Book Review- Run For Your Life: How to Run, Walk, and Move Without Pain or Injury and Achieve a Sense of Well-Being and Joy by Mark Cucuzzella, M.D. with Broughton Coburn

I first heard of Dr. Mark Cucuzzella on the Marathon Training Academy podcast, which I believe he’s been a guest on at least a couple of times. When I learned Dr. Cucuzzella had a book out, I knew I had to read it. In true form (at least based on what I heard of him on the podcast), Dr. Cucuzzella’s book is extremely thorough.

Run for Your Life is divided into three parts:  Before the Starting Line, The Body in Motion, and Running is for Everyone. Within each part are five to nine chapters. Including the Appendices, Acknowledgments, Notes, and Index, this book is 349 pages so it’s not a quick read. As you might guess, the first part of the book gives some background information behind running in general and the history of humans and running with a multitude of information about walking and the foot. The second part of the book, the real meat of the book, covers everything from nutrition, which Dr. Cucuzzella is a huge proponent of nutrition as medicine, to the importance of recovery in running, and the prevention of injuries. The third part of the book covers what an important place movement and exercise has for people of all ages and walks of life.

Going back to part one, Dr. Cucuzzella spends a huge amount of time covering sitting, walking, shoes, and the foot, which makes sense because modern humans spend so much time sitting and wearing shoes. I don’t think it’s news to most people that sitting for hours on end is bad for our health in general but many people may not realize there are other options out there. Dr. Cucuzzella gives several options to sitting for long periods such as working at a standing desk to the simplest but often over-looked idea of taking standing or walking breaks every thirty minutes. He also describes how he suffers from hallux valgus, a deformation of the big toe caused by repeatedly wearing shoes with a pointed toe box, and he describes in detail how he was able to correct this condition. No surprise that he’s a big proponent of minimalist shoes. There are also drills in the book specifically for strengthening your feet.

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Part two of the book begins with proper running form and includes drills for developing efficient running form. As I mentioned earlier, there is a large section devoted to nutrition including some recommended lab tests including basic ones and second-level tests for higher risk groups. In the section on recovery, Dr. Cucuzzella talks about how exercise can effect our hearts in a negative way if we don’t allow enough time for rest and mentions a couple of apps to measure heart rate variability (HRV), which is something not really talked about much.

There are some basic tips and general information in part two about running a marathon and racing in adverse conditions. One tip that many people may not realize is when you’re running in the heat, it’s a good idea to use sunscreen sparingly because it beads the sweat, which rolls off without evaporation but it’s the act of sweat being evaporated from your body that cools you. Dr. Cucuzzella also recommends some specific gear for running in the rain and/or cold weather. Another important section of part two is about the therapeutic mental benefits of running, something often over-looked by people especially those that aren’t runners. Part two ends with a discussion on some common running injuries and how to prevent them.

Part three begins with information specific for women and includes the full spectrum from running while pregnant to the benefits of running for menopausal women. Specific information related to children and running follows, then information about older people running. Dr. Cucuzzella dispels the myth (do people really still believe this?) that running is bad for your knees and joints with his notation of Paul Williams’ study at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory that found no increase in osteoarthritis or hip replacement even for runners who participate in multiple marathons a year. In fact, there are a multitude of references to the medical literature on the subject of running and exercise throughout this book if you’re the kind of person that “needs” to have scientific references for you to be properly informed.

In addition to a slew of scientific references, this book is filled with drills and exercises, either for warm-ups, for strengthening, or recovery. There is a website runforyourlifebook.com that includes a wealth of information. Under the resources tab, you can find videos on mobility and stability exercises as well as other things like kid-specific information and links to the Freedom’s Run Race in West Virginia that Dr. Cucuzzella is a co-director for. Finally, there are training plans for the 5k, half marathon, and marathon that seem pretty straight-forward for beginners or newish runners.

So, after all of that, what did I personally think of this book? Well, I think it’s an excellent tool for any newbie runner because of the wealth of knowledge included. A more seasoned runner can also benefit from reading this book, but they likely wouldn’t find much of the information new but perhaps good reminders of things they’ve heard before but had forgotten. I personally enjoyed this book and the way the information is presented.

Have you read Dr. Cucuzzella’s book? If so, what did you think? Do you think you would be interested in reading it if you haven’t read it?

Happy running!

Donna

 

 

 

 

 

Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu in Peru

Anthony Bourdain once said, “It’s an irritating reality that many places and events defy description. Angkor Wat and Machu Picchu, for instance, seem to demand silence, like a love affair you can never talk about. For a while after, you fumble for words, trying vainly to assemble a private narrative, an explanation, a comfortable way to frame where you’ve been and what’s happened. In the end, you’re just happy you were there — with your eyes open — and lived to see it.”

I was fortunate enough to visit Machu Picchu and it was everything you hear and read about, and more. It’s difficult to fully explain to someone who hasn’t been there and photos of course don’t do it justice. A cab driver in Cusco, Peru told us before we went there that Machu Picchu holds a special place in his heart, that it’s a magical place that he feels drawn to. For me, however, as special as Machu Picchu is, the journey to get there is what holds a special place in my heart.

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We took a 4 day/3 night trek to Machu Picchu, called the Lares Trek with Alpaca Expeditions and it surpassed my expectations. You can read about the trek here (day one),  here (day two), and here (day three). By the time we reached Machu Picchu, we were exhausted but thrilled to finally be at the famous ruins. There are four hour time limits on visits which must be within one of three daily shifts:  early morning (6-9 am), late morning (9 am-12 pm), and early afternoon (12-3 pm). You have to sign up to enter at a specific hour within these shifts and supposedly only 600 people are allowed to enter at each hourly interval, meaning no more than 2,400 people would be allowed in the ruins for the four hour time, but I’m not sure how much this limit is enforced because it seemed very crowded to me, especially as the day went on.

All of our tickets including the train ticket from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes, bus ticket from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu, entrance fees to Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu, and returns back to Cusco were taken care of by our guide from Alpaca Expeditions, which made everything much less stressful.

However, to add to our stress, the morning of our tour of Machu Picchu, our guide was supposed to be at our hotel in Aguas Calientes at 5 am and didn’t show up until 5:50, at which point we were just about in a total panic about what to do (no way to contact the guide so we sent an email to Alpaca Expeditions but didn’t get a response by the time the guide showed up, which by the way his excuse was he had drunk too many beers the night before and over-slept). Long story short, he apologized about a dozen times and in the end I completely forgave him because he was so stellar in every way before this.

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There were so many llamas all over Machu Picchu!

Although we arrived at Machu Picchu a bit later than we were supposed to, everything worked out fine. My first impression was that it’s pretty much what I thought it would be. We’ve all seen photos of Machu Picchu so many times and maybe even seen TV shows about it. Well, it’s exactly like it looks in the photos. It’s also crowded, despite the attempts to limit tourists (although our guide said things do seem to be getting better on that front). It’s every bit as grande and beautiful as it looks.

What did surprise me was the scale of the mountain that lies behind Machu Picchu, the one that you see in the background of the majority of photos of Machu Picchu- Huayna Picchu. You see, we had a separate entrance ticket to climb Huayna Picchu once we were done touring Machu Picchu. Guides aren’t allowed on Huayna Picchu for reasons unbeknownst to me, so we would be climbing that behemoth of a mountain all by ourselves. I was terrified.

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One of the views from Huayna Picchu. The people at Machu Picchu below look tiny!

After we felt like we had seen all we needed to see of Machu Picchu and got all of the history and background from our guide, he walked us out the exit, said good-bye, and my family and I used our separate entrance ticket for Huayna Picchu to get back into Machu Picchu, working our way through the ruins back to the entrance for Huayna Picchu. The peak of Huayna Picchu is 2,693 metres (8,835 ft) above sea level, or about 260 metres (850 ft) higher than Machu Picchu, according to Wikipedia. The truth is, the climb up is strenuous and should only be undertaken by people in good shape.

The climb up Huayna Picchu begins easily enough, and is full of switchbacks to make the climb easier. Still, you will be drenched with sweat and gasping to get your breath unless it’s a cold and rainy day, but then the steps would be slippery and you’d still be out of breath because of the steep increase in elevation so that wouldn’t be ideal either. There are some cables to hold onto that I was grateful to have both on the way up and down.

Here’s the part that most people gloss over in their reviews about Huayna Picchu- the final ascent to the top is like climbing a ladder, only on narrow little rocky, sometimes crumbling stairs. There are no cables or anything else to help you up here. I’m terrified of heights and I had to focus like I’ve never had to focus on anything before just to control my shaking body. I found it easier to use my hands as I climbed up, since it gave me something to do with them, and I just focused on one step at a time. Finally I reached the summit and it was the best feeling ever! Honestly, I’ve never climbed anything as difficult as Huayna Picchu, and I’ve done quite a bit of hiking around the world, although nothing like the via Ferrata in Italy.

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On top of the world- at the top of Huayna Picchu!

The way back down Huayna Picchu wasn’t as bad as going up and I never felt any real pangs of fear like I did going up. I passed a guy who was going up and looked scared to death and he hadn’t even reached the worst part yet. I told him if I could do it, he could do it and told him to use his hands going up and just focus on one step at a time. I hope he was able to conquer his fear and make it to the top. The view really is one of the best views I’ve ever seen and absolutely worth the effort.

Have you been to Machu Picchu? Did you go up Huayna Picchu? If so, what was your experience like? Is Machu Picchu on your bucket list?

Happy travels!

Donna

 

 

 

Stuck in a Running Rut? Sick of Your Running Routes? Here are Some Suggestions.

If you run enough, sooner or later chances are pretty good you’ll grow tired of running past the same places over and over again. Getting stuck in a running rut can suck the joy out of running if you don’t do something to mix up your running routes, or at least it can for me. Last year I was struggling with this and I was in serious need of some new running routes. I felt like I was running the same paths and/or streets every week and I desperately needed some new places to run.

The funny thing is for years I would run my long run on the same exact path every single Saturday. I would tell my fellow runner co-workers how great this converted railway trail was and how much I liked running there. Fast-forward to present day and I would never choose to run there. I find it terribly boring and monotonous with pretty much the same scenery for miles on end.

Sure, this path is scenic to the newcomer, with trees on both sides and the occasional bridge over a small creek. There’s crushed gravel in parts, asphalt in parts, and packed dirt in other parts. What it’s lacking in is a change of scenery, though, since it was once a railway line and goes in a straight path through the woods. There are no turns, no curves even, just miles and miles of one straight path.

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Running in Hawaii. I could never get bored of this view!

I am somewhat a creature of habit, however, and I run all of my long runs on the same trail now, but there’s a ton of variety along this path. This is a greenway, so it’s asphalt for the most part, but there are large sections of wood (boardwalks, for lack of a better term) that go over wetlands and other water sections like creeks. There are also many twists and turns along the way, with one tunnel, and some hills to mix things up. The greenway goes along and through many different neighborhoods so you may see a wide variety of trees, flowers, ponds, houses, and the occasional road to cross (but not too many). In short, I never get bored of the scenery here plus there are often adorable dogs being walked along the way to brighten my run.

As I said earlier, though, I began to grow bored of the running routes I was running during the week and I started Exploring While Running and Fighting Boredom. I discovered entire neighborhoods that I previously never even knew existed, just by deciding to run somewhere and see what was there. Instead of running the neighborhoods around where I lived, I would change into my running clothes on my way out of work, stop at a place along the way home, and just park my car and start running. Sometimes this worked out, sometimes it didn’t but I learned a few things along the way.

One big thing I started doing that was really simple but I had never thought to do it before is open up Google maps, choose a neighborhood, search for greenways or trails, and figure out where they are in relation to the neighborhood. I’m lucky that we have miles and miles of greenways and other running/walking/cycling paths in the 20 mile radius between and around my home and work places, although unless you live in a particular neighborhood you may never even know that greenway exists unless you look it up like I did.

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Running a race in another state is a fun way to mix things up! This was taken in Utah.

I also do a Google search for running paths and include the city and state I want to run in. Inevitably what will come up includes greenways, routes from mapmyrun.com, traillink.com, and alltrails.com. Yelp also comes up, with links to greenways and parks. You do have to register with traillink but it’s free, with the option to upgrade for $29.99/year. You also have to register with alltrails.com if you do anything other than just a simple search, but again, it’s free for the basic plan and $29.99/year for pro. I don’t use either enough to warrant paying for the upgraded plans but the basic plans are really basic.

You can also search local running stores online whether you’ll be running in your area and want new places to run or will be running while on vacation. Sometimes if they do group runs, the routes and days/times will be on their calendar, but if not you can always give them a call and ask where they recommend for safe places to run. Another option is to try meetup.com where you can search for running groups. Click their sports & fitness box and go from there.

Sometimes you have to just think differently about your runs if you want to mix things up. Instead of running straight out your door and heading down the same way you always run, just make little changes like going right instead of left or straight instead of turning like you usually do. You can make as many or few of these changes along the route as you feel like that day. Just pay attention when you make changes so you don’t get lost!

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One of many beautiful trails near where I work!

You can also try running near your work place if you drive to work but don’t normally run near where you work. If you’re lucky enough to have showers at your work place, you have multiple options of when to run- before work, during your lunch break, or after work but before you drive home. If you don’t have showers at work, you’ll have to either make due with body wipes and deodorant (which you can possibly get by with during cool to cold months if you don’t sweat a lot) or run after work but before you drive home. Just be sure to bring a towel for your car seat (and another small one to dry off with before you get in your car).

If you have school-age children who are in after-school activities, you can even run near their school. Be sure to allow yourself plenty of time to drive there, run, and have a bit of a buffer before you pick them up. I’ve run during my daughter’s soccer and swim practices many times. This helps break up the monotony of not running in the same areas all the time plus gives you something productive to do rather than just blowing that time sitting around on your phone while they’re at practice.

What about you guys? Do you prefer to run the same routes every week or do you like to mix things up? If you do mix things up, what do you do to choose new running routes?

Happy running!

Donna

 

Lares Trek to Machu Picchu- Day Three

You can read about day one of the Lares Trek here and day two here, if you haven’t been following along until now. If you have, welcome back. On the morning of day three, we were told our fellow camper who was transported 2 hours away to a lower elevation was doing much better and we would do our final day of hiking and meet him at our campsite later that day. Since our guide had stayed with him in a tent overnight and would remain with him for the day to monitor his health, one of the female porters was our stand-in guide for the walk, which would be our easiest of the four-day trek. However, she almost exclusively spoke Quechuan, the local language, and only a little Spanish, so she was very quiet during the 3 hour hike. 

I should back up, though. As usual, we were woken up early with hot coca tea and given some time to get dressed and pack up before going to the tent for breakfast. As had been the case every other morning, breakfast was a huge spread of food that we all quickly devoured. To our surprise and delight (well, I had actually heard about this part but I didn’t spoil the surprise for my fellow campers) our chef had baked us a cake! He had been cooking this entire time using propane but how you bake a cake at high elevation with propane gas in the middle of nowhere in Peru is beyond me. These guys do this all the time, though so I guess they’ve got it figured out.

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Just one of many “Wow!” photo moments during day three of the trek

After we started on our final hiking portion of the trek, we began seeing more and more llamas and alpacas. We had seen some the previous day but not as many as we saw on day three. This area was obviously farming country, and we passed several small farms. Our porter/guide for the day tried to point out vegetables, flowers, and fauna, but unless it was obvious what she was pointing out, we usually just smiled and went on our way. As we descended from the Highlands, it began to get warmer and the landscape began to noticeably change.

After hiking for 4 hours we reached the final destination of the hiking portion of the Lares Trek, the town of Huaran. This is where our fellow hiker was transported by horse the night before, along with our guide. We had lunch here then said goodbye to the horsemen, porters, and chef, who all went back home. Only our guide, Abelito stayed with us, and a driver for the van that we all climbed into with our duffel bags.

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We saw so many llamas and alpacas on our third day!

We drove to the Salinas salt ponds in the town of Maras and got to walk around the beautiful salt ponds set in a canyon that descends to the Rio Vilcanota. These salt ponds have been in use since the Incas and are farmed by members of the community. You can buy salt very cheaply from various vendors onsite. Honestly I don’t know how they make a profit from the salt itself or from entrance fees which are only $2. Ever since I visited the salt pans in Gozo (part of Malta), I’ve been fascinated by salt pans so I was thrilled when I saw this was part of the itinerary for the Lares Trek. I was not disappointed either.

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The Salinas Salt Ponds

After we left the salt ponds, we drove to the town of Ollantaytambo and had our final meal with the other family from our trek. Our guide talked with the staff at the restaurant he had chosen for us and arranged for our dinners to be ready at a certain time, with spare time for us to walk around the town if we wanted or just find a spot to sit and have a drink. Ollantaytambo is a small town so it didn’t take us long to take a quick walk around to take some photos then go back for dinner.

We reminisced on our journey together, received shirts from Alpaca Expeditions, were given more instructions by Abelito (our guide) and exchanged contact info with the other family. Since the other family had signed up for a second trek, a two-day trek, concluding at Machu Picchu, we would be parting after dinner, but otherwise they would have been with us and Abelito at Machu Picchu the following day (they were assigned a different guide from Alpaca Expeditions for their second trek, while my family and I retained our original guide for Machu Picchu).

After mostly living for three days without seeing anyone else outside our small group, it was strange to once again see crowds of people. As I said in my post on day one of the Lares Trek, one of the reasons I chose the Lares Trek over the Classic Inca Trek was because the Classic Inca Trek is so popular (a.k.a. crowded). We literally saw only a handful of other trekkers while we were hiking, and that’s it. It was fantastic, really. Who wants to be in nature hiking in remote areas of Peru and have hordes of other people around you? Well, actually that would come later, which you will see if you follow my posts regularly.

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Ruins on the mountain in Ollantaytambo that would have nice to have explored if only there was more time!

So my family and I followed Abelito to the train station in Ollantaytambo, where we took a train to Aguas Calientes, and from there we walked to the hotel where we would be staying for the night (a very nice hotel arranged through Alpaca Expeditions). A hot shower and bed the night before touring Machu Picchu was the best idea ever. We set the alarm for yet another early morning wake-up, which really was a theme for our vacation in Peru thus far, and collapsed into the comfy beds. There was no time for any sight-seeing in Aquas Calientes on this day, but there would be some time after we toured Machu Picchu.

I fell asleep looking forward to finally getting to see the ruins of Machu Picchu. For most people, touring Machu Picchu is probably the highlight of their time in Peru, but honestly, for probably the first time in my life, I could say that the journey was more important than the destination (Machu Picchu). The Lares Trek had taken us past some of the most awe-inspiring views I’ve ever seen in my life. We met people that don’t even own a computer and only recently got electricity in their tiny town. I got to touch an alpaca (actually several) and see many more alpacas and llamas that were in the wild, only a few feet from me. I was able to physically push my body up and down the Andes Mountains at the highest elevations I’ve ever hiked with basically no side effects. Inevitably, this glimpse into Peru and the Peruvian people I saw along the Lares Trek will stick with me for the rest of my life.

Total miles for day 3:  6.2 miles. Elevation of Aguas Calientes:  6,562 ft.

Have you been to Machu Picchu and/or on a trek to Machu Picchu? What was your experience like?

Happy travels!

Donna

 

 

 

How to Help Your Kids Follow in Your Footsteps as a Runner

My daughter’s first experience with running came when I signed her up for the kids’ dash at the Susan G. Koman Race for the Cure. She was three years old and ran 50 yards. When she was 8, she ran in a kids’ marathon where she ran with a running group at her school, tracking her miles up to 25.2 and ran the final mile on the adult marathon course. A year later, I ran a half marathon in Branson, Missouri, the Roller Coaster Half Marathon and they offered a one mile run for kids. She ended up finishing in 8:25, despite the extremely hilly course during a cold, rainy morning and she had just turned 9 years old then.

Sometime after the one mile run in Missouri, my daughter expressed interest in running with me. I was thrilled, that is until every time we ran together she whined and complained how hard running is, and asked over and over if we could take a walk break, that it was too hot out or she was thirsty, and she basically took all of the fun out of running for me when we ran together. When we would head out the door, I always told her we would run at her pace, and I let her take the lead to make sure I wasn’t pushing her too fast.

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My daughter at the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure

Still, clearly this wasn’t working. Instead of just giving up on my daughter becoming a runner, I signed her up with Girls on the run, an after-school running group meant to encourage girls to live a healthy active life and help them build up their confidence in themselves over a 10 week period that culminates in a 5k event. This worked even better than I could have imagined. Not only did she see that she was indeed a good runner but she began to gradually build a love for running.

Since she ran her first 5k with Girls on the Run, she has run multiple 5k’s, many of which she finished in the top three for her age group, she’s run a 10k (where she finished second in her age group), and she’s currently training for her second half marathon. In line with her previous racing history, she finished first in her age group at her first half marathon. She often says she wants to eventually run a marathon and after a few marathons an ultra marathon. I told her to take it one step at a time.

It’s been 10 years since my daughter ran her first race and over the years I’ve definitely learned some things about getting your child interested in running. I’ve learned what generally  works and what doesn’t work.

One of the things I’ve learned that is a good idea is to sign up your child for a race. Good ones to start are the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure races, which are held around the US, usually in the spring to summer months. They often have bounce houses, face painting, stickers, giveaways, and all kinds of other fun things for kids, in addition to fun, non-timed runs for children (and adults). There are also a plethora of fun runs held around the country like color runs, glow-in-the-dark night runs, short obstacle races geared toward children, and bubble runs.

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Me with my daughter after a Color Vibe Run

It’s also a good idea to run with your child. If your child is really young, this is a given unless they’re running with a group at their school. Although my experience with this wasn’t stellar in the beginning, things did turn around when she was older and we started running together again. Just make sure you’re running at your child’s pace and take walk breaks as often as needed. Also take a day off running with your child if it’s a struggle just to get out the door. It’s supposed to be fun, and if you have to force them to run, it’s not going to be fun for either of you.

Invest in good quality running shoes, running socks, and other running apparel for your child. You wouldn’t go for a run in just whatever sneakers you happened to have, a cotton t-shirt, shorts, and socks, so why should your child? After you’ve gotten dressed and ready to run with your child, make sure they are actually wearing said running apparel, too.

Now for some things that don’t work so well with children and running. Don’t push them in any way to run, whether it’s the speed, distance, or even whether to run that day. Again, as a runner, you gradually increase your distance and you gradually increase your speed, so your child is no different. You also don’t want them to feel like they’re being pushed into running when they really have no interest.

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My daughter and I ran together many times in the Canary Islands- this was after one of those runs

If your child expresses interest in running but then complains about it when they actually run, don’t let it discourage them. Explain to them that everyone (even you, their parent) has runs that don’t go so well, and that’s normal. Don’t let them give up unless it’s clear they truly have no interest in running. Even then, I’d say don’t give up forever. Maybe they’re just not ready to become a runner at that point in their life but given some time and the right circumstances, they’ll become a runner when they’re older.

Finally, for children in middle and high school, you can encourage them to try out for the track and/or cross-country teams. My daughter was on her middle school’s track team and quickly found out it was not for her, but she stuck with it and learned that she’d rather just run on her own. When she starts high school, she’s going to check out the cross-country team and see how that goes. She may find out that too isn’t for her and keep running on her own, or she may love it, who knows?

The bottom line is with the proper encouragement and guidance from you, your child may follow in your footsteps and become a runner like you, but it needs to be a completely natural process driven primarily by your child. As a mother runner, some of the best things I can hope for my child is that she grows into a healthy and happy independent adult. If running helps her do those things, then I think that’s fantastic, but if eventually she decides to say, take up hiking as her primary mode of exercise and staying healthy, that’s great too.

If you’re a runner, does your child run too or do they run the other way screaming when you mention running? If they are a runner, what was their experience with getting interested in running?

Happy running!

Donna

 

 

 

Lares Trek to Machu Picchu- Day Two

For day one of our trek, see here:  Lares Trek to Machu Picchu with Alpaca Expeditions- Day One. Day two of our Lares Trek to Machu Picchu began with a 5:30 a.m. wake-up and steaming cups of coca tea (it’s supposed to help with the high altitude). After getting dressed and packing up our things, we had breakfast consisting of a hot chocolate porridge, bread, pancakes, fruit salad, tea, and coffee, then we headed out for the most difficult part of the trek. We hiked up to just over 14,000 ft and went through Condor Pass. Along the way we saw llamas, alpacas, and lakes that were a gorgeous shade of blue-green. The trail was full of loose rocks and we were once again grateful to have our walking poles.

After reaching the highest point of the trek, we hiked down the mountain, stopping briefly for a snack and only taking short breaks the rest of the time. We finally reached our campsite where we had yet another hearty and delicious lunch:  soup, bread, mixed fruit, mixed vegetables, cauliflower pizza, corn tortillas with broccoli, and a maize drink.

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A group shot doing the llama sign (as instructed to do so by our guide)

After lunch we walked to a one room school and talked with the teacher and children. The teacher, a male, spoke the local Quechuan (a language that goes back to the Inca Empire), and was teaching the children in that language. Our guide, who spoke Quechuan, Spanish, and English, translated for us all and explained where we were from. We gave the children the bread we had bought at the market the previous morning and gave them some things brought from the US like stickers, pens, and pencils. The children were happy to see us and were all adorable. Even though none of us spoke the same language, it was clearly communicated that we were happy to be there and they were happy to see us.

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Inside a Quechuan school in the Highlands of Peru. Their smiles were priceless!

We all took a well-deserved siesta in our tents then walked to meet a local family who lived nearby our campsite. Their house was one room built of stone with a thatched roof. There was a pot simmering over a fire in one corner and one woman was peeling potatoes. The man of the house did most of the talking for the family (in Quechuan, which was translated to English by our guide) and he told us there were 6 people who lived in the main house as well as in the other small house just across the main house where we heard several chickens inside.

There were 2 beds in the main house along with the kitchen, dining area, living area, and a loft storage area on one side. The man and his family, along with the rest of the people in the town were farmers. Some people from our group asked some questions and the man asked us where we were from and what kinds of jobs we had. He said he was very happy to have us in his home because so many people went through the area on treks but hardly anyone stopped by his house. He was hospitable and seemed genuinely happy to talk with us. His wife sang us a song before we left.

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One of the most beautiful views we saw on our second day of the trek

I’ll be perfectly honest here. I wasn’t sure how it would go with meeting the Quechuan family and I didn’t want it to feel like we were just there to stare at them and have everyone be uncomfortable. After talking with them (through the help of our guide), however, it became apparent that they really were happy to share a glimpse of their lives with us, and they were glad to have us as visitors. It seemed they were perhaps as curious about us as we were about them. Meeting with this family and the school children was definitely a highlight of the trek.

We had yet another tasty and filling dinner before bed and once again grabbed a hot water bottle from the cook to sleep with. Unbeknownst to me at the time, one of our fellow trekkers (there was my family of 3 and a family of 4) had to be transported by horse after dinner to a town 2 hours away at a lower elevation because his oxygen levels had become dangerously low. He had been struggling from the beginning with altitude-related problems but other problems as well (truth be told, even before the trek began) and he had been riding the horse almost the entire time but he had gotten steadily worse. One of the horsemen, our guide, and a porter took him to the town then the horseman rode the horse another 2 hours back to our campsite, only to have to get up about 2 hours later for an early morning wake-up.

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Our horseman from the trek with his family’s alpacas (and coca leaves stuffed in his cheek). He was a kind and hard-working man.

Having finished the hardest part of the trek, I was feeling really good about the rest of the trek. I knew the final day of hiking would be a piece of cake compared to the second day. I slept the best on the second night of all of the nights of the trek and was looking forward to our third and final day of hiking and ultimately to seeing Machu Picchu.

Total miles for day 2- 8 miles hiked; highest point reached 14,250 feet.

To be continued…

Happy travels!

Donna

 

 

Is Hiking in the Mountains Good Cross-Training for Runners?

This is the question I asked myself after taking two weeks off from running while I was hiking the mountains of Peru. I had planned on trying to run while I was in Arequipa towards the latter part of my vacation, a city that I thought would be more manageable as far as running, but that turned out to not be a viable option either. Everywhere we were in Peru, I found challenges to finding a safe running route, from uneven cobblestones to massive crowds of people to wild dogs (and their inevitable poo left behind) to very high elevation, and then I was sick. At least on this trip to Peru, it was not meant for me to run.

Unfortunately when I returned home from my two-week vacation in Peru, I returned home to ungodly heat and humidity. The day after I got back, I ran and immediately felt the heat and humidity hit me like a ton of bricks. I thought perhaps my legs would be stronger from all of the intense hiking but instead I found my inner thighs to be so sore that I felt it pretty early on when I started running. I had to ask myself were they just sore from hiking and I didn’t feel it until I started running or had they gotten weaker from not running? Either case, it was unexpected.

I had to jump right into half marathon training for my next race and actually skip ahead a few weeks, so there was no easing back into running. I felt like I was terribly slow on my first few runs, but then I was curious. I looked back at my runs this time last year and found something surprising.

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Hiking Huayna Picchu was intense and as it turns out was good cross-training for me!

My runs were on average one minute per mile faster compared with runs this time last year. What? That was unexpected. In fact, five days after I got home from Peru, I saw a notification on my Garmin watch that I had run my fastest mile ever, or at least since having Garmin Connect, during a 5-mile run. That was most definitely unexpected. I ran in the evening too, at the peak of the high temperature for the day (yes, no morning run for me that day, despite the fact I recently proclaimed I have become a “sometimes” morning runner).

Maybe there is something to hiking mountains as cross-training for runners after all. I don’t think there is any substitution for acclimating to heat and humidity but maybe hiking, especially the extremely difficult hiking at high elevation that I did helped me not only maintain my fitness level but helped my legs and the rest of my body get a little stronger. I did a little research and found an article on the subject, Two weeks in the mountains can change your blood for months.”

Now I’m a full-on believer that yes, hiking, especially at high elevation is great cross-training for runners. If only there were some mountains within a reasonable drive for a day-trip near where I live. In the meantime, I have some super-powered red blood cells that will hopefully help power me through not only my half marathon training cycle but also for my race next month. I’ll need all the help I can get because the race is at 5,906 feet, high enough to have me a little concerned. After all, the Boulder Rez Half Marathon in Colorado was at about 5,300 feet and it was so difficult my legs felt like lead when I was running it. I’m curious to see how/if there are any lingering effects from my time in Peru when I run in Wyoming. Only time will tell!

Have you experienced increases in fitness levels after exercising at high elevation then returning home to lower ground? Do you have a story to tell about this? I’d love to hear about your experiences or someone you know!

Happy running!

Donna