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

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Lares Trek to Machu Picchu with Alpaca Expeditions- Day One

If you want to go to Machu Picchu in Peru you have many options. You can stay in Aguas Calientes and take the bus to Machu Picchu and tour the ruins with a guide, you can stay in Cusco and take the train to Ollantaytambo then the bus to Aguas Calientes then the bus to Machu Picchu, or you can take a guided hike and camp along the way finishing at Machu Picchu. The latter is what my family and I chose to do.

There are seemingly hundreds of companies that offer treks to Machu Picchu. As far as options for hiking routes, there is the more popular Classic Inca Trek, the more difficult Salkantay Trek, or the Lares Trek in addition to alternative treks. I decided to take the Lares Trek for several reasons:  it isn’t considered as popular as the Classic Inca Trail so it’s not as crowded, it has stops along the way at salt pans (which I find beautiful), thermal baths (which I find incredibly soothing and relaxing), at a local market where we would buy foods for local families along the trek, at a local school where we would talk with the children and give them some supplies and bread, and at a local family’s house. We chose the 4 day/3 night trek, which meant we would be camping in tents for 2 nights and at a hotel in Aguas Calientes for the third night then take the short bus ride to Machu Picchu the next morning.

I chose Alpaca Expeditions because it came recommended. I later found out Alpaca Expeditions is the most popular trekking company to Machu Picchu for Americans. They promise an English-speaking guide, delicious food prepared by an on-site chef, a horse if you need assistance along the hike, a satellite phone for emergencies, small groups, and much more. There are options to upgrade some things for your hike, which I recommend. Let me just say every single one of us said many times on the trek how glad we were to have the walking poles.

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Day one of the Lares Trek- just the beginning!

The evening before our trek began, we met at Alpaca Expeditions headquarters in Cusco. We paid the balance that we owed and met with the rest of our group, a family of four from Connecticut, which meant there would only be seven of us not including those working for Alpaca Expeditions. We also met with our guide, Abelito, who explained briefly what we would be doing each day of the trek. He told us that the porters and horsemen would be in charge of carrying the tents, sleeping bags and pads, all food, water, cooking supplies, and basically everything we would need on the trek except for  personal items in a small backpack. Each of us was given a duffle bag to put our clothes and personal items in, which we would get each evening. We only had to carry a small day pack with any items we would want along the trek during the day, like sunscreen, bug spray, camera, and things like that.

Day one of our hike began with a 5 a.m. pickup in a large van at our hotel in Cusco. We drove 3 hours on curvy, winding roads, where we had to pull over after maybe an hour so I could throw up on the side of the road (and yes, I had taken an anti-nausea pill before I got sick). After I no longer had anything in my stomach, I was fine for the rest of the drive. We stopped at a market in a small town and bought sugar, flour, rice, pasta, bread, and coca leaves that we would later give to a family and school children. We took a guided tour of the market and were told all about the vegetables and other things sold there. 

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Waterfalls!

After driving for a while longer, we stopped for breakfast at a spot along the roadside overlooking a mountain. This was our first taste of food prepared by the chef and it was a great start with fruit salad, bread with jam, freshly squeezed mango juice, hot tea, coffee, and more. After a short drive to the Lares Hot Springs, we put on our swim suits in the changing area and had 45 minutes to relax in the pools. There were multiple pools with varying degrees of temperature. I’m a huge fan of hot springs so I thought it was a great way to start the hike!

We drove the short drive from the hot springs to the trailhead for the Lares Trek, got a quick lesson on how to adjust our hiking poles and we were off! After hiking for 2 hours we had a huge lunch at a beautiful spot along the trail then hiked for 1 and ½ hours more when we stopped at our first campsite that was near a lake, aptly named the Blue Lagoon. We had hiked 7.8 miles for the first day past waterfalls, sheep, and mountains, and re-fueled that evening with a hearty dinner of pasta, soup, roasted chicken, vegetables, bread, tea, and hot cocoa. Before dinner was served, we had some light snacks like popcorn, which we all devoured.

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This was a short walk from our campsite. Listening to the water flow at night was soothing.

We all happily took our hot water bottles from the cook to sleep with and collapsed into our warm sleeping bags for the night. It was cold that night, as is usual in the Highlands of Peru, but the sleeping bag was the kind that goes around your head to keep you warmer and we also had insulated mats to keep us off the ground and a super-warm blanket (not sure if it was alpaca or wool but I got so warm in the middle of the night I took mine off and put it on my daughter). I should also note that there were two people max in each tent (my husband had his tent to himself), which was fantastic.

The first day was pretty easy because the hiking we did was moderate and not for terribly long stretches. It was a good start for our trek and I was feeling really good about our decision to choose the Lares Trek with Alpaca Expeditions. We hadn’t yet reached the highest point in our trek, and I knew day two was set to be our most difficult segment of the trek. I was anxiously looking forward to what we would see and do the next day.

To be continued…

Happy travels!

Donna

 

 

Book Review-Strong: A Runner’s Guide to Boosting Confidence and Becoming the Best Version of You by Kara Goucher

Kara Goucher is a two-time Olympian with an impressive running resume. She was the 10,000 meters silver medalist at the 2007 World Championships in Athletics and competed in the 2008 Beijing Olympics and 2012 London Olympics. She made her marathon debut in 2008 and finished third the following year at the Boston Marathon.

Goucher signed with Oiselle Running in 2014 and they have a very apropos description of her on their webpage:  “But Kara is so much bigger than her accolades. She’s is easily one of the funniest and most genuine people you’ll meet. She’s a loving mother and wife. She and her family live in Boulder, Colorado where she trains under Mark Wetmore.”

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From what I’ve seen and heard about Kara Goucher, she seems like a genuinely nice person, a modest Minnesotan at heart, and a cheerleader for other runners. When I heard she was releasing a confidence journal, I was intrigued. I’ve never been one to keep running journals, whether it’s of my daily miles, races, or anything training-related. The confidence journal seemed like more than just jotting down how many miles you ran, what the weather was like, and how you felt, though.

Still, given my history of not sticking with a running journal, I was hesitant to buy Goucher’s book, so I checked out a copy from my local library (actually they borrowed it from another library in another state, but it’s all the same to me and a fabulous perk my library offers). When I leafed through the journal, I immediately felt drawn in. It’s got an easy to follow format with informal photos of Goucher and quotes by her. There are several pages where you can write things down after some prompts such as:  “List three recurring worries that hold you back,” with space to write three things down. She also has an example of a constant worry of hers:  “I don’t think I’m good enough to compete at this race.”

Basically, the journal is divided into three sections. The first section covers confidence techniques such as using power words, mantras, and setting goals. The second section has confidence essays from six powerful women in the running community including Molly Huddle and Mary Wittenberg. Finally, there is a third section filled with writing prompts that tie into subjects from the first section (like using a mantra) and confidence journal tips. There is space to write for 21 days, so obviously the idea is for Goucher’s book to get you started on your own confidence journal, after which you would continue in a notebook or electronic device (like your phone).

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Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

I believe this confidence journal would be great for just about any runner who is ready to dive into the psychological side of running. Many of us focus on our miles and hitting our goals for training but don’t really spend time working on the mental aspect of running. This journal would help you identify and sort through anything that may be holding you back from running, including things you didn’t even realize were holding you back.

Goucher also says how people that aren’t athletes can benefit from a confidence journal as well. She gives examples how we all struggle with doubting ourselves in our daily lives. By focusing on our accomplishments and the positive in life, we can all benefit. I completely agree.

Do you keep a confidence journal or any other type of journal? If not, do you think a confidence journal might help you with your running or just life in general?

Happy running!

Donna

 

 

Cusco, Peru- Things to Do and Places to Eat Plus a Day-Trip to Famous Rainbow Mountain

Many people go through Cusco on their way to Machu Picchu. My family and I were in Cusco for 3 days/3 nights before our trek to Machu Picchu (which deserves separate entries that I’ll post later) to help acclimatize to the high elevation and for another 2 days/2 nights after Machu Picchu before we flew to Arequipa. My immediate reaction when we were flying into Cusco was surprise at how much bigger it was than I thought it would be. There are just over 400,000 people in this city that sits at 11,152 feet above sea level.

On our first day in Cusco, my husband wasn’t adjusting well to the elevation, but he also had stopped drinking coffee cold-turkey so who knows how much of his reaction was to caffeine withdrawals. We just walked around the city and took in the sights before he asked to go back to our room to rest, where he did so for several hours then woke up feeling much better. My daughter and I both had headaches that first day but they were manageable and we adjusted pretty quickly to the elevation.

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Plaza de Armas in Cusco

We ventured out on our second day in Cusco and saw a parade going on at Plaza de Armas so we watched some of that (we had also seen a parade the evening before while we were at dinner). We did some shopping at the many markets and took a ton of photos. I found Cusco to be a beautiful city full of friendly people and on more than one occasion the locals started conversations with us (completely in Spanish). They weren’t trying to sell us things either, but they were being genuinely friendly.

On our third day in Cusco we were feeling pretty adventurous and decided to walk to Sacsayhuaman and the nearby Statue of Christ. The Statue of Christ is large but don’t expect it to be on par with Christ the Redeemer in Rio. However, the views of Cusco are amazing from here and worth going just for that. It’s about a 10-minute walk to Sacsayhuaman from the Statue of Christ, which is the real reason to come to this part of Cusco. These ruins are impressive and you can spend hours walking around and exploring. We walked here from the main section of Cusco, up what felt like a million stairs straight up through various neighborhoods. On the way back we smartly took a taxi which was worth every Sol.

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Sacsayhuaman ruins in Cusco

The evening of our third night in Cusco, we met with Alpaca Expeditions where we paid the remainder due for our trek to Machu Picchu, met with the family of four that would be joining us, met our guide, received instructions for the next day, and received the duffel bag that would remain with us for the trek although carried by porters during the day. We were all looking forward to the trek and ultimately to seeing Machu Picchu.

After we returned to Cusco from our Lares Trek to Machu Picchu, we went to hike the famous Rainbow Mountain, or locally known as Montaña de Siete Colores (aka Vinicunca). This was the one specific thing my daughter requested (insisted) we do in Cusco, although I was a bit skeptical after reading some of the reviews and blog posts about it. We booked our tour locally rather than online from the US and saved a ton of money by doing that; however, we didn’t do much research and just randomly chose a tour company, which maybe wasn’t the best idea (our so-called English-speaking guide barely spoke English but luckily we spoke enough Spanish to be fine).

Rainbow Mountain, while definitely worth doing, wasn’t even the best part of the day, in my opinion, but I’ll back up before I go there. We had yet another early morning wake-up (a consistent theme for us in Peru) in order to be picked up by the driver at 4:30 am and after driving around for another hour to pick up the other people (so much for a “guaranteed” small group) we finally began the drive to Rainbow Mountain.

After an hour and a half we stopped for “breakfast” at a roadside restaurant that didn’t have heat where they sat us (and was freezing at the early morning hour) and we had what amounted to about a half an egg, some bread with jam, and tea. Good thing our hotel packed a breakfast for us to take with us when we left that morning! We drove another hour and a half and reached Rainbow Mountain. We were given a wooden pole (better than nothing but by no means a walking pole) by our guide and were told to be sure to be back at the van in four hours at 1 pm. There was no commentary about the area, no information given, nothing other than I’ll see you later!

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Rainbow Mountain

I’ll tell you something about Rainbow Mountain you may already suspect- it’s extremely crowded. The majority of the walk there was pretty easy although it was at 17,060 feet at the peak (starting altitude is 14,189 feet), that is, until the final 400 meters, where it went straight up and I was huffing and puffing to get my breath. One of the women from our group wasn’t acclimated to the elevation and was having a really difficult time before she even reached the climax of the climb. There are horses there you can pay to take you up the mountain to the base of the final steep point, however, and many people were taking part in that.

We chose to pay the extra admission fee to Red Valley, which is adjacent to Rainbow Mountain, and I liked that even more than Rainbow Mountain. When you’re walking through Red Valley, you can see all of the colors of the earth one at a time as you walk along, including black, white, red, brown, green, white, and purple. It may sound easy to hike back down the mountain, but I actually found that part even more difficult than going up. You pretty much slide down the mountainside, trying not to fall (although many people around me fell multiple times) while you “walk” down loose rocks and/or sand. On the way back to Cusco, we stopped at the same place where we stopped for breakfast for lunch that consisted of mediocre soup, baked chicken on skewers, salad, bread, red jello (really?), and some vegetables. Our guide also gave us a very brief talk about Rainbow Mountain that didn’t contain any information I didn’t already know.

On our final day in Cusco we discovered what I wish we had known about for the first part of our time in Cusco:  Avenida el Sol. This part of Cusco had a very different feel from the rest of the city to me. It felt more modern, cleaner, with more locals and less tourists. In addition to the shops, restaurants, cafes, and hotels, there is a nice mural and a large market where you can buy local items (sweaters and other clothing, jewelry, artwork, etc.). Maybe the best part is there were no baby alpacas on leashes held captive all day by women sitting around who want you to take their picture for a fee (absolutely horrible and illegal although it still happens).

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Some cool artwork on Avenida el Sol in Cusco

A note about the temperature in Cusco in relation to hotels and hostels. Cusco is quite chilly at night and in the mornings so if you go be sure to dress in layers. I wore a light down jacket and gloves at night and early mornings when we were out and was comfortable but would have been cold in anything less. The hotels and hostels also often don’t have heating on par with what you’d find in the United States. I found our hotel room, which was the basement of the building to be downright freezing and the space heater they gave us was useless. Although our accommodation had two-bedrooms, two bathrooms with kitchen and sitting area for only $60/night, I “down-graded” us to a one-room, one-bathroom accommodation for $55/night that was higher up in the building in hopes that it would be warmer for our return stay after our trek to Machu Picchu. It was warmer but still not what I would consider warm, just tolerable. It’s not just me, either, I read review after review of multiple hotels where people said their room was too cold.

Some of our favorite restaurants in Cusco include La Bodega 138 (get the wood-fired pizza), Cafe Balkon Azul (phenomenal service and food), El Paisa (great seafood, huge portions, and good drinks), and Deli Monasterio. Nuna Raymi was good but the server was too pushy with the drinks, appetizers, and desserts and it was very loud when we were there (I realize this isn’t always going to be the case). View House Restobar has amazing views of the city but the service is notoriously horrible if you’re going for food (I heard nearby Limbus Restobar is great but they were closed when we went there).

If you want to book a trek from Cusco to Machu Picchu, I highly recommend going with Alpaca Expeditions. There are literally hundreds of options but I found Alpaca to far exceed my expectations, which were set pretty high.

Have you been to Cusco, Peru? If so, what did you think of the city and its people? Were you as surprised as I was to see how big of a city it is?

Happy travels!

Donna

 

 

Global Running Day 2019

I got the idea to write this post from Jonesin’ for a run blog post on this subject and thought it would be fun to do my own version. According to the website Global Running Day “Global Running Day is a worldwide celebration of running that encourages everyone to get moving. It doesn’t matter how fast you run or how far you go—what’s important is that you take part, and how you do it is up to you.” On June 5, 2019, you could have joined 29,527 people from 177 countries in a pledge to run that day.

Even though it was my scheduled rest day, I ran one easy mile with my daughter on Global Running Day. It was a fun way to work on strides with her towards the end of that mile. She thought strides just meant sprinting but by about her fourth time doing strides, I think she understood how to do them properly and things clicked with her.

Following in the example of Jonesin’ for a run’s post to help celebrate Global Running Day, I’ll answer some questions about me here.

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Why do you run?

I’ve written entire blog posts to answer this, going back to one of the very first blog posts I ever wrote, which you can read here:  Why I run and a more updated version here:  Why I Run- Version 2.0.

How many miles have you run so far this year? Do you have a mileage goal for the year?

According to Strava (which is missing some of my runs because it wouldn’t sync with Garmin Connect for some reason) I’ve run 509.6 miles for the year but according to Garmin Connect, I’ve run 519.9 miles. In 2018 I ran 1,054 miles. For 2019, I’d like to run 1111 miles just because that would be cool, but we’ll see how it goes. I’m not going to kill myself to reach that arbitrary number.

What big events do you have on the race calendar for the rest of the year?

I have half marathons in Wyoming and Nebraska, for states number 46 and 47. That’s it. Nothing else.

Before I leave for a run I must have:

My Garmin Forerunner watch, a hat or visor, sometimes my cell phone but usually only 1 or 2 runs a week are with my phone.

Do you track your runs? If so what do you use?

I use my aforementioned Garmin watch and sync to Strava. I like the way Strava presents the data better than Garmin Connect, so usually I’ll go there if I want to see something specific but I do like using both of them together.

What races have you run so far this year?

Just one, Seashore Classic Half Marathon, Lewes, Delaware- 45th state. I met my goal of finishing in the top three for my age group in a race this year, so it was a good one!

If you have to give someone one piece of advice about running, what would it be?

Running should not hurt. Soreness after a run is normal but pain is not. If you’re feeling pain after you run, go to a physical therapist to help you figure out what’s going on.

Describe your relationship with running in one word:

healthy

One of the reasons I run is for my health. I also don’t obsess over running or how a run or race goes, but I feel like I have a healthy, balanced relationship with running. Sure, it’s a big part of my life, but it’s not my entire life.

So now I have some questions for you. Did you celebrate Global Running Day and if so, how? If you could give someone one piece of advice about running, what would it be?

Happy running!

Donna

 

Lima, Peru- The Good, Bad, and the Ugly

If you fly to Peru from the United States, you pretty much have to go through Lima, although I know you can sometimes fly directly into Cusco (perhaps other cities as well, but I’m not sure). On a recent visit to Peru, we flew into and out of Lima. On the first day we arrived in the evening, took a cab to our hotel, walked around the area surrounding our hotel for a few hours, took a cab back to the airport and flew to Cusco. All was good so I’ll start there.

Our hotel was in the Miraflores section of Lima. From everything I had read before going to Peru, Miraflores is the place to be in Lima. I found a pretty nice small property in Miraflores that offered free breakfast. It was clean and the breakfast was good. We enjoyed our time walking around Miraflores, with the ocean views, stopped for lunch at a cute little restaurant that was tasty, walked around a little more, then asked our hotel to call a cab for us to the airport.

We spent almost two weeks exploring the Highlands area of Peru, including Cusco, Machu Picchu, Aquas Calientes, and Ollantaytambo, then we flew to Arequipa and explored that area before we flew back to Lima. We had an afternoon flight from Arequipa, landing in Lima around 4:30. Since our flight back home wasn’t until 1 am, we thought we could explore Lima that evening instead of staying in the airport for several hours.

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Miraflores region in Lima, Peru

I found an airport storage facility where we could store our luggage. After a few wrong turns in the airport, and being told by airport workers they had no idea what we were talking about when we asked for directions, we finally found the place. We gave them our bags, saw them whisk them away into lockers, got a receipt, and went back outside to hail a cab.

Now for the bad part of the story. We had learned from earlier experiences you must ask before you even get into the cab how much the fare would be and how long the ride would be from taxi drivers in Peru, since none of them have meters. After settling on a reasonable price with a driver who was wearing taxi credentials and being told it would take about 40-50 minutes, we were off to Miraflores. Then things started going downhill.

At first the cab ride to Miraflores was uneventful, if you consider traffic in Lima to be uneventful that is. On the best day, traffic is insane in Lima. It’s more the norm than the exception to have several near-misses with other cars and buses, and the drivers usually will speed up all of a sudden, only to slam on the brakes two minutes later, and/or jerk the car suddenly.

After maybe 10 or 15 minutes in the cab, we could see things were not going well. The driver told us the ride would take more like 2 hours to get to Miraflores (we knew that was a lie). He also told us it would take longer to go by the beach than through the city (also a lie) and he would have to pay a toll if he went by the beach (also a lie), which would cost us more money. He kept insisting that all of this was true and we would have to pay 10 soles more than we agreed to at the beginning, which we of course disputed with him.

After about a 45-50 minute ride (which we noticed he took some crazy turns simply to add on time, and even questioned him about but he blew it off like it was nothing), we could see on Google maps that we were close to where we wanted to go. I should add that he pretended to only know how to speak Spanish, but by now it was apparent he knew more English than he put on, because he laughed when my daughter made a sarcastic remark about him in English.

When we were close to getting out of the cab, he informed my husband that he didn’t have any change and required exact change only. He went so far as to pull out his wallet (a fake one, I’m sure) to show my husband that his wallet was empty. Luckily my husband had a bill small enough that the difference was only $1.50, so he threw the bill at the cab driver, saying “Take your blood money!” and we all got out, glad to be out of that car.

By this time, we were all pretty worked up and didn’t even feel like doing the shopping and walking around that we had planned. We just found a restaurant, had dinner (it was fine but nothing special and certainly not worth the cab ride), found another cab for the ride back to the airport (this guy was honest and fair and did everything he was supposed to do), picked up and paid for our luggage from the storage place, went through security, and waited for our plane.

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Surfers in Lima

And now for the ugly part of the story. Since we had a 1 am flight out of Lima, it wasn’t until we reached Atlanta several hours later that I went to pull out my cell phone from my backpack. It was missing. I thought maybe I had inadvertently stuck it in my other bag and told myself I would empty out everything at home and surely it would be there. It wasn’t. My cell phone was obviously stolen by someone at the luggage storage company at the airport. I’m positive it was in my backpack when we stored our things there and since we never check our luggage, other than storing my two bags at the Lima airport, they were with me the entire time.

I tried to find contact information for the storage company but only found an email that I’m not even sure is the same place, but I sent an email anyway, telling them my phone was missing from my backpack that was stored there. Of course I didn’t get a reply back and I don’t expect to. I called my cell phone company, explained what happened and got a new phone. As far as I can tell now, everything is OK. My phone didn’t have a locator on it, but you can be assured my next one will. It was at least password-protected and it was a piece of crap that I hated, so there is that as well.

So yes, I think Lima is a pretty awful city and would not spend any time there ever again. I loved Peru and would definitely go back again. Unfortunately you have to go through Lima airport to fly to the places I want to go back to so I’ll just plan on spending however long the layover is in the airport and not leaving. Also, I wouldn’t judge a city just by a couple of bad people, but we talked to someone in Arequipa that was from Lima. He told us Lima is a very dangerous place, filled with theft, corruption, and people are even sometimes kidnapped. No, thank you.

Have you been to Lima, Peru? What was your experience if so? Have you been to a city while you were traveling and you had a bad experience?

Happy travels!

Donna

 

 

I Tried a Sensory Deprivation Tank and Here’s What it Was Like For Me

Over the last year, I had been hearing more and more about sensory deprivation tanks, also known as isolation tanks or floatation tanks, and I wanted to try one out for myself. A sensory deprivation tank is a lightless, soundproof tank filled with salt water at skin temperature, in which you float. There are numerous health benefits, including psychological effects like increasing concentration and focus and reducing anxiety, as well as benefits for athletes such as speeding up recovery after strenuous physical training by decreasing blood lactate.

Since I would be running the Seashore Classic Half Marathon in Delaware as part of my quest to run a half marathon in all 50 states, I checked to see if there was a place that offered flotation tanks near the race so that I could try it out as a form of recovery. Sure enough, I found Urban Float in Lewes, Delaware, part of a chain with a handful of locations in Ohio, Texas, and Washington. I booked a reservation online for the day after my half marathon and looked forward to my Mother’s Day appointment.

The day of my appointment, which was the day after the Seashore Classic Half Marathon, I woke with a sore core and sore legs. When I arrived at Urban Float, I filled out the usual personal information (name, address, phone number) and watched a short video on what to expect. I was taken to a private room (there were six private rooms with tanks here) that contained a sensory deprivation tank, a bench to put my clothes on, a shower with shampoo, body wash, and conditioner, and a basket full of earplugs and small packs of petroleum jelly (to cover any small cuts). There was also a pool noodle you could prop under your neck or knees and a small halo-looking flotation device you could put under your head if you felt like you wanted a little something to assure you your head wasn’t going to go under the water.

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A nice shade of blue inside the tank

I was told to shower beforehand, using only body wash and shampoo (no conditioner), finishing off with cool water to make the transition easier, and enter the pod naked (although you can wear a bathing suit if you want but it’s all completely private). I had chosen there to be music for the first ten minutes inside the tank, followed by silence, then music again for the last five minutes. I chose which type of music I wanted and was told it would be followed by an announcement that my time was over.

There was a button inside the tank to control the lights. You had the option to have them cycle through different colors, choose just one color, or have no lights and be in complete darkness. There was also a panic button on the right-hand side, which I was told to hold and push several times if necessary, since they “tend to ignore the first couple of times the alarm goes off” because people apparently sometimes accidentally hit the panic button and they want to make sure you truly meant to hit it. There was also a small spray bottle of water in case you got any salt water in your eyes.

So, after showering, I grabbed the halo floatation device and entered the tank. Per the instructions and personal preferences of the people who work there given to me at the beginning, I didn’t put in ear plugs. I pulled the tank completely closed (you can prop it open but I was told you would feel a draft from the room since it was slightly cooler than the water and tank temperature) and eased into the water. Immediately, I began to play around with the lights, finally choosing a nice green hue to stay on.

I found it was actually pretty difficult to not float in the water when I tried pushing down my legs to the bottom. The tank had about 10 inches of water filled with 1200 pounds of epsom salt so it’s even more buoyant than the Dead Sea. As suggested, I moved around, trying different positions, until I finally settled on the typical arms out at my sides and legs splayed out, kind of like a star. I did wish I had put ear plugs in my ears because I didn’t really like my ears filling up with water and I found myself lifting up my head to let the water drain out of them several times. The halo helped a tiny bit with keeping water out of my ears but not much.

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The outside of the tank reminded me of a space shuttle from Star Trek!

Once the music stopped, I didn’t have any trouble staying relaxed. I practice yoga and am pretty good at meditation and relaxing my mind. However, after some time, even I had trouble focusing and relaxing. I got a bit bored and was ready for my session to end about 5 or so minutes before the music came on again at the end. When it was time to get out of the tank, I once again showered with body wash and shampoo, and also used conditioner and put a few drops of vinegar in each ear. I dried off and got dressed and headed up to the front again.

There was a relaxation room off the side of the main check-in area, where you could get water or tea or just relax in front of the fake fireplace. I decided to skip that on my way out and just went to check out. I knew I would have a long drive back home and wanted to get back to pack up and head home.

Afterwards, my muscles definitely felt more relaxed. My core wasn’t sore at all and my legs weren’t nearly as sore as they were previously. I’ve always been a huge believer in the power of epsom salts to relieve sore muscles, and these tanks are basically giant epsom salt baths.

The sensory deprivation part of these tanks is more complicated, in my opinion. Since you’re completely in control of the lights inside the pod and you can have some music at the beginning and end, music throughout, or no music at all, or you can go for more of a quasi-sensory deprivation, where I feel like you get the best of both. You can have total darkness and no sounds for say 15 minutes, to ease into it, especially the first time or two you experience it, or you can choose to jump right in and go for total sensory deprivation with no lights or music. On the other hand, you can choose to leave the tank open a little if you’re concerned about feeling claustrophobic, and leave the lights on inside the tank along with music playing the entire time. In other words, you’re in control of your experience.

So would I do it again? Absolutely, without hesitation, especially after a hard race, like a marathon or half marathon. I’m not and have never been claustrophobic, either, so that’s not a factor for me but I could see where it would be with other people. I can’t say I really felt that much more relaxed mentally, but if you floated at a place regularly, I can see that being a benefit for sure.

Have you ever tried a sensory deprivation tank? Would you ever try one if given the opportunity?

Happy running!

Donna