we have seen, that way of communing with nature, and the team spirit we felt is something that stays with you forever.”
But more adventures await her. After completing three half-Ironman races—“I call them Ironwoman,” she says—she’s ready for the real deal: a 3.8 km swim, 180 km on a bike, and 42 km running. She has even set the date: May 28.