“Live in the sunshine, swim the sea, drink the wild air.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson
“Live in the sunshine, swim the sea, drink the wild air.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson
True story: when my daughter was on the track team at her middle school, she saw after a while that her times weren’t getting any faster. She ran the 800 and 1500 meter, two notoriously hard distances to run. Getting frustrated, she asked her coach how she could get faster. His response was, “Run faster.” She asked how exactly to do that because she was trying to run faster. He wasn’t able to give her any more information. Ultimately she reluctantly finished out track season at about where she was when she started, but with a bad taste for running with a school team or a group, although she continued to run on her own.
When she was starting high school, I encouraged her to try out for cross country. My daughter had run several 5ks, a 10k, and two half marathons at that point, and she preferred longer distances over shorter ones that track runners do. Although she was hesitant because of her experience with track team, she began running the unofficial morning runs before cross country official practice started. Even though freshmen didn’t have to have a qualifying 3k time like the older kids, everyone that wanted to be on the team ran 3k time trials.
My daughter ran two 3k time trials before school started and did so well she was invited to run the team’s first off-site race that only 48 kids were invited to (unfortunately she couldn’t attend because we already had plans for that weekend that couldn’t be broken). I should also mention that there are 180 kids on this cross country team, which I’ve been told is one of the biggest in the country, and which also means more competition regarding who is able to attend meets at off-site locations (they can’t take everyone since they only have one bus). So far, my daughter’s times are gradually improving, I’m sure due to several reasons and I have no doubt her times will continue to improve over the next few years.
I’ve noticed that my own times have also been improving over the last few years, despite the fact that I’ve been running races for the last 22 or so years. I actually got a PR (personal record) at a half marathon in Wyoming this summer, a race that was even at altitude. Most people would think they were well-beyond reaching a PR after they hit 40, especially if they’ve been running since their 20’s, but I’m proof that that’s not always the case. Miracles can come true.
So, how does one improve their running times other than the simple answer of just run faster? As everything else running-related, it’s complicated. Looking at my daughter’s experiences, she has benefited from running with a group that has no doubt pushed her a bit more than if she was running on her own. She has also benefited from running 6 days a week, versus the 4 days a week she was previously running. I know the trails where the cross country team mainly practices and the park is full of hills, twists, and turns, which has undoubtedly made her a stronger, fitter runner. Finally, being forced to stretch with the team after every run has likely benefited her more than the minimal amount she stretched on her own previously.
Examining my own background for the past couple of years, there are also several factors that have likely enabled me to be a faster runner. Looking back at my stats from Strava, it looks like I ran more than double the amount of miles (some months it was triple) during the beginning months of 2019 compared to the first few months of 2018. I ran half marathons in May, August, and November of 2018, and similarly I’ve run half marathons in May and July so far for 2019 but I ran much more in the spring of 2019 than spring of the previous year. By the time 2019 ends, if I keep on track with what I’ve been running, I will have run around 150 more miles in 2019 than 2018.
I changed several running-related things in 2018, most of which worked out to my advantage. You can read about them all in-depth here, but basically, I switched my half marathon training plan from one I had been using for races to go from running three days a week to a different plan that called for running five days a week. I began doing more trail running. I did some heart rate training. I ran a 5k, which I hadn’t done in many years. I switched up my running routes. I tried new running shoes (that one didn’t go so well but I learned what does and doesn’t work for me when it comes to running shoes).
Not everything that happened in 2018 was to my advantage, however. I also developed anemia again. I have a history of it and was able to recognize the signs fairly quickly and get an appointment with my doctor for a diagnosis and begin treatment. Surprisingly this all happened a mere couple of weeks before I ran one of my fastest half marathons in years, in Arkansas. How I managed to run as fast as I did while severely anemic is still beyond my comprehension. I started treatment and was able to start feeling like myself after a few months, and my sub-2 hour half marathon streak continued at the half marathon in Delaware in May of 2019, and that was topped with my PR at the half marathon in Wyoming in July of 2019.
Another important thing I did that I believe had a part in my PR was I hiked all over Peru at very high elevation in May just after my race in Delaware. As I mentioned in my post, Is Hiking in the Mountains Good Cross-Training for Runners?, I truly believe that those two weeks were enough to boost my red blood cell count and give me a bit of an advantage when it came to running. I referenced a paper in my post that states that two weeks at high elevation is enough to get your body to start producing more red blood cells, which helps you deal with the elevation better, and those lingering benefits of having more red blood cells can last a couple of months. I was also at high elevation in Wyoming in July but not as high as I was in Peru so I’m not sure if it was enough for my blood to be effected or not.
OK. So I have several things that I changed in 2018 that continued into 2019: changing my running routes so that I wasn’t running the same path more than once a week, changing my half marathon training plan to go from running three days a week to running five days a week which also meant I increased my weekly mileage, and occasional trail running. I also have the extra boost from hiking at high elevation in May of 2019 which may have effected my race time in Wyoming in July.
Now let’s see how all of this translates to numbers. In 2017, I ran three half marathons, all of which were over 2 hours (although the last one was by less than one minute over). In 2018, my race times for the half marathons in May and November were sub-2 hours (1:59:51 and 1:57:31) but my finish time for the race in August was 2:01:06, which I attribute to an uphill literally at the very end of the race and I of course struggled with. In May 2019, my finish time was 1:58:34 and in July 2019, I finished the half marathon in 1:53:00. I would say all of the changes I made in 2018 are definitely working to my advantage.
Back to the original question of how do you get faster as a runner, the answer seems to be (at least in the cases of my daughter and myself) by increasing your weekly mileage, run with others that may be slightly faster than you, add in some trail runs, vary your running routes, and if you’re able to visit a high elevation place (Colorado, Utah, Wyoming would all be great places within the US) for a couple of weeks or more, do so. You may notice I didn’t even mention speed work. Of course doing speed work is important to get faster. However, for me, I was doing speed work prior to 2018 and I continued doing speed work after that, but for me that alone wasn’t enough to get faster. I needed the other changes as well to see faster race times.
Everyone is different, too. What works for one person may not work for another. Experiment with making small changes and see if that seems to make a difference. If you start to feel like it’s too much and you’re not recovering from your runs, back off. Likewise, if one thing just doesn’t work for you, cut it out of your routine and move on to something else that might work.
What about you all? What changes have you made in your running routine that have made you a faster runner?
More and more, airlines are changing the game when it comes to using frequent flyer miles. In March of this year, United Airlines announced to people in their MileagePlus frequent flyer program they would be doing away with award charts. Instead, they changed to “dynamic” pricing for flights using award miles. This means there is much variability in prices for flights booked using miles, and although it’s still possible to get a good deal, it’s becoming harder. Delta made this change a couple of years ago and American Airlines is moving toward dynamic pricing.
This can be frustrating if you’ve been saving up miles for a specific destination only to find out you’ll have to use much more miles than you originally thought you would. If you’re like many Americans and aren’t loyal to one specific airline but just choose the lowest price, it can be difficult to earn enough miles to actually use them for a free or low-cost flight. Perhaps you only take one or two flights a year and they’re relatively short flights within the United States. Again, it would take you a very long time to accrue any kind of substantial miles assuming you fly economy class.
There is something you can do if you fall into one of these categories of traveler. You can get a credit card that offers points that you can transfer to miles with several different airlines’ frequent flyer programs rather than just one airline. There are several credit cards out there that offer this, so figure out which airlines you fly the most with and go from there.
Here are some examples of credit cards currently available and the frequent flyer programs they’re associated with:
Chase Sapphire Preferred Card ($95 annual fee)-
Citi Premier Card ($95 annual fee, waived the first year)-
American Express Gold Card ($250 annual fee)-
I will say, I had the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card once and it wasn’t a great fit for me and my family. If you believe some of the blogs and websites about airline miles and points, this credit card and the more pricey Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card are the best credit cards out there. However, in my personal experience, the flights offered through their portal were over-priced and not as good as I could find elsewhere. For instance, they would have extremely long layovers, limited flights to choose from, and/or more stops along the way than I would have liked. I ended up cancelling the card after I had it for a couple or so years and used the points I earned when I signed up for the card.
One credit card that you don’t hear a whole lot about but I have and really like so far is the Barclaycard Arrival Plus MasterCard. Barclays has a whole slew of credit cards, including some airlines-associated ones like JetBlue, Frontier Airlines, American Airlines, plus cruise ships like Princess, Choice Privileges hotels, Diamond Resorts, Uber, and more. With the Barclaycard Arrival Plus MasterCard, you earn 2X miles on every purchase, and you can redeem points earned on previous travel-related expenses. You earn 5% miles back to use toward your next redemption every time you redeem points, so that’s a nice bonus. There’s an $89 annual fee that’s waived the first year. I was a little wary about using a MasterCard for fear some places wouldn’t accept it but I only had some issues in Peru (and no where else I’ve traveled), with some places that only accepted Visa credit cards. Maybe many years ago some places would only take Visa credit cards but MasterCard seems to be accepted almost as widely as Visa nowadays, at least in my experience.
Do any of you have credit cards like these where you can use points for multiple airlines or hotels or redeem points to pay yourself back for travel like the Barclaycard Arrival Plus MasterCard? If so, share your experience with them- which ones do you like best? Are there any that were over-hyped like the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card was for me?
I was listening to a Marathon Training Academy podcast during one of my long runs (as I often do) and the hosts Angie and Trevor were answering questions posed on their Facebook page. One of the questions asked was, “What’s a funny thing that happened to you on one of your runs?” I started thinking about some funny things that have happened to me during my runs, and my thoughts just kind of spiraled after that.
I began to think about not only funny things that have happened during my runs but also strange or maybe just things that stood out to me on my runs. I couldn’t think of a lot of things that I would call funny but I have seen some strange things on my runs. I’m lucky enough to have run in all but four states in the United States plus several countries in the Caribbean, Central America, South America, and Europe. Over the years I’ve seen my share of some bizarre things.
Last year when I was running in Grand Cayman Island, I came across the famous shoe tree, which I snapped a photo of and also an interesting statue in front of house I ran by. I also had to get a selfie with one of the “Caution- Iguanas on Road” signs, which I found amusing for some reason. I never saw an actual iguana on the road, whether I was running or driving, if you’re wondering but I suppose they must be on the roads to warrant the signs (probably more so at night).
In the town where I used to live, I came across a woman who came running out of her house and yelled at me to not run on the side of the road but to run on the sidewalk. This actually happened a few times since I often ran by her house. Once I even stopped to yell back, “The road is softer for running than the concrete sidewalk and it’s perfectly safe here!” but I doubt she heard me or even cared if she did hear me. I was running facing traffic, which at the time, there was barely any traffic anyway.
Regarding animals, I’ve seen the usual horses, cows, and so many deer, some with babies, plus way too many dead animals on the side of the road I would ever care to see including cats, dogs, squirrels, snakes, lizards, and birds. I’ve also been chased by dogs on runs (mostly in WV) but only bitten by one when I was a kid; never as an adult. Fortunately I’ve never run upon an animal that could do real harm to me like a cougar, bear, moose, or elk.
Once, near my home, I ran past a single adult-size running shoe, which really struck me as strange. Sure, I’ve seen many infant or child-size single shoes, presumably from children riding in strollers who kicked one off unbeknownst to the parent pushing them, but one adult shoe? This was on the corner of a sidewalk near a busy intersection but not really close enough that it could have fallen from a car passing by. I never figured that one out.
Certainly not strange but definitely note-worthy to me was when I was running along the beaches (not actually on the sand but on walkways overlooking the beaches) in Hawaii and Gran Canaria and Tenerife (Canary Islands) and regularly saw dozens of surfers out in the early morning hours. That was so much fun to watch them as the sun was rising in the sky.
Another favorite memory is running along the part of New York City where the chanceries (embassy buildings) of consulates from other countries are, known as Embassy Row. I loved comparing the buildings for all of the different countries. Of course I had to run in Central Park the first time I went to New York City, which I’ve done a few times since the first time. I’ve seen many parades in Central Park and so many other runners; it’s a popular spot.
Earlier this year when I was running through a neighborhood I’d never run in before, I started smelling a strange smell, kind of like burning plastic. Suddenly I came upon multiple fire trucks, police cars and other emergency response vehicles parked along a cul-du-sac. It turns out there was a house fire but luckily everyone in the house got out in time and no one was injured, as I gathered from a couple of neighbors who were out talking about the fire.
When I was in Key West, Florida, I ran past the southern-most point in the continental United States, or at least the buoy-shaped marker for it.
One day several years ago when I was running on a Saturday morning, I saw a police road block ahead. Suddenly a car came up beside me and made a sharp u-turn to avoid the road block, coming so close to me they almost hit me. I had to jump as far as I could off to the side to avoid getting hit. I’ve always wondered why they were in such a hurry to avoid the road block.
This summer I ran by a display of multiple skeletons that you would normally see displayed for Halloween, in someone’s front yard. I don’t know if they leave them up year-round, but since it was so many months past Halloween and too early for them to be for this year, this must be a year-round display for these people. Strange. I wonder what their neighbors think. I’ll also have to remember to go by when it’s close to Halloween to see if there are even more decorations out.
I’m sure there are others but that’s all I can think of for now. Your turn- what are some funny, strange, or just memorable things you’ve seen on your runs?
Hilton Head Island may not be the first place you think of when you think of vacation destinations in South Carolina. It seems like Charleston gets all of the glory in that regard. However, Hilton Head Island was voted best island in the continental United States by Travel + Leisure readers in 2019. You can read about the top 10 islands in that list here. Plus, Hilton Head Island was in Southern Living’s list of “11 Trips Every Mother-Daughter Duo Should Take in 2019,” which you can find here. Hilton Head Island has received many other accolades as well, such as #6 in U.S. News and World Report’s “15 Best Family Beach Vacations,” (the full list is here). And on, and on.
I first visited Hilton Head Island way back in the late 90’s and have since been back a few times. Very little has changed over the years, and that’s a good thing, in my opinion. When you have a place as special as Hilton Head Island, change isn’t necessarily helpful or desirable.
Hilton Head Island is small, at just 12 miles long and 5 miles across but it packs a punch with paths suitable for cycling, running, or walking. There are 6 miles of bike lanes, 117 miles of shared-use pathways (108 of which are paved), and 24% of streets have bike lanes or paved shoulders. Access to plantations is limited to residents and guests but you can purchase a day pass for Sea Pines Community, for example. Visitor passes are $8/vehicle, plus $1/bike on car (if you’re transporting a bicycle on your car into the community). You can not ride a bike into Sea Pines nor can you walk into the area.
If you enjoy outdoor activities, Hilton Head Island is full of things to do besides go to the beach (more on that later). There are over 30 golf courses, at least a dozen or so places to rent bicycles not including ones that some hotels provide, 10 or 12 places to rent kayaks or stand up paddle boards, plus several fishing and boat tours.
Since I tried stand up paddle boarding for the first time in Hawaii (My First Time in Oahu, Hawaii- Even Better than Expected), I’ve loved it and in addition to going on Sundays when I’m home, I also try to go paddle boarding when I’m on vacation. I had a great time in Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming, so of course I checked to see if there were any places to rent boards in Hilton Head and was happy to see there were a few places that rent them.
We rented stand up paddle boards from Soul SUP Paddleboard Hilton Head. You can rent boards by the day or week, take a yoga class, take SUP lessons or a tour, or buy a board from the laid-back and friendly people here. You save some money if you pick up the boards yourself but they will deliver to you for an extra fee. They provide everything you need to secure the boards to the roof of your vehicle if you will be transporting them on your own and my husband and I found it to be easier and quicker than transporting inflatable boards plus we just prefer hard boards to inflatables.
If you’re unfamiliar with the area, you should ask someone at Soul SUP about current water conditions and get recommendations about safe places to paddle board. We went to the Rowing and Sailing Center at Squire Pope Community Park and the Broadcreek Marina-Freeport Marina areas and saw about five dolphins, many different birds, and fish (and no alligators!) the day we went out paddle boarding. Just be sure you don’t fall into the water where there are oyster beds (I’ve been told they scrape you up pretty badly).
As I mentioned earlier, Hilton Head Island has paved pathways all over the island, making it easy to find a safe place to run and cycle. I literally walked out my hotel door and got on a path less than a tenth of a mile away and went out on a run. One thing that I should mention is this is the south, which means during the summer months it gets extremely hot and humid. By 9 am one morning on a run, it was 86 degrees with a real feel (taking into account the humidity) of 98! These pathways are sometimes shaded but not always. If you’re into running on the beach, I’ve heard the beaches here are nice for running, but personally I don’t like running on the beach and don’t even try anymore.
We rented bicycles from Bubba’s Bike Rental, and we had a coupon for 2 free bikes for the day from them, but I’m not sure I would have chosen them otherwise. They have “iffy” reviews online. There are many bike rental companies to choose from, though. Our bikes were delivered to our hotel and picked up at the hotel when we texted them that we were done with them, so it honestly couldn’t have been any easier. The bikes weren’t the greatest- they didn’t have gears and had only foot brakes (my husband said his brakes were awful) plus the seats weren’t that comfortable, but they did get us where we wanted to go. Luckily Hilton Head Island is pancake flat, so we didn’t have to worry about hills (because of not having gears).
You can also visit Harbour Town Lighthouse, which is open every day from 10 am to sundown. Admission to climb the lighthouse is $4.50 per person and children 5 and under are free. We did this on a previous visit and got great views of the area from the top of the lighthouse. The lighthouse is located in Sea Pines Resort and there are many shops and restaurants as well as fishing tours, boat cruises, and watersports so you can easily spend a full day here.
Some of our favorite restaurants include:
Skull Creek Boathouse (mostly seafood, brunch buffet on Sunday with made-to-order omelets plus tons of other foods, water views, outdoor area, dog-friendly)
Sandbar Beach Eats (by Coligny Beach)
Hilton Head Brewing Company (good BBQ and beer, outdoor area, dog-friendly)
Relish (Asian and Southern food, outdoor area, dog-friendly)
Thai Smile (fantastic pineapple curry and Som Tum)
Many restaurants in the area have outdoor seating areas, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re dog-friendly. Just call ahead if you want to bring your dog with you, to be sure.
In addition to many Airbnb properties, there are a huge range of hotels, including the more expensive Westin, Omni, Marriott, and even a Disney-owned resort, to more affordable but still nice hotels like Hampton Inn and Holiday Inn, right down to simple, no frills motels. There are also a huge number of time shares in this area. As you might guess, places directly on the beach are more expensive but usually offer perks like a kitchen, swimming pool, bicycle rental, among others.
If you’re driving here, you can take US-278 East from mainland South Carolina directly into Hilton Head. There is the Hilton Head airport, but flights are limited. A better option might be to fly into Savannah, Georgia, which is just 40 minutes from Hilton Head. Speaking of Savannah, you may want to consider a day trip to Savannah if you’re spending several days or more in Hilton Head or add on a few days to spend in Savannah since a day would just skim the surface of this beautiful town.
Unless you plan on spending your days lazing by the pool and walking to the beach and back to your hotel (which is fine if that’s what you like), I recommend a rental car if you want to see more of the island. There is a trolley service, The Breeze, that charges $1 per person per destination, but it only goes between Coligny and Shelter Cove, and only from 1 pm to 10 pm. Uber and Lyft are also transportation options if you don’t want to or can’t rent a car.
I would be remiss to not mention some of the beaches of Hilton Head Island. Think powdery, soft sandy beaches, many with dunes. Some of my favorite beaches on the island are Folly Field Beach Park, Driessen Beach Park, and Coligny Beach Park but there are many other beaches. There is free parking at Coligny Beach Park and a shopping area with restaurants and a grocery store by the parking area, plus there are restrooms and a splash area for kids. Both Driessen and Folly beaches have paid parking spaces, but it’s very reasonable (we paid $1/hour at Folly and $1 for two hours at Driessen); just pay at the kiosk with cash or credit card. Driessen has a children’s playground and a long boardwalk to get to the beach, which can be a pro or con depending on your point of view. Both Driessen and Folly beaches have dunes and restrooms plus sprayers to wash the sand off. Leashed dogs are only allowed on the beaches before 10 am and after 5 pm from Memorial Day to Labor Day but any time the rest of the year. All of the beaches I’ve been to on Hilton Head Island have been clean and safe. They do get crowded during the summer months especially on weekends, but they’re big enough that they can handle pretty large crowds of people without feeling too crowded.
Hilton Head Island is one of my favorite beach destinations, especially on the east coast. The water is warm during the summer and even into the fall, the sand is soft, and the area is clean and safe. September after Labor Day is a great time to go because it isn’t as crowded and it’s a bit cooler but still warm enough to get in the ocean. October would also be a good time to visit. Have you been to Hilton Head Island or do you want to go there? What are some of your favorite beach areas in the United States?
This year I’ve been working on the mental aspect of running. Since I read Deena Kastor’s book, Let Your Mind Run, I’ve been trying to get my brain to turn away from negative thoughts while I’m out running and turn them around to more positive or even neutral thoughts. Running in the summer heat and humidity has been a good challenge for me in this aspect. Instead of letting thoughts like, “It’s 93 degrees and I feel absolutely miserable. Why am I even bothering to try to run in this?” take over, I’ll try to put a spin on them and think things like, “Miles in the heat mean miles in the bank for my fall race” and “I can do this. Just one step in front of the other.”
On a recent run, there were two people in my life going through some pretty serious health problems, both of which were potentially life-threatening. One of these people used to be a runner, and would still be a runner if not for all of the health problems. In fact, he was a serious enough runner that he qualified for and ran the Boston Marathon several times (I’m not sure exactly how many times because he’s a humble man and has never really said just how many times but I know for sure it’s been more than twice).
I started thinking about this former runner when I was on a particularly hot and humid run, struggling to just get going. There were a dozen excuses I could come up with why I could just stop running right there and call it a day before I had even run a mile. I needed to run errands, it was hot, I needed to do weight-training at the gym, I hadn’t slept well the previous few nights so I was tired, and on and on. But then I started thinking about all of the reasons why I should run: because I could, my body was fully capable of pushing through the heat and humidity, because even a slow run is better than no run, and because I had a nice, cool water bottle waiting for me to add a Nuun tablet when I got to my car and I knew that would make me feel better after I had run.
Over the 19 years I’ve known this former runner, he and I have chatted about running quite a bit. Like I mentioned, he’s run the Boston Marathon a few times but he’s also run other well-known races like the Marine Corps Marathon, New York City Marathon, and many others. He had a running streak going where he ran every single day for many years. This man has held a high level science-related position in three different areas of the country, over-seeing a large group of other scientists at each area. In addition to his work-related duties, he raised two children along with his wife, who also held high-level positions in her career. If he wanted to find excuses not to run when he was younger and healthy, there were plenty, but he always made running a priority.
I was thinking about him when I was running and at one point on my run, I even said a quiet prayer for him, adding that this run was for him. Instead of focusing on the heat and how tired I felt, I began focusing on how thankful I was that I could run. So many people aren’t physically able to run, whether they’re sick or for other reasons. Over the years I’ve known plenty of people who also are so busy with their home lives and working multiple jobs they simply can’t find the time to run.
I’m thankful that I am able to run, even on days when I may not love being out there, but still putting in the miles. Sure, running is hard and some days it’s extremely hard (speed work days come to mind) but I still keep doing it and keep pushing through. Most days I absolutely love running. I love being outside in nature and watching all of the animals and the changes going on with the trees and flowers from one season to the next. I love the camaraderie that comes from other runners, whether it’s the small group I “run” with around the world through a running app, through blogs, or at races I run around the country.
Sometimes I may have to remind myself why I love running, when the conditions aren’t so great or I’m not feeling 100% but it’s never hard to find reasons why I should be running. Most of the time that answer is simply, “because I can,” and that alone is enough to be thankful for.
Do you remind yourself why you’re thankful to be a runner on days that aren’t so great? Why are you thankful to be a runner?
After I visit a new country, I always like to reflect on what I learned during that visit. Inevitably there are things I should have done differently, things that surprised me about the people or places, and things that I can say I would never do again but I learned something from the experience. Peru is no different and here I would like to share some of the things I learned while I was there.
During the two weeks I recently spent in Peru, I found myself surprised on many occasions. This wasn’t my first time to South America, but it was my first time in Peru. I’ll share some of the things I learned in this beautiful country so that you can learn from some of my mistakes or just be wiser than I was and be better prepared. Peru was undoubtedly the hardest vacation to plan for of all the places my family and I have been, although we have never been to Asia or Africa and I imagine those places would also take a lot of planning by an American. I wrote up a post while I was in the midst of planning, which you can read here Planning a Trip to Machu Picchu in Peru.
Here are just some of the things I learned while in Peru:
Peru is an extremely poor country so don’t expect your accommodations to be like what you typically find in the United States. That being said, there is a range of accommodations from hostels for just a few dollars per night to hotels that cost a few hundred dollars per night. The accommodations also vary widely based on what city you’re in.
Machu Picchu is every bit as stunning and special of a place as you have in your head from all of the photos we all see online. However, it does get crowded, especially as the day goes on, even with the recent restrictions on daily admissions. Get there as early as you possibly can, which you’ll likely do anyway if you’re traveling with a tour group. Pay the extra admission to climb Huayna Picchu. It’s worth every penny and every second of the elevated heartbeat that you will have climbing it. My post on Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu is here.
Take a multi-day trek to Machu Picchu. My family and I took the 4 Day Lares Trek with Alpaca Expeditions, which I highly recommend but there are other treks of varying degrees of difficulty and length. Meeting and interacting with the Peruvian school children and families is something so priceless it’s difficult to convey to others. The views along the trek are like scenes from some of the most epic movies you’ve ever seen, and completely incomprehensible until you’ve experienced them. Just go. Don’t worry if you’re not a “camper” or you don’t think you can do it (unless you have valid health reasons. Talk to your doctor first). You can find my posts on the Lares Trek here: Day One, Day Two, Day Three.
Areas in the Highlands region including Cusco, Aguas Calientes, and Ollantaytambo (all of which many people pass through one or more nights on their way to Machu Picchu) are cold at night and in the mornings. Depending on the time of year, they are also often rainy. There is usually no central heat in the hotels and hostels in this region either (despite what they might tell you at the front desk), so bring warm sleeping attire. I wore long-sleeve wool thermal underwear and wool socks to sleep in every night while I was in the Highlands (yes, even in my hotel room).
Temperatures and climate in Peru can vary widely depending on what part(s) you’re in so wearing layers is always advisable. Arequipa is a much warmer city than Cusco and much drier so (at least where we stayed) it was noticeably warmer than where stayed in Cusco. More information about Cusco plus climbing the famous Rainbow Mountain is here. Arequipa has a European feel to it and is a beautiful city with white stone buildings. There is a huge range of accommodations in Arequipa just like any other city. My post on Arequipa is here.
Traffic in Peru is more chaotic than any other city I’ve ever been to, which includes Greece, Italy, Chile, and other areas known to have aggressive drivers. Drivers are so aggressive especially in Lima and Arequipa they make New York City drivers look laid-back. I wouldn’t recommend driving in Peru, pretty much anywhere at all. From all of the research I conducted, I read over and over that cars are sometimes stopped by robbers especially at night and even buses can get robbed like this. I’m sure plenty of people take buses all over Peru and are fine but we chose to fly over large distances between cities. We did take some buses with the tours we took, but the longest bus ride was 3 hours and most were during the day. Flights within Peru are very affordable and efficient (although some airlines more so than others).
Peruvians are some of the friendliest people I’ve ever met, especially in the Highlands areas like Cusco and the surrounding rural areas. One evening in Cusco, we went into a small store to buy bottled water and the man working there ended up asking us where we were from, showed us his drawings, and told us he was glad we stopped by as he shook our hands in a friendly way. This was all in our broken Spanish since he spoke no English. Another woman that owned a small restaurant chatted with us while we waited for our take-away food and gave me 2 bags of tea for free to help with my stuffy sinuses, a bag full of extra bread, and an extra container of soup (she also spoke no English). There were many other warm and kind people we met along the way as well.
Unless you travel to Peru with a travel group, you really should have at least a decent grasp of Spanish. We found very few people who spoke English fluently even in hospitality sectors like hotels and restaurants and even on tours where the guide supposedly spoke English. It was far more common for the people we met to speak no English at all, regardless of their age or city. There is always Google translate when you’re really stuck but I wouldn’t rely solely on that.
The toilets in the rural areas are usually a hole in the ground that you have to squat over but in bigger cities you can find actual toilet seats. However, bring a roll of toilet paper and a small bottle of hand sanitizer with you at all times because there often isn’t toilet paper or soap. When there is a sink, it’s almost always just cold water (no hot water). However, we always had hot water in our showers at hotels everywhere we stayed, which was a welcome relief.
I would stay away from venturing out in Lima. We had a couple of bad experiences the second time we were there and we were told by someone who used to live in Lima and moved to Arequipa that it’s extremely unsafe and to stay away from the city. If you have to fly through Lima to get somewhere else, just spend that time at the airport. There are plenty of shops and restaurants at the airport where you can easily spend hours. Although you may have a perfectly good experience, you just never know and it’s not worth risking it in the city. My post on Lima is here.
Finally, the food all over Peru exceeded my expectations as far as taste and presentation. Who knew Peru was such a foodie country? Everywhere we went, the food was exceptional and beautifully presented. Try a Maracuyá Sour, which is made with passion fruit and is a delicious variation on the pisco sour. Other Peruvian foods I really enjoyed are ceviche, Lomo Saltado (stir-fried beef), Aji de Gallina (creamy chicken), Causa Limeña (potato casserole), and Pollo a la Brasa (roasted chicken).
Have you been to Peru? If so, where did you go and what was your experience like?
Even though this book isn’t a new release, I recently heard about it on the podcast, Marathon Training Academy, which you can find here. The hosts of the podcast, Angie and Trevor, interviewed Martin Dugard and it seemed interesting enough for me to check out the book. Aside from this book on running, Dugard is a New York Times bestselling author of many books and co-author of books from the Killing Series with Bill O’Reilly, in addition to many magazine articles and the movie “A Warrior’s Heart.”
From the beginning of To Be A Runner, which is a series of essays that Dugard uses to weave together the story of his running journey, it’s apparent that running has always been a driving force in Dugard’s life. As a young boy, he caught the running bug after running a mile at a running club his parents belonged to. He says in the book, “Running has taught me that I can do anything, just so long as I keep putting one foot in front of the other.” That’s a powerful lesson in life.
In addition to being a runner for the majority of his life, except for stints where he would slack off, gain weight, and be drawn back into running once again, Dugard has been a running coach for many years. In the book, he describes how he kind of fell into the position of Head Cross Country Coach at JSerra Catholic High School in San Juan Capistrano, California in 2005, where he still coaches. Throughout the book, he tells coaching-related stories about the girls and boys on his team, most of which are entertaining and interesting.
Dugard seems to be an avid traveler and tells stories of running in places like a small island off the coast of Borneo, where he was warned about 30-foot pythons who live in the jungle there and drop out of trees onto unsuspecting prey. He tells of running with the bulls in Pamplona, Spain and running in the early morning hours in London. In the story about running in northern Italy’s Dolomite Mountains, he explains how he came up with his mantra “Keep pushing … always,” which is now on the shirts of his cross-country runners.
Besides the stories of pythons in Borneo, there are other examples of encounters with animals throughout the book, such as a brown bear and her cubs in Mammoth, California. There was the elk in Jackson, Wyoming and the moose in the Rocky Mountains. He tells of being on the lookout for mountain lions, bobcats, coyotes, and rattlesnakes in the canyons of Southern California, where he lives and regularly runs.
In the short story entitled Saipan, he explains how this where his “quixotic” Olympic quest had come to an end. You see, Martin Dugard decided sometime during his middle-age that he was going to get himself back in shape and try out for the men’s Olympic team. This dream ultimately ended at the XTERRA off-road triathlon in Japan where Dugard finished last, but in the end he was able to turn that experience around into a positive learning moment.
There are many other stories in this book that’s 238 pages including the acknowledgements, but I don’t want to give too many away. If you enjoy reading stories about other runner’s journeys, I believe you would enjoy this book. There are small interjections about Dugard’s running beliefs and philosophies (ice baths, running shoes, etc.) but for the most part, this is not a book about how to be a “proper” runner. This is simply one man’s story of how running has influenced his life and in turn how his life has influenced his running. Check it out for yourself!
Have you read this book or any of Martin Dugard’s many other books? If so, what did you think?