Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Running in Ecuador

Just a note for those die-hard runners, who think in terms of "running" and "other", where "other" is a series of boring tasks (eating, sleeping, working) required before the next run...  The subject line is completely misleading.  Yes, Lee Anne and I ran in Ecuador, but we ran no races and my mileage was not significant.  Unless you want to read about hiking in Ecuador, skip this post.  I ran 10K, mainly on a track in Latacunga and 12K, also on a track, in Ibarra.  That's it, for 12 days!

Mind you, running at altitude is a bit weird.  Picture shuffling along at your slowest training pace when the visual world starts to get darker, similar to your computer screen just before it launches a pop-up.  Your body knows it is not pushing hard (it is not complaining to the brain), but there seems to be an element lacking in the mix.  Or technically, a compound, known as O2...  We found it almost amusing that we could only run about 400 meters flat, before being forced to walk.  Even walking at 2800 meters above sea level takes a surprising length of time, before there is enough oxygen in the legs to consider assuming a running pace.

Ecuador is a series of contrasts.  With some foresight, they have vastly improved the road infrastructure, in what I assume is an attempt to prepare for more tourism and a 21st century lifestyle.  However, a large percentage of the buildings are old or unfinished.  By unfinished, think of buildings with a completed ground floor in which people are living, yet the second floor is partially built concrete block walls with rebar sticking out the top.  I heard many reasons for why this was happening.  I am not sure which are true; likely all are factors.  Ecuadorians would simply build until they ran out of money, then stop until they saved up a bit.  Or they had failed to obtain the proper permits and work was stopped.  Another "rumour" is that they prolong the building period, as the tax is not increased until the building is completed.  As long as they can complete 10% each year, the building is considered under construction.  So, there is a modern airport in Quito, excellent 6 lane highways, with 18th century buildings along the way.

Private roads are another matter.  Again, only what I was told, but maintenance of the smaller roads is performed by the locals.  They would pool their funds and provide the labour.  The private road we traveled upon near the Quito airport was comprised of rocks embedded in sand.  Similar to cobblestone roads, but much rougher.  Tires last about 2 years for those who must travel these private roads on a regular basis.  I can see a rally race along these roads!

Travelling in Ecuador is inexpensive.  Our flights were about $600 CAD each.  Hotels (Hostals) range from $25 to $70 for a private room.  We stayed at Las Orquideas hotel in Ibarra for 3 nights.  Including 3 breakfasts and doing our laundry, our bill came to $75 USD.  Mind you, they waived the laundry and the $2.50 breakfasts.  Meals are also less expensive, although wine is on par with Canadian prices.  There is considerable tariffs on the import of wines.

Our first day was spent touring the old section of Quito.  We elected to stay at the same hotel for the first 2 nights, to help acclimatize to the altitude.  This had an added benefit, as my luggage did not make the flight from Bogota to Quito.  The airport was able to send my luggage to the hotel the following day.

Our third night was spent in Latacunga, a staging area for the Quilotoa Loop hike.  The next morning we set out for Sigchos, were our hike would start.  We were travelling with Barb and Manny (Manfred), as our schedules aligned nicely.  Barb and Manny are also retired.  Things went south quickly for Barb, at this point, as she succumbed to the flu.  Picture travelling in a coach bus along rough and steep mountainous roads, with the flu.  I am not sure how she did it!  Mind you, there was little choice.  Getting off the bus in the mountains was not an option.

It is always a good idea to have some flexibility in your travel plans.  Barb was in no shape to hike from Sigchos to Isinlivi.  So, while Lee Anne and I hiked, Barb and Manny took a taxi to Llullu Llama, out hostal in Isinlivi.  This 4 hour "warm-up" hike presented incredible vistas and one taxing uphill climb, with a pinch of altitude.  The next day, while Barb recovered a bit, Manny, Lee Anne and I hiked a loop trail and we all stayed a second night in Isinlivi.

Again, Barb was in no shape to hike, so while they took a taxi to Chugchilan, Lee Anne and I hiked.  This was to be the theme for the Quilotoa Loop.  I almost feel bad (we owe Manny and Barb big time) but while Lee Anne and I enjoyed hiking with one light pack, Barb and Manny drove in a taxi to the next hostal, with our heavy pack.  The pack I should have been carrying!

The hike from Chugchilan to the Quilotoa crater is tough.  There are two long steep climbs, the second of which reaches 3900 meters (12,800 feet).  Fortunately the hike is relatively short (5 hours), so although the altitude takes its toll, it is not coupled with complete exhaustion.  Mind you, sleeping at 3900 meters is a nuisance.  Imagine having a minor hangover for the duration.  No one slept well that night!

The next day we set out for Ibarra, where we had planned to hike the nearby Imbabura volcano.  Since the volcano was a significant hike (over 4600 meters / 15,000 feet), we decided that it would be a better idea to tackle something less technical and altitudinal (it's a new word, buddy) and opted for the nearby Cubilche volcano.  At 3800 meters, it would make for a satisfactory hike.  It also had a cute little lake at the top!

For the hike up Cubilche, we hired Emerson Obando, a professional guide.  Emerson is extremely fit and guides tours in the area 2 - 3 times per week.  I still can't figure out how he ran up a steep hill at 3800 meters, while I had to stop every 50 feet to avoid blacking out.  I thought I was in shape!  Hiring a guide provides one pleasant bonus.  We did not have to spend hours scrutinizing trail maps and questionable directions.  Simply admire the views and take pictures.  Emerson did all the navigation.  Emerson is positive, talkative and very sensitive to the environment.  I'm sure that it was not part of the tour, but we helped Emerson collect garbage at the crater lake.  If you ever plan a trip to Ecuador, consider using a guide.  Emerson also runs a hostal in Esperanza, basically a suburb of Ibarra.  Check out his website at:

After returning from the hike to his hostal, we donned traditional garb and enjoyed a photo op!

Our last day was spent at the Otavalo market, which has a huge variety of traditional clothing, leather, art and food.  Prices are great ($5 for a Panama hat, $15 for a Llama wool shawl) and the atmosphere is something to experience.  I normally don't like shopping (this is an understatement), but there was so much to see, it was bearable...

One reason our flights were inexpensive was because the return trip was not ideal.  We left the hostal at 2:00 AM for a 05:20 flight.  We had considerable excitement at about 04:00 when Lee Anne figured out that she dropped her money bag in the back seat of the hostal van, on the way to the airport.  After some panic, she was able to contact the manager, who drove the van back to the airport and delivered her money, credit cards and birth certificate.

After a short flight from Quito to Bogota, we had an 8 hour layover.  Time creeps ever more slowly when waiting for a connector in an airport.  For fun, I converted my USD into Columbian pesos, then into CAD.  Yeehaa!  We finally embarked on the last flight and landed in Toronto at 9:40 PM.  Daryl (son-in-law) was kind enough to pick us up and drop us at Manny and Barb's place, where we had left our car.  The drive to Creemore was quick as there is little traffic after 11:00 PM on a Sunday night.  I activated the woodstove in record time and it was almost warm by the time we went to bed, at about 1:30 AM.  Almost a 24 hour day!


Hiking in Ecuador will take you out of your comfort zone.  This becomes important as you get older and avoid new experiences because they don't fit your schedule.  We experienced some inconvenience in the hostal in Latacunga, where the average age was about 18.  But we most definitely gained incredible experiences not available in a package deal to Cuba.  Consider hiking Ecuador because it requires some effort to absorb the culture.  Then we will have earned our lattes and petit four...

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Advice on Living with a Runner

I have thoroughly enjoyed writing this blog and the friendships with runners, made along the way.  The trail and ultra races are tough, but that is why we sign up.  Greeting friends at races is always a great moment and a significant aspect of why I keep going back to the various Ontario races.  I mention this in case this is my last post.  If you see something along the lines of "We Will Talk at Home" from Lee Anne, in the comments section, followed by my eternal silence, you'll know what happened.  For my epitaph, I'm thinking:

Brave and Stupid

Of course the epitaph can be applied to most trail and ultra runners...

Living with a runner is never easy.  In a shallow attempt to preempt an adverse reaction from Lee Anne, I would like to state that in our case, the above observation goes both ways.  I will grudgingly admit that I have a few idiosyncrasies.  There.  That should ward off her attempts at manslaughter.

From one perspective, we have it easy.  Both of us are runners, so we don't normally experience shock when one of us proposes some outlandish running objective.  Lee Anne likes running long and on road.  I have difficulty running long and prefer trails.  I have only run 50 miles once, a distance that Lee Anne considers "shortish".  Even though we have diverse running preferences, we typically sign up for the same races.  Even when we don't, it is usually no big deal.  I avoid marathons.  They are too short, flat and painful.  Lee Anne loves the marathon, because it is short, flat and on road.  Lee Anne is running Boston soon, whereas I would gladly pay to avoid running Boston.  Her daughter Lily will accompany her.  They will spend about $2,000 so that Lee Anne can run a marathon.  I'm not sure how couples with only one runner handle this type of objective.  It has to be a stressor.

My first bit of advice on living with a runner is to encourage them to reach their goals, but make it implicitely clear that they owe you.  Get it in writing.  If they are overly keen on their goal, they should grant you a big ticket item to reciprocate.

Crewing is a totally different matter.  Be very careful what you sign up for.  I typically crew for Lee Anne, because there is usually no need to crew for someone (me) running a 50K or 6 hour race.  Crewing becomes essential for races 12 hours / 50 miles or longer.  The idea of crewing your spouse is very romantic.  You are helping a loved one during their toughest challenge.  They will be filled with gratitude, right?  Right?  Hello?

I last crewed for Lee Anne in September, 2015.  We were extremely fortunate to have help from our good friend Sharon.  Lee Anne had a fantastic race, which means that there was less of the "ugly" that typical transpires during a long bout of crewing.  Even so, here is what I did:

Drive 16 hours to Tennessee.  Help Lee Anne prepare for a 28 hour run.  Set up a tent and Lee Anne's aid station.  Wake up at 04:00 on race day and get Lee Anne to the start.  Monitor her fluid, calorie, salt and electrolyte intake.  It was a hot day, so the sodium and electrolyte intake had to be monitored separately.  During the 26 hours and 34 minutes that Lee Anne ran, provide her with something that she would enjoy.  Keep track of her metrics, to provide her with up-to-the-minute progress reports.

Make no mistake, Lee Anne ran for 26.5 hours, not me.  All I did was keep her running.  Without Sharon, my task would have been nearly impossible.  I was able to catch an hour or two of sleep during Lee Anne's run.  A great quote, which I first heard in relation to Badwater, was that a crew cannot win a race, but they can certainly lose it.  I was also able to drive to a store to get hot food.  Fortunately, they sold ice at the race site, which was convenient as I was giving Lee Anne a bag if ice every mile.  However, here is my schedule for the race:

Wednesday night:  5 hours sleep (in Toronto)
Thursday:  06:30 to 23:00:  Drive (forgot our passports in Creemore)
Sleep for 5 hours (I don't sleep well after driving for 16+ hours)
Friday:  08:00 - 23:00:  Prep for the race, inspect race course, run 9K (it was HOT!)
Sleep for 4 hours (I don't sleep well before crewing for a race...)
Saturday:  04:00:  Set up at race site
05:00 - 21:00:  Crew for Lee Anne
21:00 - 23:00:  Try to sleep
23:30:  Buy chicken sandwich for Liz Bauer (a surreal moment!)
Sunday:  00:00 - 8:30:  Crew for Lee Anne
09:00 - 12:00 Try to sleep in the car, in the heat

12:00 until Tuesday:  Drive home

As mentioned above, Lee Anne's race went very well.  This means that she never reached the point where tantrums became the main theme.  The mental state of a person who has run for 20+ hours is equivalent to a cranky 3 year old.  They are not thinking rational or logically.  Continuous suffering starts to block out the world.  Runners are only thinking about how they can make their current status a bit better.  If they want coke with ice, you had bloody well better have it ready, even if you have no inkling that is what they want.  Conversely, if you provide the runner with something they had not expected and enjoy, it can dramatically improve their mood.  This aspect can be exhausting for the crew, always striving to think of something the runner would appreciate.  Especially if the runner passes the shelter every mile, in a 100 mile race.

My advice on crewing is:  Nothing longer than a 5K race...

Day-to-day living can also have its struggles, especially for spouses of ultra runners.  Lee Anne runs a back-to-back every Friday and Saturday.  Since I am also an ultra runner, I understand how critical it is to maintain your running schedule.  Missing even one day can throw a wrench into your training program.  This is different than what I tell people who are just starting to run.  They can easily miss a day or three.  But (think old testament here) NEVER TAMPER WITH THE SCHEDULE.  Lee Anne has asked people to reschedule their funeral, to avoid conflicts with her running schedule.

Yes, my sense of humour has made my life difficult, why do you ask?

Everything from washing clothes to diet is a bit upside down in running households.  We have 2 shelves in our medicine cabinet for Ibuprofen.  Although there are only 2 people living in our house, we wash a large load of laundry every day.  Most people consider pretzels to be the worst food imaginable.  Empty calories with a massive amount of salt.  Pretzels are so significant to ultra runners, they are considered a separate food group.  Winter running brings the concept of drying racks to a rarified level.  Although our dryer runs every day (the clothesline cannot dry clothes between runs), we still have 3 areas for drying running clothes, shoes, camelbacks, hip belts, hats and gloves.  A shelf in our fridge is for "in progress" water bottles and gels.  We are experts at rolling up 3 yards of toilet paper, so that it fits into a small ziplock baggy.

Our knowledge of weather patterns rivals meteorologists.  We are always aware of the phase of the moon, snow and rain forecasts, temperature, wind and humidity.  Sunrise is at 07:32.  I had to look this up because I thought it was early now (my guess was 7:25).  However, it is getting light enough in Creemore to run before 07:00.  On August 6 (Creemore Vertical Challenge), sunrise will be 06:15ish (I have not looked this up), but there will be enough light to run at 05:50, 10 minutes before the 75K start.  Okay, I just looked up sunrise in Creemore on August 6 and it is 06:13...

So, my advice for runners, regarding living with another runner is:  Go for it.  This takes 2 runners out of the dating pool and you deserve each other.  My advice for non-runners:  If it not too late, consider dating someone normal.  Or if you are brave and stupid, start running.